Interludis Neanderthalensis by Pink Rabbit Productions
Interludis Neanderthalensis
by Pink Rabbit Productions

TITLE: Interludis Neanderthalensis
AUTHOR: Pink Rabbit Productions
ARCHIVE: http://www.altfic.com
RATING: PG-13 (sorry folks, no smut this time around)
DISCLAIMER: Joss, Kuzui, Mutant Enemy, the WB, and Fox own all of the characters. I, do however own this particular arrangement of words in cyberspace. If Joss wishes to steal it, he has my heartiest encouragement, but no one else does.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This follows the stories Spin, Spinning, Spun Out, and It's All Depends on Your Timing.
Comments welcome at pinkrabbit@altfic.com

The bad guys had been vanquished--or at least contained so they couldn't do any more damage until their beer induced browse through the paleolithic period passed. The good guys--or rather good girl-- had been saved. Parker had been bonked. And all was more or less right with the world.

Well, except for the fact that Buffy Summers was sniffing everything in sight, or at least everything her friends allowed her to sniff. Willow caught her friend's arm, tugging her back from a tall, well dressed figure who was undoubtedly either a professor or administrator on campus with a gentle, "Look over here, Buffy." She redirected Buffy's attention to a flower growing near the sidewalk and the Slayer immediately bounded over to it, dropping to her knees to cheerfully sniff the thing, while Willow hoped no one they knew was anywhere in sight.

"Well, she's certainly enthusiastic," Xander noted as he watched the proceedings.

"Yes," Giles added, one eyebrow climbing high on his forehead.

Willow just caught Buffy's hand and gently tugged her upright, with a coaxing, "Come on."

Buffy bounced to her feet, leaning close to Willow to begin sniffing her eagerly. After a couple of healthy inhalations, she screwed up her face in an expression of disgust. "Phaw...smoke...no like..."

Xander and Giles both tensed in case they needed to step in to help Willow. After all, they were dealing with a very primitive, rather unpredictable Slayer who could easily break Willow Rosenberg in two should she lose her temper.

"Yes, well," Giles began as he carefully reached for Buffy's arm. After all, Willow wasn't the only thing she was capable of breaking in half.

Buffy yanked her arm back and growled at her Watcher as she pressed against her best friend's side. "No," she snapped. "Stay with girl..." She wrapped an arm around Willow's waist, hugging her hard enough to knock the air from her lungs. "Girl nice...smell bad, but nice..."

"I think Willow's definitely got the inside track," Xander noted, his tone disappointed. So far Buffy had shown absolutely no tolerance for anyone but her friend, which was fast killing at least a half a dozen wild woman fantasies his brain had been busy conjuring since first encountering this regressed version of Buffy. Which, if he was honest, he had to admit was probably for the best considering the fate Parker the Slimebag had received. Xander knew his head was hard, but he was pretty sure it wasn't that hard.

Still gasping for air, the redhead wrapped an arm around her friend's shoulders. "That's me on the smelly, but nice inside track," she wisecracked as she tried to gently loosen Buffy's overenthusiastic hold on her ribs.

Buffy let out a snuffling laugh, though it was unclear exactly what she found so funny. At least she was a relatively happy Cro-Magnon.

The remaining distance to the dorms passed in companionable silence, which was fine by Willow. She was too tired to talk, her lungs still felt seared from the heat and smoke, and she just wasn't in the mood for conversation, not after watching Oz mooning after another woman. She leaned against Buffy, who kept an arm around her waist. The Slayer might not be at her most impressive on the mental front, but she was even more physically supportive than normal and at that exact moment, that felt really good.

Giles and Xander both pulled up short at the door to the dorm room the girls shared while Willow fumbled with the key, a process made more difficult by the fact that Buffy became quite fascinated by the shiny, coppery doorknob and insisted on crouching down to watch the process.

"Well," Giles said uncertainly when the young woman finally got the door open. He noted the way Buffy was studying the lock. "Are you certain about this?" he asked after a long beat.

Willow glanced down at her friend, then shrugged. "It'll be okay," she assured him, confident that Buffy would never hurt her. "She's a little..."

Buffy rushed inside the room, bounding onto her bed, where she began bouncing like a small child, laughing in abandonment.

"Well, a little...different right now," Willow allowed. "But it's still Buffy."

The Slayer did a flip, then kept bouncing as she giggled, "Fun."

"She wouldn't hurt me."

"Umm, well, yes..." Giles said hesitantly.

"I'll bet her mattress felt the same way this morning." Xander's eyes tracked the Slayer's up and down gyrations with wide eyes. He couldn't help it. Even Cave-Slayer did naughty things to his hormones. "And yet, there it is, getting flattened into a pancake...although, I must say, I'm enjoying the process."

Willow sighed heavily as she noted Xander's response to Buffy's bouncing. What was it with the male of the species? Apparently even Oz couldn't--

"Girl not happy," Buffy broke into Willow's dark thoughts as she bounced from the bed and landed lightly next to her friend.

"It's nothing," Willow insisted, startled by how quickly Buffy had picked up on her moods.

Cave-Slayer frowned as she peered up at the other girl, studying her with feral intensity. She reached up with a tentative hand, brushing her fingertips along Willow's brow. "Not happy," she said intently.

Giles noted the way Willow shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. "Is something wrong?" he questioned with almost parental worry.

Willow instantly shook her head. "I'm fine, really."

