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Bruised But Not Broken

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   Something Buffy rarely does, is let other people see her bruises. She knows that the blueing skin would only mean she would seem vulnerable to others, deserving of pity. She doesn’t want anyone’s pity. Sympathetic looks hurt far worse than whatever marks she bares. So, she never goes to anyone for help. After a fight, she never confides in anyone about the soreness, or about the throbbing pains that keep her from being able to sleep. She’s become stellar at cover up, disguising her winces with dismal quips, and applying appropriate amounts of foundation where needed. No one ever notices. Until the day they do. 

   “I don’t-”, Buffy blinks frustratedly, tossing her head back onto the pillows behind her, “-I don’t understand.” Willow rolls her eyes playfully, only mildly irritated with Buffy’s inability to comprehend the material. 

“If you were actually...Say, I don’t know…” Buffy watches Willow’s movement out of the corner of her eye, none the wiser to what mischievous movie the redhead is about to make. 

“...reading the textbook-” Willow’s punchline, which is probably too dad-like of a pun to actually be funny anyway, is cut off by the cry that escapes Buffy’s lips when the cramp-inducing textbook slams straight down onto her stomach.

   She immediately shrinks back into the pillows, flipping the textbook off of herself, it crashing with a dull thud to the floor. A vibrating pain pulses from the center of her stomach, beating through her muscles slowly. The convulsions that are occurring on a microscopic level are causing her to grit her teeth, sharp exhalations through her nose being her only way of supplying oxygen to her lungs. When she’s collected herself as much as she can manage under current circumstances, and she dares a glance at her accidental attacker, she frowns at the perturbed look plastered on said offenders face. Willow’s eyes flicker from Buffy’s turbulent greens to her stomach, where her hands are still reflexively pressed. 

“I-What?”, Willow’s concerned gaze is brimming with the onset of tears, the regret she feels over her attempt at banter immediately setting in. It’s a beautiful assault to her normally twinkling irises, the glistening being lessened by the more dampened undertone, but glistening nonetheless. Buffy recoils, more over her own carelessness, rather than in fear of her mild-mannered friend causing her any more harm. She attempts to bring herself to a sitting position, but to no avail as her abdomen protests in equal effort to the hand on her shoulder, followed by a voice insisting she lie back down. 

   “It’s nothing.” Buffy is aware of how weak her attempt at nonchalant is, but the pinching in her stomach is making it rather hard for her to compensate with her usual superhero bravado.

“No. No way.” Willow levels her with a look that Buffy’s sure she’s seen her own mother exercising before. It’s the kind of look that lets you know you better just give up now. “Where I come from, Slayers aren’t so worrisomely winded by books.” 

“Well, where I come from, people know better than to throw books at the Slayer.” Buffy jokingly kicks at Willow, who is not having it, and she dejectedly returns to cradling her stomach. 

   “You’re not changing the subject, Buffy.” Willow assertively states, as she rests a hand on the aforementioned Slayer’s leg. She casts her worried gaze over the rest of Buffy briefly, before returning to her cloudy eyes. “Please tell me what’s wrong. No smart remarks. Just the truth.” Buffy draws in a breath, pushing down her want to shove Willow away, and come up with whatever excuse she can. She grips the end of her shirt in between her fingers, hesitating at the anticipating look she’s receiving. She slowly pulls the shirt to bunch up just above the protruding points of her rib cage, where the sturdy bone gives way to unsupported flesh.

   If Willow’s sharp intake of breath is any indication as to how horribly her tissue in this area has been healing, then she can rest assured that it’s not gotten any better. She reclines fully again, her head on a pillow, and her eyes staring distantly at the ceiling. She’s not really paying attention to what Willow is saying, until she feels the lightest touch brush against her skin. The feathery soft touch bounces across her stomach, tracing slashes, and mock-shading the blotchy bruising. An unsettling feeling is rising in Buffy, but the tenseness is almost lessened by the ticklish phases she’s being put through. In her relaxed state, she barely hears Willow faintly mutter something that sounds sort of like, “I’ll be right back.” Buffy sinks deeper into her dozed off state as Willow’s absence draws on. She no longer finds interest in the jagged finish on her ceiling, and instead allows her eyelids to flutter shut. She’s encompassed in darkness, and the familiar feeling lulls her into a light slumber. 

