Willow waited in the double entry between the inner and outer doors, her palm hot with the banked fires of the unity orb Giles had helped her bind this morning. Twilight was falling fast; the trees on the edge of the parking lot were black against the gray sky. Nothing moved.
The inner door swung open. “The vampires will be out soon,” Kendra said.
The orb didn’t do much against vampires. Willow and Giles had collapsed an orb inside a vamp once, and the vampire had gone flooey, but stakes were a lot more efficient and didn’t give Willow headaches when she made them.
People lived here in the mall now, though. Willow hadn’t even realized how thoroughly they’d all settled in until a vamp had chased her across the parking lot and smacked face-first into nothing as soon as Willow got inside the door. Once Buffy and Larry and Spike and Xander got to that same door, they’d be safe. From vampires, anyway.
“It’s brighter than the last one,” Kendra said.
Willow realized Kendra was looking at the orb, and she held it up for Kendra to see. “I’m getting pretty good at them,” she said. The orb didn’t dazzle Willow’s eyes anymore; she didn’t see it at all so much as she felt it in her chest, arcing and fizzing like something Tesla might have made, like bottled lightning. She could only see the butterscotch-amber glow of it because of how it lit Kendra’s face.
“It’s very pretty.”
For some reason, Willow flushed. “Thanks,” she said, closing her fingers around the orb and lowering her hand. “You probably read all about orbs like this, right? In the Slayer handbook?”
Kendra scoffed and shook her head. “I read about them, but it’s not the same. And I never thought I would need one.”
“Yeah.” Willow held the orb a little tighter and looked across the parking lot again. The light was nearly gone. “I hope they get here soon.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she saw movement. A shock of white hair came into view, bobbing as it crossed the parking lot. “There,” Willow said, but Kendra already had the door open, stake in hand. Willow followed her. If Spike was running, then it wasn’t vamps or anything that could be hit.
As she got out the door, Xander hurdled a flowery median and stumbled across the parking lot. Larry was just behind him. And behind Larry— “Buffy!” Willow yelled, feeling like her feet were stuck in caramel and her lungs would burst. She met Buffy halfway, and behind her, under the harsh yellow light of the street lamp, Willow could just barely make it out: a hole in the fabric of space, the diameter of her fist and black as sin, as hopelessness, as the depths of the sea.
Willow pulled up, let Buffy get behind her as she stood firm, orb rolling in her palm. A black hole that broke apart the world six square inches at a time; an orb that unified. Chaos, meet order.
When the little black hole was only six feet away, Willow threw the orb. She hardly needed to aim; chaos attracted it like a shark to blood. It fell into the hole, and the percussion of the implosion echoed in her chest like a single impossible bass note.
Then she was sitting on the pavement, blinking up at Buffy and and Kendra. “You okay?” Buffy asked. Willow nodded, still a little dazed. “All right. Up you get.” Willow stumbled to her feet. Buffy shouldered under Willow’s arm, and Kendra took her other side, which seemed a little weird, but Willow didn’t feel in a frame of mind to come to any final conclusions just then.
They helped her inside the doors and took her to Giles. He hummed over her like the Rosenbergs’ kindly old family doctor who was surely dead, now that the world was ending, and he asked her if she’d noticed any new or interesting effects to casting the orb. She told him no, and tried not to think about the fizzle of power still sparking every so often behind her sternum.
By the time Giles was finished with her, Buffy was long gone delivering the supplies she and the others had gone out looking for. Only Kendra was left. Willow got to her own feet this time, and she walked to her bedroll in the back corner of the toy store under her own power, if a bit slowly. Kendra was at her elbow the entire way.
“I’m okay,” Willow said as she sank down to the floor. “I’m fine. You can go patrol.”
“You have to eat,” Kendra said. From somewhere she produced a protein bar and a Nalgene bottle filled with water. Then she sat down next to Willow and handed the protein bar to her.
“I’m fine,” Willow insisted.
“Yes,” Kendra agreed.
Willow looked sharply at her; she didn’t trust that agreement. Kendra only looked solemnly back, so Willow buried her suspicions and ate her protein bar. By the time she’d drunk a third of the water from the Nalgene bottle, she was feeling a lot better. “I’m serious,” she said. “I feel really good now, you can go do things.” She flapped her hand towards the entrance of the store.
“Maybe I don’t want to,” Kendra said.
Willow stared blankly at her. “Okay?”
“Maybe I want to stay here.” In the back of Kendra’s eyes was a heat Willow thought she ought to recognize.
“Uh...” While Willow was still processing that, Kendra leaned and planted a kiss right on Willow’s lips. Then she pulled back, looking sly and smug and uncertain all at once. “Oh,” Willow said faintly.
Kendra must have heard something good in that one word: the corners of her mouth turned up. They were nice corners. Willow hadn’t really noticed before.
There were a lot of questions Willow wanted to ask – a lot of answers she’d need to think about – but what she managed to squeak was, “I thought you weren’t allowed to do that. With the lips. And the kissing and dates and stuff?”
Kendra’s half-smile straightened out. Very gravely, she said, “Yes, the Slayer handbook does not permit me to speak to boys.”
“Oh,” Willow said again, cautiously. Kendra’s expression turned sly, and Willow couldn’t help but laugh. “Look at you, you rule breaker.”
“I’m not breaking any rules,” Kendra said primly.
Willow thought about that a minute. She looked at Kendra’s eyes, at the embers flickering in them, and something fizzed in her chest as sharp and hot as the magic of in one of her orbs.
Questions later, Willow decided. “Do you maybe wanna not break that rule again?”
And Kendra, it turned out, did.