"If you're sure," the former librarian said softly, sensing there was more to the story, but hesitant to press. He'd been feeling increasingly cut off from their lives since they'd defeated the mayor; as though he wasn't quite a part of the group anymore, and he wasn't entirely certain why. It wasn't just the fact that he was out of a job, and Buffy had broken her ties with the Watchers. It was something more. He just couldn't put his finger on it.

Willow nodded, not noting the other man's brief distance.

"You call if you need any help," Xander inserted, then nodded toward Buffy, who was still staring up at Willow, studying her carefully. "I mean with Cave-Slayer there."

"We'll be fine," Willow assured them both. She was startled a moment later as Buffy parroted her.

"Fine." The Slayer pushed the two men out of the doorway, with a grumbled, "Go now," then slammed the door in their startled faces.

Willow couldn't restrain a chuckle at the expression on both Giles' and Xander's faces as the door slammed shut.

Buffy noted the smile and grinned proudly. "Girl happy now?"

"Yeah," Willow exhaled, though her shoulders slumped, and she was suddenly reminded of the bump to the head she'd received as the world threatened to tilt on its axis. "Happy." She sank down on the edge of her bed, tipping her head forward into her hands as she remembered the sense that Oz was being pulled away from her. Well, to hell with him. If he wanted to be with Veruca, he could just go to hell.

"Not happy," Buffy's worried voice broke into Willow's dark thoughts and the hacker looked up to find her friend studying her with an expression of confused distress.

"I'm fine," Willow disagreed as she flopped back onto the bed and folded an arm over her face. "Just tired."

Buffy frowned, clearly confused by the obvious untruth, and stretched out next to Willow on the bed, watching her with curious eyes. "Not happy," she repeated and reached out to pry Willow's arm away from her face, leaning forward to study her friend's features with a worried expression.

"Really," Willow insisted, "I'm fine." And she started to push up on her hands. A hand landed solidly in the center of her chest, pressing her back down.

"Not happy," Buffy repeated for the third time, her tone brooking no argument. Obviously Cave-Slayer was not one to be easily dissuaded by arguments. She was far more tuned into emotions than the spoken word and as far as she was concerned Willow was not happy.

Willow would have folded her arm back over her face, but Buffy stayed her hand with a look while she leaned closer, staring into Willow's eyes as though she was trying to understand the thoughts moving through her friend's head. "Tell," she said at last. "Tell, Buffy."

Willow sighed heavily while Cave-Slayer began stroking her stomach very lightly, trying to soothe her obvious turmoil. "It's just Oz," the hacker murmured at last. "He's...I don't know...it's like he's obsessed with this girl..." And then Willow found it all spilling out, her boyfriend's distance, her own fears, the sense that she was losing him, and the desperation she couldn't quite explain. Words tumbled, at times nonsensically, from her lips. And all the while, Cave-Slayer did the one thing regular Buffy almost never did and simply lay there listening to the jumbled monologue. It wasn't that normal Buffy wouldn't have cared, or wouldn't have listened. It was just that she always felt she should be solving problems, and sometimes that meant she didn't take the time to just hear the words pouring out. Okay, so Cave-Slayer probably didn't understand most of what was said, but she genuinely seemed to be listening and her slightly heavier than normal brow was furrowed with concern. It made Willow feel comforted and safe and she closed her eyes, sinking down into her mattress as she found the words finally running dry. She was startled a moment later when she felt the mattress shift and then the warmth of Buffy's head settled on her shoulder, while the hand on her stomach relaxed and simply draped across her midsection.

Willow sighed softly, surprised to find that it felt nice, or perhaps more correctly, surprised to find just how nice it felt.

"Girl feel better?" Buffy questioned after several minutes of lying there in companionable silence.

When Willow didn't answer, the Slayer pushed up on her hands, arching over the slender figure of her friend. Willow blinked, opening her eyes to find herself almost nose to nose with Buffy. Even with her features slightly altered by the spell, her skin grimy and her hair matted, the Slayer was beautiful Willow realized with a soft gasp. As their eyes locked and held, the hacker didn't know what to make of things, she only knew that her heart was hammering in her chest, and her breathing was suddenly coming in short pants. She didn't have long to wait. Buffy's head slanted, though her gaze never wavered. If anyone had ever asked Willow to describe what it would likely feel like to be kissed by a neanderthal, of all the terms she would have chosen, sweet and gentle were nowhere on the list. And yet, that's exactly what it was, gentle, sweet, warm, and somehow eerily familiar. Willow heard her own gasp and was amazed to find that Buffy's kiss was even more tender than Oz's. A callused but gentle hand brushed red strands back from her temple as Buffy's lips continued exploring her own. Then her other hand brushed down Willow's side, stroking and exploring with hesitant care. The caress sent a bolt of awareness through the hacker, tempting her to surrender to the sweet sensations. No--she yanked herself back from the heady desire. As good as it all felt, it was wrong. Buffy wasn't herself. God only knew what she'd think if she knew what her primitive alter ego was up to. Willow braced her hands on Cave-Slayer's chest, all too aware of the muscles working just beneath the skin as she pressed solidly and twisted her lips away from Buffy's. "No."

Buffy's head lifted, a neat line forming between her thickened brows as she studied her friend's face carefully. "Girl pretty," she said very softly and leaned down as if to snatch another kiss.

"No," Willow repeated, twisting away from the coming caress as she increased the pressure on Buffy's chest, pushing her back.

Cave-Slayer reared back several inches, her brow deeply furrowed now then caught one of Willow's hands in her own, pressing it aside as she leaned closer, following some instinct that told her to take what she wanted.