   Willow’s presence is re-announced by the sagging of one side of the bed, almost immediately followed by the application of something very cold to Buffy’s exposed skin. A hiss is drawn from the Slayer’s lips, and she cracks open her eyes enough to see Willow holding a small container of what is probably some kind of lotion in one hand, the other matching her earlier brushes against Buffy’s scarcely healed wounds, but this time with the icy substance being spread as her main goal. Buffy blinks rapidly in an attempt to clear her vision, finding herself still drawn toward the seductions of sleep. 

“This should help. I don’t really know how Slayer strength interacts with more mundane treatments, but if anything, they’ll close up faster, and there won’t be such a risk of infection.” Willow shrugs as she puts away the container, wiping her hand on a napkin she was smart enough to bring with her. Buffy’s vision is blurred by her eyelashes, but still centered on the admixed cuts, and the slight sheen that the bluish skin now has.

“Thanks.”

   The one word, though muttered, holds much meaning to the one who’d spoken it, and this meaning translates to Willow, who just nods, a warm smile spreading across her face. 

“You’re welcome.” She shrugs in a no big deal manner, and sets back onto her folded legs. “Next time, show me your soon-to-be battle-scars before I attempt to worsen them.” Buffy chuckles, and nods, acknowledging her friend’s request. 

 

   The next time Buffy finds herself leaning over her bathroom sink, blood slowly dripping onto the white ceramic, she doesn’t reach for a rag, and bandages. No, she neglects the attempt at self applied first-aid, and instead retrieves the phone from her room, dialing the only set of numbers she’d allow herself to. 

“Hello?” The line picks up after only two rings. 

“Hey, Willow, uhm-”, Buffy hesitates for a moment, distracted by the beads of crimson that are slipping down her arm. 

“Buffy, what is it? Is something wrong?” Willow’s voice draws Buffy’s attention, and she immediately feels bad for bringing about the worried tone in the voice on the other end of the line. 

“Oh, uh, I just, uhm…remember that time you kind of requested to be informed of my, uh, more unfortunate injuries?” 

   The call is silent for several moments, save for the initial sharp intake of breath, and the longer the silence draws on, the more Buffy contemplates whether she should just hang up or not. She hears shuffling on the other side of the call, and then Willow’s voice cuts back in, “Should I bring stitches?” 

After what had been asked actually sinks in, the shock from the abrupt inquiry wearing off, Buffy cringes internally. The thought of stitches has her shaking her head vehemently, not giving much forethought to the inadequacy of her nonverbal answer. 

“Oh god, please don’t. I learned really fast that the feeling of stitches being unsown by one’s own skin is just not a thing you’d want to revisit.” The exhalation of breath she hears is easily understood as unsettled, if not grossed out, even before she hears the mumbled exclamation that follows.

“Ech.”

“Yeah.” Her agreement is the end of their dialogue until the crackling silence is finally disturbed by a loud shuffling, followed in short by Willow’s familiar voice, “I’m on my way.”

    Buffy’s at the door the second she hears footsteps approaching. She glances through the foggy window before she opens the door. Can’t be too careful when it comes to letting people in your home at unconventional times of the night. Standing on her doorstep is Willow Rosenberg, carrying a small bag, and bathed in the soft glow of the moonlight. 

“Hey.” Willow’s smile is infectious, and Buffy steps back to wave her in, with a similar smile growing hastily upon her own lips. 

“Hey.” She mimics Willow’s greeting, relocking the now shut door. She flips the light off, and walks side by side with Willow up the stairs, where her room, and the bathroom are. Willow silently follows her into her bathroom, where the contrasting white tiles nearly blind her eyes that are adjusting from the dark. She blinks until her vision clears, and she can easily find the counter, upon which she sets her bag. Buffy closes the bathroom door, as well, finally breaking the silence. 

   “Sorry, I just don’t want to wake Mom up.” It’s nearly two in the morning, and Joyce would probably have a conniption if she found Buffy out of bed, and bleeding all over her tiles. Buffy dearly loves her mother, but an ER visit is not on her To Do List, and so, unaware, her mother shall stay.

“I get it.”, Willow is observing Buffy, carefully analyzing what is already visible, which is admittedly not much. “Thank you for calling.” She slides her jacket off, and lays it beside her bag. She doesn’t wish to dally on the subject, because she’s aware of Buffy’s comfort zone, but the fact that Buffy had reached out to her really does mean a lot to her, and she is entirely grateful.

