Willow’s hard now. Not so hard that she’s lost that corn-syrup sweet puppy dog thing she’s had going since high school. If you’re just meeting her for the first time, you’d never know anything else. But she’s changed. I’ve changed. We’ve changed in the opposite directions.
She used to have this fuzzy pink mess of a sweater. She wore it with a skirt and bright white tights like the kind little girls wear to Easter mass. I miss that sweater. I miss the days where out of the whole group, one of us was still kind of wholesome, whatever that really means.
She killed someone. I’ve killed someone.
Maybe we should shack up and kill someone together.
This motel says everything I need it to. The desert, the fleet of motorcycles out front, the unidentifiable stains on the sheets, the fact that I can survive here without complaint, the whole thing is about letting her know that I don’t take shit.
She throws her bag on the bed closest to the door. I take the one near the bathroom. The wallpaper mocks us. It’s yellowed and peeling, and it’s seen some things I probably can’t even think up. How many mob hits, how many hookers, how many little bags of meth or coke have these walls seen? More than either of us, and somehow what we’ve seen is still probably worse. Hell, Willow saw the insides of her girlfriend’s murderer. I saw my own hand shove a stake through a man’s chest.
Willow sits on the edge of her bed. She’s ginger about it, like she doesn’t want to expose too much of herself to whatever else might be there, hiding between threads. I let my duffel bag and the Slayer Sythe drop to the floor, then I turn to face her.
Sunnydale? Gone. Buffy? Dead. Spike and Xander and Giles and Anya, all the potential slayers we dragged into the biggest dice roll any of us had ever tried? Bleeding into the earth, never gonna breathe again.
Willow tried a spell, at the very last minute, a spell to save everyone. We’re the only ones it reached in time. Buffy left me holding the Scythe.
“We should go out,” I say. “I saw a bar down the road.”
She frowns. “Faith. It’s not exactly the time for celebration.” Her eyes shift to the ground and she clenches her right hand in her left.
“What else are we gonna do?”
Ten minutes later, and we’re sitting in this sleepy desert dive. A man in a cowboy hat sits a few seats down from us, and the jukebox plays the type of country music you’d imagine a strip club in small town Georgia to blast when introducing its star dancer.
“A bourbon,” I say. “Neat.”
The bartender, a youngish guy in a flannel shirt, looks to Willow. She doesn’t look at him, doesn’t even acknowledge him.
“One for her, too,” I tell him.
He pours the drinks and sets them in front of us, then steps back, cleans some glasses.
Willow’s hands sit crossed on the bar. I reach to her and place my right hand over hers.
“They would have wanted it like this,” she says. Her voice comes out quiet, but resolute. She turns to face me, and her eyes go a little wider. I swear I can see a flicker, a wisp, of black smoke behind them.
“They’d be happy they saved the world. They’d be happy you and I are still here.”
“They’d be happier if they were alive, probably.”
I raise my glass, give a wistful smile. “For them. For our friends.”
She stares me down for a moment. Eventually, raises her glass and clinks it to mine. I down my drink in one gulp; she does, too.
“Kennedy likes bourbon,” she says.
Kennedy. I forgot about Kennedy.
“Shit. I’m sorry, Willow. I didn’t even think.”
She scoffs. “It’s not like I’m the only one grieving.”
I frown. “What do you mean?”
“Did Buffy know how you feel?”
I shift my eyes to the bottles of liquor shelved behind the bar. “If she did, she never let on.” I turn back to her. “That doesn’t matter now, anyway.”
The room. I stand in front of the grimy bathroom mirror and look down at the sink. My hands gather water from the running faucet. I bend down, splash it to my face. Something hovers behind me. I feel the warmth on my back, so I stand up straight and face the heat. Willow. Right there behind me, close but not touching. She reaches her hand towards me, pushes my hair behind my ear. Her other hand moves to my waist, and it nudges me forward.
Not like I needed the push.
I catch her lips in mine, and it’s soft in a way I’m not used to. Usually, my kisses come with hunger. I kiss to devour, just like I do everything else. I take and take and take, even if I don’t mean to. I’ve been trying to change that. I really have. But times like these remind me that it always happens. I took the other slayer’s spot on this earth.
I’m not looking to devour anymore.
And Willow, well. She knows how to kiss. She makes it slow and attentive. She pauses to stroke my cheek, to place her lips to my jaw or my neck. Then she goes back, and each time she builds it just a little, kisses with a little more gusto. She savors her own need, just like she savors mine.
She goes faster, harder, and I follow. Moans. I’m moaning now, into her mouth, into her skin, grabbing her hair and twisting it in my fist. My feet move as hers move, and she’s steering us backwards. She grabs my shoulders and whips me around. My face collides with those stained sheets, and she stands above me, runs her hands up and down my sides.
“Do you think we’ll regret this?” she asks. Suddenly, she’s a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed again. And then her voice drops half an octave. It has a husk to it when she says, “Do you want us to do this?”
“I want to do this,” I breathe back. I shift onto my back and take at deep breath. Willow looks at me with smokey eyes. They follow me as I sit up. She lifts her right leg and places the knee on one side of my hips, raises the other and does the same to straddle me.
I’ve always known that this Willow lies inside the other. I wonder if she was like this with Kennedy or Tara. I wonder if she was a minx for them, too. Or maybe grief and circumstance just make us act different.
Then clothes come off, and all I know and feel are warmth and sweat and skin. Sweet, stinging skin. I deserve to sting.
She slides her arms into the straps of her backpack. I swing my duffel over one shoulder and carry the Scythe over the other. Time to walk. Time to leave.
“There’s a bus station just up the road,” Willow says. “We can head to LA. See if Angel needs us.”
On the bus, I doze off and dream I’m back in Buffy’s body, and I die in her place. When I wake, my head is on Willow’s chest, and her arm rests around my shoulders. Her fingers play with my hair.
I breathe in and tug myself closer to her. She’s hard. I’m hard. But we aren’t that hard.
We’re just alive.