Willow tensed, achingly aroused, knowing she should put a stop to this and also knowing she was no match for Buffy's raw strength. Before she could decide how to respond, Buffy's lips found hers again, this time passionate, moving steadily without being rough.

"No," Willow gasped as she again tore her mouth away and pushed with her free hand. "It's wrong." Buffy's eyes narrowed and for just a moment, Willow thought she was going to continue to press, but her expression suddenly became uncertain and she pushed back.

"Buffy bad?" the Slayer said worriedly as her natural impulse to protect Willow warred with the genetic urge to conquer.

Willow's hand remained braced on her friend's chest, but she shook her head. "No...you're not...you're good...it's just...just that, right now, you're not...not you...the normal you, I mean."

Buffy was clearly not following the discussion, which wasn't too surprising, since Willow was finding it pretty confusing herself. "Buffy like girl," she said at last and leaned back down, though this time she made no effort to steal another kiss. "Like Will-ow," she said as though she had to sound out her friend's name. "Will-ow soft...sweet...pretty..."

Willow sighed, not quite believing that she was fast being seduced by Anthropologist's Dream Date Buffy TM. "Thank you," she squeaked. "But it would be...not right...wrong even...I mean--"

Buffy kissed her again and for a moment, the hacker completely lost herself in the kiss, then tore her lips away again, this time groaning loudly. It was hell being the evolved one. "I...uh...I gotta get a shower," she mumbled as she hurriedly scrambled out from under the confused Cave-Slayer. "That's it...a shower...cold shower..."

The devolved Slayer was staring at her with a confused look. "Show-er?" she repeated doubtfully.

Willow was already scrambling to find her toilet kit, robe, and nightshirt. "Um, yeah, shower...it's like, to get clean...I smell smokey and it'll get rid of that..."

The Slayer's brow knit with concentration. "Then girl not smell bad?" she asked at last.

"Right," Willow confirmed shakily. "Not smell bad..." She ran a trembling hand through her hair, and maybe not feel quite so...hot.... not hot would be good. A cold shower was a definite must.

"Good," Buffy decided approvingly. "Buffy come."

Willow's eyes rounded. She'd been planning on leaving her friend parked in front of the tv, which according to both Xander and Giles had fascinated her primitive brain. She didn't even want to contemplate taking Cave-Slayer into the shower room. "No...no..." she said instantly, then reached over to flip on the tv, hoping to involve Cave-Slayer in the ongoing adventures of the little tiny people that lived in the magic box. "I thought you might like to watch the people." Xander and Giles had told her about Buffy's fascination and she was hoping to use it to keep Buffy distracted.

Buffy peered at the tv for a moment, then back at Willow and shook her head vehemently. "No...Buffy come." Then she started for the door.

Willow sighed heavily, wondering how she'd gotten herself into this particular mess. Apparently, she didn't move quickly enough for Cave-Slayer, because she suddenly found her hand grabbed, and a moment later, she was being hauled through the hallway.

Thankfully, the showers were dark and empty. Apparently, sometimes her fellow students did actually sleep during the wee hours of the morning...or at least, they did if it was close enough to dawn.

The shower cubicles had metal doors akin to most bathroom stalls and Willow tossed her robe and nightshirt over one of the stall doors and hooked her toiletries on the shower head, then turned back to face Buffy, who was watching curiously. "You stay there," she instructed firmly as she made a "stay" motion with her hand.

Buffy blinked.

"Stay?" Willow repeated. "You understand stay?"

Another blink.

Willow finally shrugged. "I'll be back in a few minutes," she said, hoping Buffy had understood. She kicked off her shoes, leaving them outside the stall, then stepped inside, latching the door before she began peeling off her clothes and tossing them over the door. God, she was exhausted. Just plain bone exhausted. Her head hurt where she'd been hit, and she felt like her brain had swelled to twice its normal size and was trying to escape the prison of her own cranium. The pressure wasn't pleasant. She turned on the water, leaning into the spray as she let the water sluice over her body. Any intentions to make the shower cold fled as soon as she felt the slick heat work its relaxing magic on her overstressed muscles. Willow folded her arms against the wall over her head, leaning heavily. Finally, she reached for the flowery smelling soap she used and absently began lathering her grimy skin, one arm still braced against the wall, her forehead resting against her forearm, letting her body relax. She didn't realize she was no longer alone until she heard Buffy's excited voice.

"Foamy," the Slayer enthused.

Willow yelped and spun, nearly going down on the slick tile, as her eyes dropped to the slender figure sliding through the narrow space under the metal stall door.

"Buffy, what are you--" Willow automatically folded her arms across her bare torso as she blushed bright pink.

Buffy easily pushed to her feet, not seeming to notice the suddenly crowded nature of the shower stall. "Foamy," Cave-Slayer repeated as she stared at the white lather that dotted Willow's pale skin. Water was turning her lightweight clothes transparent, making Willow very aware of Buffy's body.

"No, Buffy, it's not--"

"Foamy," Buffy repeated happily and stuffed her nose into the rich lather, only to jerk back, spitting disgustedly. "Blech. Not like beer...bad, bad foamies." She sneezed violently.

Willow swallowed hard, shaken by the brief contact. "It's soap," she explained, uncertain how much of the concept might get through Buffy's primitive brain. "For getting clean." She rubbed the bar against her arm to demonstrate the concept.

The Slayer's brows drew together as she studied the process with feral curiosity. Her eyes lifted suspiciously. "Not beer," she muttered unhappily.

"No," Willow agreed. "Not beer, but it smells nice and gets you clean."