   Buffy opts for a shrug in reply, openly grimacing at the surge of heat that this sparks. The twinge shoots from her left to her right shoulder, and then trickles down the middle of her back. This urges Willow to act on her anxieties, and she moves to help Buffy out of her jacket. Though, they both acknowledge but would never admit it, Buffy is perfectly capable of undoing the buttons on her own. Still, Willow delicately exposes Buffy’s undershirt, one button at a time. She then moves around the Slayer, assisting her in slipping the sleeves off, discarding the bloodied denim into a neatly folded pile. With the view obstructing fabric gone, Willow can fully see the source of her friend’s current blood loss. Through Buffy’s right shoulder, clear to where it would’ve at least nicked bone, a sword sized wound is dripping blood onto the increasingly more stained tank-top she is wearing. The cardinal liquid is seeping into the light purple material, and re-dyeing it that same dark color.

   “Oh god.” The exclamation escapes Willow, before she can think to alter it, and Buffy grimaces, drawing in a deep breath.

“Well, you should’ve seen the other guy.” Buffy looks over her shoulder to deliver the cheesy line, wincing at the twinge of pain. Willow rolls her eyes, but struggles to hide her amusement behind her smile. Buffy’s eyes soften at the sight, her best friend’s happiness working like a kind of local anesthetic. She turns back to the face the tub again, the small smile still playing on her lips. 

“Here”, Willow moves around Buffy, offering a hand to her, “Get in the tub. It’ll be easier to wash the blood out of. Plus, if your mom wakes up, she’ll think you’re taking a shower.” 

   “At 2 A.M.?” Buffy raises an eyebrow at Willow, her tone teasing, though she’s already taking the girl’s offered hand. Willow guides her into a sitting position, leaving room on either side of her in the tub, her lighter features making up an expression that is not unlike Buffy’s.

“Like you haven’t done weirder things.”

“Guilty as charged.” Buffy attempts to raise her hands in mock surrender, but her wounded arm falls limp, and a pain-soaked heat throbs down into her fingertips. Willow returns to undressing the wounded area, which requires removal of the ruined tank. 

   Willow’s fingers brush lightly against the skin of Buffy’s neck, her hesitation guiding them across the already exposed patches of smooth skin.

“Buffy?”

“Yeah?” Buffy’s almost absent voice drives Willow to push past her hesitation. The blood loss, combined with her own unintentionally lulling administrations, are pulling the blood-covered Slayer into a relaxed state that is not good for her to be in right now.

“I’m, uh...”, Willow lets her hand slide down the side of the bloodied tank, nearing the bottom, as she speaks, “...going to- well, do this.” Her fingers wrap around the bottom of Buffy’s bunched up top, and she lifts it as high as she can, before the girl’s arms get in the way.

   “Or not. Uh, maybe I could-” Buffy cuts Willow off, looking at her as she says, “Just tear it.” Willow searches her bruised face for any hint that she is uncomfortable with what she is telling her to do, and finding none, she grabs the material in both hands. On the second try, the material splits with a typically unsettling noise that ricochets off of the tile walls. Willow can’t help but giggle triumphantly as she tosses the bloodied material onto the jacket she’d already realized she’d have to dispose of. Buffy smiles lightheartedly at her enthused friend, finding it to be oddly comforting. As Willow’s eyes return to Buffy, her cheerful face stains lightly with the realization that Buffy freaking Summers is half naked in front of her.

   She trains her eyes on the PG-13 parts of Buffy, thanking every goddess in the multitude of books for the fact that she can see Buffy’s wound clearly without having to remove her bra. In her focus on the task at hand, she’d misplaced her ability to actually focus on the task at hand. The thought of hands is definitely one she shoves so very far into the back of her mind that not even an all-seeing demon would be able to find it.

“Hello, Earth to Willow.” She hears distant snapping, accompanied by a near voice. The round of snaps following the next statement, she hears loud and clear. “Techy 1-9, this is Slayer Buffy Summers, do you read me?” Willow’s eyes cross as they attempt to focus on the fingers snapping in front of her face, the sudden reinsertion into reality shocking her enough to earn a shake of her head. She blinks blankly at Buffy, who is looking at her expectantly, a single eyebrow raised.

   “Techy 1-9, please respond with your status. Over.” Buffy mimes holding a walkie-talkie, asking Willow if she’s okay via her cheesy astronaut voice. Willow’s smile returns as she realizes this is Buffy’s way of breaking the silence. She mimes holding her own walkie-talkie, tuning her voice to sound kind of like she’s speaking through the imaginary static.

“This is Techy 1-9, requesting to dock with Slayer Buffy Summers upon reentry into the atmosphere. Over.” Buffy cocks her head to the side for a moment, putting together Willow’s spaced out joke in her mind, before an amused smile twists onto her lips. Her smile morphs into a smirk as the unintended dirty joke plays in her mind.

   “Roger that, Techy 1-9. Over and out.” Buffy makes the last astronaut-themed comment, pretending to stow away her imaginary walkie-talkie. As she finishes, both Willow and the wounded Slayer burst into a fit of giggles. During this exchange, Willow manages to lean a good deal over the side of the tub, the ceramic pressing into the skin above her oxygen-starved lungs. Buffy only notices her proximity when her hair tickles the skin of said Slayer’s shoulder, Willow’s head ducked as she struggles to breathe through her laughter. Rather than freeze up, Buffy musters up the strength to run a hand through Willow’s soft, and strikingly bright hair. Willow stills when she does, becoming aware of how close she is to her. Her laughter dies down, replaced by her shallow, but quick breaths. She holds her position until Buffy’s fingers run through her hair once more, guiding a few pieces behind her ear. When Buffy’s arm returns shakily to her lap, Willow sits back on her knees, arms resting on the edge of the tub.

   “Do you want to talk about what happened?” Willow rests her chin on the top of her fist, which she lays on the other, giving her some leverage, so she can look into Buffy’s eyes. Buffy looks briefly at her lap, her desire to drop the topic obvious. Not wanting to push her, Willow shifts back to grab her bag as she says, “Hows'bout we take care of you first?” She doesn’t notice Buffy’s nod of agreement, or the heartwarmed look in her eyes, her own focused on the contents of her Slayer-Worthy First-Aid kit. She removes a pack of press-on bandages, and several containers of gauze, followed by a tube of antibiotic ointment.

   “Geez, Will! You runnin’ a clinic out of your bedroom window?” Buffy’s expression is three parts concerned, amused, and impressed. Willow shrugs as she shoves her bag aside, saying, “Better safe than sorry.” Following this casual statement, Buffy’s playful demeanor noticeably dampens. She doesn’t say anything, however, until Willow moves to get a wet washcloth. “I’m sorry you have to keep me safe.” Surprised by Buffy’s sudden apology, Willow turns to the girl, taking in her fatigued features from another angle. She works out what she wants to say in her head, but she’s cut off when she tries to actually say it. “I’m the Slayer. It’s my job to do the safe’ing . But here you are- on a school night, nonetheless- cleaning up my messes.” Willow’s amusement over Buffy’s pun is overpowered by the pain she feels beating in her chest. She returns to Buffy’s side, placing the washcloth on the edge of the tub.

   “I don’t remember ‘invincible’ being one of the job requirements.” Willow reaches for one of the wounded girl’s battered hands, holding it comfortably in her less calloused, paler hand. She brushes a finger over Buffy’s knuckles as she speaks. “You are amazing at keeping everybody safe. You’re always ready to go where no one wants to, with fists-a-flyin’, and the Slayer strength to back that up.” Willow raises Buffy’s hand to rest on the side of the tub, the fresh cuts, and thin, white scars that accompany it undismissable by the onlookers. Buffy glances from her hand, back to Willow’s eyes as she begins talking again, her voice barely above a whisper now. “If you beat up every threat that comes around, you can’t reasonably expect it to not have repercussions. Each of these-”, she says, as she traces the scars that are littered across the otherwise smooth skin, “-have a story. They are the stories of the Slayer.”

   Tears are brimming in Buffy’s eyes as she takes in what her friend is saying. “Is having this much to talk about a good thing?” Buffy runs her fingers over Willow’s palm, using the movement as a distraction from the force of the conversation they’re having. The contact tickles enough to send a shiver down Willow’s spine, but she welcomes it, knowing that it’s providing at least a little comfort to the girl in front of her. “Don’t think that these make you weak, Buffy. It’s the other way around. These scars show that you’ve been through hell, and you’ve still made it this far. You’re alive, and healed-”, she backpedals when Buffy casts a look over her wounded shoulder, implying that healed may be an overstatement, “-or, are healing. Anyway, my point is, if you were weak, you wouldn’t still be adding new scars to your collection. Your strength comes not from never getting hurt, but from bouncing back when you do.”