Buffy leaned down and sniffed Willow's arm, not noticing the way the hacker stiffened

Buffy stared at Willow. "Clean?" she repeated uncertainly, then looked down at her own arm, lifting it to sniff her grimy skin. Her nose wrinkled. "Buffy smell bad." She leaned close to Willow, who leaned back as far as possible in the scant space offered by the shower stall. "Will-ow smell good." She reached out, delicately touching a single finger to Willow's soapy shoulder and slowly moved the lather round and round, watching the way it loosened the dirt. Apparently, the concept suddenly got through because she grinned proudly. "Clean." And snatched the soap out of Willow's hand.

"Th-that's good," Willow encouraged uncertainly. "You--you can use the next stall...just take the soap. It's yours." She just wanted Buffy out of the stall so she could finish her shower. Besides, having Buffy there in transparent clothes, while she was wearing nothing more than foam and a smile was not good for her peace of mind.

But Buffy ignored Willow's words, instead grabbing her friend's wrist and tugging her arm out as she began lathering her inner wrist, fascinated by the foamy bubbles produced by the soap. After a moment, she tugged Willow's arm up to her nose and gave it a hearty sniff, then loudly proclaimed, "Smell good."

"If you just--" Willow started to try and talk Buffy into using the next stall again, but she never had a chance. Instead, Buffy began rubbing the soap everywhere with childlike abandon, innocently unaware of the trails of heat she was leaving on Willow's skin. The hacker tried once or twice to bat Buffy's hands away, but was no match for the determined Cave-Slayer who was so focused she didn't even notice her friend's efforts.

Laughing, fascinated by the way the soap bubbled and washed away the dirt, Buffy merrily spread the thick foam anywhere and everywhere, while Willow at first tried to resist between ticklish twitches before finally surrendering to Buffy's insistent enthusiasm. Besides, it felt good and she was so tired. Closing her eyes, Willow accepted the inevitable and let her chin fall against her chest as she tried to ignore the slow burn arousal flooding through her veins. As tired as she was, it was the best she could do. Her head jerked up long minutes later when the soap was suddenly thrust under her nose.

"Clean Buffy," Buffy instructed in what was the Cave-Slayer's signature emphatic style.

Concluding it was the most likely to get things over with quickly, Willow began soaping down Buffy's bare arms while valiantly trying to ignore the firm muscles that rippled in the wake of her touch and how good Buffy's skin felt under her fingertips.

"Not right," Buffy suddenly muttered while peering down at herself. Then suddenly she grinned, and began tearing off her sodden clothes, dropping them carelessly to the floor of the shower. Apparently, modesty was not an inherent Cave-Slayer trait. "Clean," she instructed Willow and caught the hand holding the soap, pressing it against her chest and moving it around. "Clean," she repeated.

Despite her best intentions, Willow couldn't resist the temptation to stroke soft skin and explore smooth curves and Buffy certainly seemed to enjoyed the experience, though it was more innocently sensual than openly erotic. Perhaps it was the wide-eyed wonder with which Buffy watched the process or perhaps it was the innocence of the emotion that underlaid their every interaction.

When Willow finally set aside the soap, Cave-Slayer started to protest, but then became fascinated again as Willow introduced her to the wonders of shampoo.

At least she enjoyed the simple things in life, Willow decided with characteristic practicality as she massaged shampoo into the Slayer's matted locks. When she was finished, Buffy abruptly turned to face her again, reaching out to finger a few strands of crimson hair where they framed Willow's face. "Not clean," she decided out loud, then reached for the shampoo bottle, fumbling with it until she finally got some of the liquid soap on her fingers. She reached out and began massaging the thick soap into Willow's hair, stretching her fingers and working them through the silky strands.

"Feels nice," Buffy proclaimed after a minute or two. She toyed with a strand of Willow's hair. "Soft."

Willow jerked herself out of the pleasant reverie where she'd lost herself during the unintentionally erotic scalp massage, suddenly remembering their mutual nudity. "Um, thanks...but we really should get dressed." She shut the water off with a sharp twist of her wrist, then grabbed for her nightshirt, yanking it on over her head despite the fact that she hadn't dried off, making the fabric cling uncomfortably to her skin.

Buffy frowned in confusion while Willow eyed the clothes lying in the bottom of the shower with a raised brow. Well, there wasn't going to be any way to get Buffy back into those anytime soon. "Here, you can wear my robe," she decided as she reached for the garment.

The idea did not appeal to Buffy in the least and it took considerable coaxing to get Cave-Slayer into the lightweight terrycloth garment. But finally, Buffy allowed Willow to tie the cloth belt around her narrow waist, though her expression was screwed into a primitive pout.

At least the process of getting Buffy back to their dorm room went reasonably smoothly. Apparently even Cave-Slayers eventually start to tire. "Sleepy now," Buffy mumbled through a yawn as Willow pulled her back into their room. Though the moment the door slammed shut in their wake, Buffy was pulling at the belt tied around her waist. "No like," she muttered unhappily, then finally tore it loose, and dropped the robe down off her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor in her wake.

Willow hurried after her friend, retrieving the dropped robe as she tried to think of a way to get the Slayer back into it. It was like dealing with a particularly recalcitrant two year old...who could probably rip her arms out of her sockets without even putting any effort into it--Willow frowned as her eyes traced the lines of her friend's sculpted narrow back--and who possibly had the most gorgeous naked body she'd ever seen in her life. Bad, bad, bad thoughts, she mentally chastised herself. Her pulse leapt another notch as Buffy turned to face her, seemingly careless of her nudity.

"Sleep now," the Slayer pronounced and plopped down onto Willow's bed as though it was the most natural thing in the world.

"You," Willow pointed at the Slayer, "Sleep there," she explained, gesturing toward Buffy's bed.

Buffy was already tunneling into the blankets. "Sleep now," she repeated impatiently and patted the mattress hard enough to make Willow wonder if her box springs had survived the experience.

Willow tried to make Buffy see how things were one more time. "I sleep there." She swung her hand around to point at the Slayer's mattress. "You sleep there."

Buffy yawned and blinked sleepily, showing no sign of comprehension. "Sleep," she repeated.

Willow sighed, shoulders slumping. "You just go ahead and take that bed," she muttered and turned toward Buffy's side of the room. "I'll take yours tonight." She flipped off the overhead lights then tugged back the covers on Buffy's bed, very aware of the smell of her friend's perfume and shampoo as she slid between her sheets. It was strangely comforting to be surrounded by her best friend's familiar smell after the everything that had been happening lately, though in a sort of disturbing way. Willow sighed softly, wishing she could just stop thinking for a few hours. She was still lying there musing on how much easier life would be if she could just escape her own thoughts, which never seemed to stick to the paths which would have kept things easier, when the covers were yanked back.

"Sleep," Buffy said, sounding annoyed, and then hooked an arm around Willow's waist.

"Buffy, what are you--" the hacker yelped as she found herself slung up over the Cave-Slayer's shoulder. "Now, wait. This sort of thing is one thing when I'm unconscious and you're saving my life, but--" Her words ended in a short grunt as Buffy dropped her lightly on her mattress. "It's not at all the same when we're talking bedtime in our dorm room," Willow finished after only the briefest pause to catch her breath.

"Sleep now," Buffy said as though Willow hadn't even spoken and plopped down onto the mattress next to her roommate.

"Buffy, I..." Willow started to try to rationally discuss the situation, only to find herself snuggled into strong arms, her back pressed against rounded curves, while Buffy tugged the blankets up over both of them.

"Will-ow talk too much," Cave-Slayer mumbled near her ear, her warm breath teasing Willow's neck. "Sleep now."

Willow lay stiffly, unable to think of anything but the warm curves pressed against her back and the heated kisses she'd traded with Buffy earlier that evening. She half expected to feel those powerful hands to touch her the way Oz did, to slide over her skin, stroking and caressing, to feed the heat already seeping through her veins. Instead, they simply fit snugly to her belly and one hip, holding her close. Willow didn't know whether to be relieved that she wasn't going to have to find the intestinal fortitude to repel her friend's advances or disappointed that Buffy apparently wasn't going to make any advances for her to repel.

Buffy snuggled deeper into the blankets, nuzzling Willow's neck. "Smell nice," she mumbled, then fell silent, at least for the few minutes before her breathing deepened and slowed, turning to soft snorts that weren't quite snoring.

Willow felt her muscles relax as she realized nothing was going to happen, not that she had ever been afraid Buffy would force her or hurt her in any way she realized in a rush. Not even the Cave-Slayer made her feel threatened. She exhaled heavily, huddling into the comforting weight of the arms wrapped around her, feeling safer and more protected than she could remember feeling in--Willow frowned, a funny sense of deja vu sending a frisson of awareness down her spine--in a long time, she decided at last. An unsettling half memory teased the edges of her consciousness, more a flash of sensory impression than anything concrete, a sense that she'd felt the softness of Buffy's kisses once before--Willow blinked as the sensation passed--which was ridiculous. It was probably just the bump on the head, she decided at last. Freshmanhood, Oz's recent bout of more than usual oddness, and now the Cave-Slayer were all just weirding her out. She sighed heavily, sleep threatening to overcome her exhausted and battered frame. That was all it was. Lulled by the most common of buoys, false confidence, she slid off into the welcome arms of sleep, held safely in the protective arms of her best friend.

* * * * * *

The hands that rested on her hips were profoundly gentle, while the green eyes that stared into her own were dark with worry. A tender hand brushed silky bangs back from her brow and then she tasted soft lips against her own. The kiss was full of a leisurely sort of passion possible only when two people have been lovers for a long time and Buffy sank into it, losing herself in the sweet comfort. "Willow," she exhaled when their lips parted. Again the gentle smile.

"You okay?" the redhead questioned, her fingers still stroking Buffy's hair back from her forehead.

"I was worried when I got back from my meeting late and you were already gone."

The Slayer laughed mockingly and turned away from eyes that saw too much. "Define okay," she said grimly.

There was a brief pause before Willow commented dryly, "Well, I guess that answers that question." Buffy didn't have time to try and escape before she was enveloped in a warm hug from behind, then she felt the familiar weight of Willow's chin on her shoulder and soft lips against the curve of her shoulder. "I love you."

Buffy could feel the tension in her chest underlying the soreness in overtired muscles. "I'm slowing down, Will." The words were out of her mouth before she could call a halt to the thought.

The silence stretched out between them as Buffy felt Willow tense. "It's going to be okay."

Buffy pulled free as she spun, unable to contain the anger and frustration burning in her breast. "I'm thirty-five, Will. That's older than any Slayer...ever...and I'm slowing down. I wouldn't have made it this far if it wasn't you and Giles...and Xander...and everyone else..."

Willow swallowed hard, sweeping a hand back through her elegantly cut, shoulder-length hair, trying not to let her own fears show. "We'll get you through," she swore intently.

Buffy shook her head. "How...you can't magic every vampire in the world away, and there is no retirement program for Slayers...I'm ten years older than any Slayer who's come before me..." Left unsaid was the welling pit of fear that her life was drawing close to the end of its cycle.