   A look that Willow doesn’t recognize is swirling around in the sea of colors that makes up Buffy’s eyes. Admiration, followed by something that resembles contemplation, and before she has time to deconstruct the rest, she’s being pulled forward by the front of her shirt. Buffy meets her half way, her lips landing on a surprised pair. Her first thought, when her brain quits freaking out, is that Buffy tastes salty, with a hint of cherry. Her next thought is Buffy freaking Summers is kissing her right now, followed by the delayed afterthought that Buffy uses cherry chapstick. Her body responds, even while her brain short circuits, and her lips move against Buffy’s. The kiss is broken too quickly, however, when Buffy falls back, subsequently letting Willow slide into an awkward half in and half out of the tub position.

   Willow mentally slaps herself when Buffy’s hiss of pain reminds her of why she came over in the first place. She rushes to right herself, snatching the washcloth off of the floor. “Buffy, I’m so sorry.” Willow moves to be closer to Buffy’s wound, taking her supplies with her. “Here, let me patch you up.” She complies, leaning forward enough for Willow to work on the spot with ease. Willow uses the cloth to wipe away the excess blood, being careful to not press too hard. When the skin is as clean as it’s going to get, she grabs the pack of stick on bandages. She pulls one out of the box, tossing it toward her bag. She peels of the non-stick part, and places the bandage over the wound, managing to cover it entirely. After placing the trash to one side, she unclips a roll of gauze, using the heavier material to wrap the area a couple of times around, and over Buffy’s shoulder. Once she’s satisfied with the placement, she clips it in place.

   “We all done here, Doc?” Buffy follows Willow with her eyes as the girl climbs back around the side of the tub, and steps onto the floor. She discards the trash as she replies, looking at the stuff she’d left on the side of the tub regretfully. “You’ll  be sore for a while, but you will heal eventually. Quicker than eventually, actually, thanks to that handy Slayer healing.” Buffy notices the items Willow keeps looking at, and she grabs them, before attempting to stand on her own. She makes it a few inches off of the bottom of the tub, but then her feet slip, and she thumps back down. Willow’s concern hides under a layer of adoration when she sees Buffy’s childlike pout. She offers a hand to the Slayer, who takes it, and is soon on her feet, on the floor, thanks to the assistance.

   “I thought, for a second, you were looking at me like I was the thing you needed, but couldn’t get.” Buffy drops the things she’s holding into Willow’s bag as she says, “Turns out, you were looking at these things you needed, but couldn’t get.” Willow picks up on the flirtation, ecstatic to see that Buffy doesn’t intend to leave what had just happened between them in the past. She zips her bag, placing it on her jacket, before turning back to Buffy to say, “If you want the first scenario, look at me during pretty much any class I have with you.” Buffy steps in closer to Willow, whose thighs are flesh against the counter she’s leaning on, leaving her with no room to back up, if she even wanted to.

“So, what you’re saying is, I’m the thing you want?”, Buffy’s voice is low, and she’s close enough for Willow to feel her breath against her skin. A different kind of shiver from the previous one runs down her spine. She nods, not trusting her voice to be more than a whimper. Buffy presses against her, resting her arms on the counter on either side of Willow. An unfamiliar husk lilts her voice as she says, “Then come and get me.”

 

   The more time that passes, the less Buffy finds calling Willow for help to be unordinary. In fact, it seems to her that she’s become used to the routine, Willow’s voice over the phone line becoming the first thing that greets her after any fight worth mentioning. Willow is more than happy to comply, keeping her Slayer-Worthy First-Aid at the ready, and gas in her car’s tank. Her coming to Buffy, after the Slayer calls, is the routine that they’ve both cozied up to. Buffy showing up on her doorstep, or more accurately passing out after clambering in through her bedroom window, however, is not.

   “Buffy!” Willow hops up from her seat in front of her desk, and rushes toward the Slayer’s crumpled frame. She rolls the girl onto her back, moving to let her head rest on her lap. “What the...Are you okay?” Buffy’s eyes open, searching for Willow’s, a groan splitting her blood caked lips. “No. Okay, yeah, that was a stupid question.” Willow mumbles to herself, her mind already flooding with scenarios, most of them less than cheerful. She gets to her feet, gently placing Buffy’s head on the sweater she strips off of herself, before moving to lock her door. Her mom walking in on this would be far worse than that time Joyce had walked in on a very recently patched up, and therefore shirtless, Buffy straddling a thankfully clothed Willow. While they did have a PG-13 explanation for that situation, it being a girl fight brought about by Willow spilling something on Buffy’s favorite shirt, Joyce wouldn’t believe a thing they said, an odd air developing between her and Willow from then on.