"I'm not going to let that happen," Willow insisted, but Buffy cut in a hard voice.

"How do you expect to stop it?"

"If this is because--"

"It's not," Buffy cut her off harshly, then softened her voice as she drew close once again. "I love you," she whispered and reached out, touching Willow's cheek tenderly. "More than my life." Buffy swallowed hard, struggling to force air past the tightness in her throat as she continued, "To the point where I can barely remember a time when I didn't love you."

Willow framed Buffy's face in her hands, eyes blazing as she leaned into her lover's space. "Then trust me," she pleaded. "I'm so close, but if you let go none of it matters."

Buffy let her head fall forward until her forehead was resting against her lover's. "I'm just so tired of the fight," she sighed sadly.

"Trust me," Willow whispered near her ear, and Buffy took comfort from the intensity of love she could hear in her voice. No matter what happened, Willow was the one constant in her life. She lifted her head from Willow's slender shoulder, surprised as always by the strength in her lover's seemingly fragile and all too mortal frame. The fear she felt for her own future was nothing next to her fear that she'd be too slow one night when Willow was with her and miss the threat that would finally cost her lover for her fidelity. As if sensing the thoughts going through Buffy's head, Willow tucked a finger under her chin, forcing her to truly focus on her. "I have loved you since I was sixteen years old...my entire adult life," she whispered intently, "I will always love you..." She paused, taking a deep breath before she continued. "And I would rather die with you than live without you, but I am not planning on that." She held on tight to Buffy's chin when she would have looked away. "I plan on living a long life with you, but you have to trust me. Even the mighty Slayer has to let someone help them now and then." Willow leaned forward and brushed a kiss over her lover's soft lips, reminding Buffy that there was more than one way of avoiding thoughts of vampires and mortality.

A slow smile lifted the Slayer's full lips. "Talk me into it," she challenged, her eyes suddenly gleaming with passion. She needed to escape the worry and terror of her life, needed to touch her lover and feel alive again.

Willow braced her hands against the wall on either side of Buffy's head while her lips lifted in a smile full of erotic promise. "I dunno...are you sure you're worth the effort?"

"Ow," Buffy exhaled. "Now, there's a dare if ever I heard one." She leaned forward, almost, but not quite touching her Willow's smooth cheek.

"Mmm, maybe I'm curious to see how hard you're willing to work."

Buffy inhaled the sweet perfume of her lover's skin as she lifted her hands to the belt of Willow's robe, gently tugging it loose to slip her hands inside and find the warm curves she knew so well. Agile fingers easily found the telltale signs of arousal as they stroked velvety skin. "Methinks the lady doth protest too much," she whispered and felt Willow shiver in response. "In fact, methinks I don't have to work at all." They were cheek to cheek, still not quite touching, enjoying the game of flirting and teasing, needing the heady pleasure to last as long as possible.

"Do it anyway," Willow invited and leaned more heavily against the wall.

And then they kissed, mouths meeting, parting briefly, then meeting again in broad, open-mouthed kisses that were as intimate as any caress could be. Long minutes passed as they simply shared themselves that way, then Buffy trailed her lips along the arch of Willow's cheekbone, tasting her skin before fluttering tiny kisses down the arch of her throat. The Wiccan's throat muscles worked convulsively, the tiny sounds Buffy had always found so erotic erupting from her slightly parted lips. She spread the silky robe wider, dusting kisses on silky pale flesh, drinking in the tiny tremors and whimpers of arousal as her lips moved lower.

Willow's head fell forward, her hair shading her face in a silky crimson curtain, while she was forced to lean more heavily against the wall to remain on her feet.

"I hope you know," Buffy whispered between pressing tiny kisses over Willow's taut stomach, "that this means you've surrendered any future rights to complain about my work ethic."

Willow groaned softly. "Cancel all my future visits to the complaint department," she panted. Buffy was kneeling between her lover and the wall, supernaturally strong hands stroking rounded hips and slender legs, while her lips danced and painted erotic designs. They were both bathed in perspiration, muscles quivering, perfectly tuned to one another's wants and needs. Buffy tipped her head back on her shoulders, staring up at Willow's downbent head, taking in the expressions that quicksilvered across her fine features. "I love you," she whispered very softly.

Willow smiled, her eyes burning with need as she whispered. "Say it again."

"I love you," Buffy breathed and stood, dragging her lips up the length of Willow's body before reclaiming her lips. She tasted her lover's breath, held her close as she felt the first shudders wrack her slender frame, then felt her own body react to overwhelming sensuality of the moment. Their mouths blended as they clung to one another, so close they were almost one body, their pleasure shared as it arced from one to the other, then back again, never stopping, always moving back and forth between them, building and growing with each passing moment until they were the center of a maelstrom that might never end.

Buffy felt Willow's fingers combing through her hair as she was pulled even closer, then their kiss broke and she felt soft lips trail along the curve of her jaw, then nibble on her ear. "The answers are there, Buffy...trust me to find them...trust yourself...we can do this--"

Buffy Summers awoke with a gasp, momentarily confusing the reality and the dream as she opened her eyes to find her nose buried in silky red hair, the smell of Willow's shampoo filling her senses, just as the warmth of Willow's body filled her arms. She blinked in the darkness, lifting her head, careful not to wake the slender figure lying so peacefully in her arms as she looked around herself. It took a moment to recognize their shared dorm room in the darkness and from the altered position on Willow's bed--on Willow's bed. Buffy mentally repeated the phrase, turning it over in her mind as she pushed up just enough to stare down at the figure lying trustingly in her arms, her face relaxed in sleep. Even in the faint light, Willow's pale skin glowed softly, while long dark lashes fanned onto gently rounded cheeks. Buffy frowned, head canting to one side as she studied her friend's features, silently comparing them to the Willow in her dream. That Willow had been older, more confident, even elegant, her youthful gamine charm matured into an exotic beauty. Buffy started to reach out and touch her cheek, but caught herself mid movement and yanked her hand back. God, what was she thinking? It was just a dream, not a prophecy or anything like. Just a dream caused by her overactive hormones in combination with the smell of Willow's shampoo.

Not to mention the fact that she'd spent the evening kissing and showering with her best friend in a bout of primevally laced beer drunkies.

Oh, well, that was special.

Buffy tipped her head down, paling another appalled notch as she remembered it all, from the dorm paintings of Lascaux, to bonking Parker, to climbing naked into the shower with Willow and demanding cleaning services. Buffy Summers wondered if running away again was completely out of the question. Good lord, she was lucky Willow hadn't simply run screaming into the night.

She shivered with sensory memory as she remembered the feeling of Willow's soap slicked hands sliding over her skin..

Or maybe she was just lucky that the wolfy version of Oz hadn't been anywhere in residence to tear her throat out.

Willow shifted ever so slightly, drawing Buffy's gaze back down. This time she did reach out and tenderly brushed silky red bangs back from Willow's brow as she felt her chest tighten with emotions she wasn't sure she had the courage to face.

Buffy was still contemplating whether or not to resist the emotional epiphany that was fast threatening to turn her world on its edge when Willow turned her head ever so slightly, blinking muzzily.

"Buffy?" the hacker mumbled.

The Slayer pulled her hand back, instinctively tugging the sheet over her bare breasts as she smiled a little embarrassedly. "Yeah," she whispered as she was overcome by a total brain-spazz that robbed her of any ability to decide what to do next.

Willow twisted a little farther, brows drawing into a frown as she stared up at her friend. "I mean, you're the real Buffy?" she said a little hesitantly, her voice lifting at the end and turning the comment into a question.

"As real as I ever get," Buffy responded with a faint shrug.

A moment of uncertain silence stretched between them.

"I...um...how much do you remember?" Willow asked at last.

Well, that's the sixty-four thousand dollar question

, Buffy thought, because she remembered every last bit of it and that was scary as hell. For both of them she suspected. "Not much," she lied in a panic. "It's all pretty foggy. I think I hit Parker though."

Willow's lips tipped up in a sleepy grin. "You did...you hit him...and it was good..."

Buffy shared the infectious grin, almost forgetting for a moment that she was stark naked and lying in bed with her best friend while having thoughts she wasn't entirely comfortable having, after having a dream that she was distinctly uncomfortable about having.

"But it wasn't exactly you...well, not the evolved you anyways. You kind of had a witchy microbrew beer that turned you into a neanderthal."

"It was still a good response," Buffy decided out loud.

Willow chuckled. "Yeah...it was..." She rolled more on her back, the movement brushing their bare legs together and reminding the Slayer of all that discomfort.

Buffy tightened her hold on the sheet across her breasts, swallowing hard. "I...uh...well, I should probably get back to my own bed."

Willow was grateful for the darkness as she felt her face heat with the force of her answering blush. "Y-you...you didn't seem to like...well...clothes very much...and I think you weren't too fond of..." Willow's brain raced as she hunted for a way to explain their sleeping arrangements that didn't involve explaining their sleeping arrangements. "I think maybe it was the cold or the dark...I'm not really sure," she got out in a babble.

And they both fell silent again.

"I guess I really should be getting back to my own bed," Buffy said again though she still wasn't moving or making any attempt to move her arm out from under the weight of Willow's body.

"Yeah," Willow exhaled.

"Will, I..." Buffy started to whisper, not planning the way she leaned closer.

"Yeah," Willow breathed.

Their lips drew nearer, almost touching.

And then someone screamed.

Buffy jackknifed into a sitting position, forgetting her nudity in the face of possible trouble as she bounded across Willow to land lightly on her feet next to the bed.

Another scream rang across the night and now that she was listening for it and not involved in other pursuits, she was certain it was outside the dorm, but not very far away. She shoved their window open, staring out into the dark night. Another scream and Buffy spotted movement in a darkened corner next to the building not far from the north exit door. She pulled back and started toward the door, only to momentarily pull up short as Willow thrust the robe that had been discarded earlier into her line of vision.

"You might want this," the hacker pointed out with a tiny gesture at Buffy's body, while her eyes remained firmly on her friend's face.

"Thanks," Buffy muttered and slung the garment on, yanking the belt tight even as she was lunging through their door.

Willow paused only long enough to grab a crossbow and a handful of bolts from the weapons locker under Buffy's bed, then hurried out after her friend.

People were sticking their heads out of their dorm rooms, bleary with sleep and there were more than a few complaints and grumbles. Buffy heard none of it as she hit the door that opened onto the emergency stairwell, taking the stairs two at a time as she hurried toward the sound. Finally, she hit the ground floor and burst through the exit door that led to the outside, so involved in the hunt that she barely felt the chill fall air that caressed her bare skin. Perhaps a minute had passed since they'd heard the first cry.

And nothing was moving.

Buffy did a slow pivot, braced in a fighter's stance and ready for anything, but there was nothing there, only the steady rasp of her own breathing.

Only a moment passed before the door at her back was pushed open and Willow stepped through, the crossbow in her fine boned hands loaded and ready for action. If there had been any action to find. "Well?" the hacker demanded breathlessly.