   After making sure her door is locked, Willow goes to her dresser to retrieve the Slayer-Worthy First-Aid Kit. She places it on her nightstand, situating her bed to best suit a girl in what she imagines is an exorbitant amount of pain. She looks at Buffy, her body still, save for the up and down of her chest. Her heart thumps lowly, the sight of the girl she loves crumpled up like a used napkin causing an uneasy feeling to settle in the pit of her stomach. She kneels next to Buffy, gently sliding her arm under the girl’s shoulder blades, and the other under her already bent knees. She knows that any little movement will only bring the Slayer more pain, so she puts everything she has into standing on her first try. She makes it to her feet, not without almost tipping over, but she manages to steady herself, and she sighs, the small relief welcomed.

   Willow places her on the bed, her limbs limply landing wherever gravity takes them. She moves the crooked arms to a more relaxed position, caressing the unconscious girl’s cheek. “Oh, Buffy…”, she retrieves the First-Aid kit, scanning its contents, “This is bad.” She places the kit back down, turning to remove the blonde’s jacket. She slides it off slowly, doing her best to not disturb Buffy, even though the Slayer is unresponsive at the moment. She folds it, and places it in a chair, followed by Buffy’s shoes, and not long after, her jeans, and tank top. She checks the bruised girl’s skin for traces of any other wounds she might have sustained. She finds the scarring that she’s grown used to, and deeply bruised tissue across the Slayer’s ribcage, but no cuts, or puncture wounds. Her concern only grows, knowing that Buffy is rarely knocked unconscious, and the delayed occurrence is likely the result of blood loss. Which means, either Buffy fought a demon that can harvest blood without breaking the skin, or she’s suffering from internal bleeding.

   Feeling completely useless, Willow just sits beside Buffy, cleaning the combination of dried blood and dirt off of the unmoving girl. Once she’s wiped until the towelettes aren’t tinging that rusty brown anymore, she tosses the used ones in a trash bin, and places the box on her nightstand. A chill causing goose pimples to rise on her skin reminds her that she’s topless, and she pulls an oversized sweatshirt from her closet, grabbing an older sweater for herself. She slips the soft material on, doing the same for Buffy, who’s skin is also chilled, the draft from the fan hitting her uncovered body. She finds a pair of fuzzy pajama bottoms, pulling them up each bare leg until she moves to pull them up to Buffy’s hips, a voice startling her. Groggily, and in a tone that’s indicative of the price of being sassy in her current state, Buffy says, “If I had known this was the view I’d get to wake up to, I would’ve gotten myself knocked out sooner.”

   Willow yelps, losing her balance and falling onto the source of her fright’s legs. Buffy hisses in pain, and Willow groans from the force of the knee that impacts with her abdomen. She moves as quickly as she can manage with the wind knocked out of her, and rolls to the side, laying beside Buffy. In the position they’re in, it's rather difficult to, but Buffy manages to scrunch an arm up to let her run her fingers through Willow’s hair. A small sound of appreciation comes from the redhead, the relief of Buffy waking up one she’s too ecstatic about to contain. “I’m sorry.”

   Willow turns her head to blink at Buffy, her question written in her features. Buffy smiles, winces because her lips crack in the way they would if they were chapped, and smiles again. “I’m sorry that I just played soccer with your internal organs.”, she says, her voice still gravelly, but her tone teasing. Willow grins, Buffy’s flippant behavior infectious. Willow slides her hand up Buffy’s arm, linking their fingers together as she says, “Well, I’m sorry my body used yours as a safety net.” Buffy squeezes her fingers, still smiling at her lover. She raises their hands near her mouth, placing a kiss to the back of Willow’s hand. “I’ll always be your safety net, Will.”

   They lay in comfortable silence for several minutes, listening to the sounds of their breathing. Willow speaks up, her voice soft, barely above a whisper, “Are you okay?” A few seconds of silence pass before Buffy quietly says, “I will be.” Willow smiles, the feeling of impending doom dulling to where she can breathe just fine, for now. Another moment of silence, the sound of the ceiling fan whirring alongside the heartbeat in the chest she’s resting her head on lulling her into sleep. Before the throes of sleep claim her, she whispers, “I love you.” She thinks that the steady breaths she’s feeling against her cheek are the sleeping Slayer’s, the confession being whispered on deaf ears, but the Slayer hears her, and a smile as warm as the feeling in her chest spreads across Buffy’s face.