Buffy shook her head slowly. "Nothing."

The world was still as death, buildings gleaming faintly under the light of a hunter's moon, while trees and shrubs cast deep, impenetrable shadows. An army could have been moving through that and they couldn't have seen it.

"Vamps?" Willow questioned and Buffy shrugged.

"Maybe...my spidey sense isn't doing the tingle, but that doesn't always mean a whole lot. Of course it could also be any one of a thousand demons doing Club Sunnydale on their vacation, a few more pre-evolution frat boys, or nothing more than a freshman prank." She started down the steps, already moving toward the thick vegetation as she ordered Willow over her shoulder, "Stay here. I'm just going to check it out."

The hacker's knuckles whitened against the polished wooden surface of the crossbow as she watched her friend move away, almost blending into the darkness. Something was not right, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it, or maybe it was just that not quite right was standard operating procedure in Sunnydale. Being situated over a Hellmouth kinda did that to a town as far as Willow could tell, especially when the town in question was Sunnydale and had been started for the express purpose of eventually feeding a demon. She stood guard though, watching the undergrowth with the crossbow held tightly in hand, ready to provide Buffy back up if she could. Long moments later, she took a half step back while trying to see better. And nearly went down as her bare foot skidded in a thick puddle of something viscous. Willow regained her balance and hopped aside, careful not to get her other foot in the stuff, then crouched down, reaching out to touch her fingers to it, then lifted them to sniff the substance. She recognized the familiar metallic smell instantly. Blood. "Buffy," the Slayer's name came out as a tiny squeak too low to be heard by anyone more than a few feet away. The redhead was just drawing breath to call out more loudly when something creaked in the shadows to her right. Willow turned toward the sound, bringing the crossbow to bear.

"Ease off on that trigger," Buffy's voice floated out of the darkness as she stepped from the shadows. "Unless, of course, you're in the mood for Slayer-kabob."

Willow tipped the weapon up as she pushed to her feet. "Find anything?"

Buffy shook her head. "There were some broken branches in the hedge. Could have been some kind of altercation...or a drunken frat rat might have fallen into it."

"I'd vote for the altercation," Willow said and crouched back down, pointing to the quickly drying stain on the cement landing. "Because that's blood."

The Slayer bounded up beside her friend, dropping to a half crouch as she looked at the smear.

She reached out and touched it, none too thrilled that she recognized the feel and smell so easily. "Well, whatever happened," she murmured at last and nodded toward the east, where the sky was lightening to a soft shade of violet in anticipation of the coming morning. "It looks like it's over for the night." They shared a knowing look. "Come on," Buffy said and tugged the exit door open. "Let's get back inside. I'll come back down and get a sample of the blood...just to make sure it's human."

"Yeah," Willow agreed, stepping through the open door as her friend held it open for her. She brushed up against Buffy and looked up, naked emotion momentarily showing in her gaze.

The Slayer's breath caught and both girls froze, sharing a long look that asked more questions than it answered. Buffy swallowed hard, wondering what the hell was happening to her as she found herself contemplating what it would be like to kiss her best friend without any interference from bewitched beer. Suddenly, she yanked herself back from the thought as she reminded herself that even if Willow were so inclined, she was solidly with Oz--Oz, right, Willow's boyfriend--and Buffy had never regarded herself as the sort of person who chased those who were already involved. And Willow is involved, she reminded herself again as she stared into the trap of soft green eyes. The Slayer straightened her shoulders and pulled back a fraction. "You go on...I know you've got to get ready for your eight am class...and Oz'll be by to pick you up in a little while."

Willow flinched as she was reminded of her boyfriend, but she didn't move away, just continued staring at her friend. "Buffy?" she whispered at last. She was feeling more than a little weird, as though she was being pulled in two directions at once and she didn't know what to do about it.

The Slayer's expression was soft as she whispered, "Go on. I'll be up in a couple of minutes."

Her expression uncertain, Willow paused a beat, then finally stepped inside. Buffy let the door close in her wake, took a deep breath and let it out slowly to release some of the tension built up in her muscles, while she closed her eyes and tried to let the cool air clear her head. It didn't help much, but she did quickly become aware of the fact that daylight was fast approaching, people were starting to move around on campus, and she was wearing a very brief robe and nothing more. Emotional turmoil aside, inside was suddenly looking very good. She flashed an embarrassed smile at a passing jogger, then pivoted and hurried back inside. Epiphanies, unrequited love, sexual confusion, and neo-jurassic multi-person showers were one thing, total public humiliation quite another.

Buffy never saw the dark clothed figure that came around the corner of the building just as she entered, a cellular phone pressed against one ear. "Yes, I have the Slayer under surveillance now." Dark eyes scanned the campus as it continued coming back to life, no longer overrun with demonic presences that sought to devour the living, though they would be back once night fell again. Ethan Rayne smiled. He'd rather liked college and he suspected he was going to enjoy this latest little opportunity to experience higher learning. "You just remember our deal." A moment later, he clicked the phone off and slid it into his inner coat pocket, pausing only momentarily to wipe the last of the blood off of his fingers with the handkerchief tucked in the inner pocket. Obviously, the original owner had been the neat sort. Rayne's smile broadened a notch. "Well, don't worry, old chap, I'll make sure it's well cared for," he drawled to no one in particular as he strolled away, whistling an old tune from his childhood and tried to remember the lyrics. Something about worms crawling in and out. How appropriate, since soon enough, the Slayer would know that feeling very well....

The End for now...

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