Buffy's puttering around the apartment when her phone rings. It's Willow, calling from the Rainbow Potsmoke Gathering. Which has a real name, but Xander's nickname is catchier.
"So how's the thing?" Buffy still can't get used to the idea that witches gather at hippie drumming retreats, but Willow says it's the perfect cover; no one in this town even blinks at the incense or the crystals or the weird noises at all hours of the night.
"So far, so good." Willow's voice is tinny. Not because she's so far away, but because Buffy's cellphone sucks. "I've found a coven to hang out with for the week. They call themselves Jewitches."
"Cute name," Buffy says, holding the phone awkwardly between shoulder and ear, carrying the watering can around the apartment. One of her first projects, now that they aren't on the Hellmouth anymore, was an herb garden; Giles laughed, but so far she hasn't lost a single plant.
"They're pretty good," Willow admits. "They're big on the lunar calendar, lots of waxing and waning moon stuff. And on the mystical energies of the sefirot -- it's a kabbalah thing."
"Sounds...witchy," Buffy says.
"Some of their rituals are a little religious for me, but this afternoon Jori was showing me a really cool atonement spell --"
Buffy can't help wrinkling her nose, even though Willow can't see her. "There are spells for that? I thought atonement was supposed to be all -- internal."
"Oh, it is," Willow assures her. "There's a whole process of preparation and purification. If you want the high-test version to work, before you can cast the circle and start the spell you have to ritually ask forgiveness of the person or people you wronged."
"I guess if it works, it could come in handy," Buffy says. There's a silence and she wonders whether they're both thinking about Willow, veiny with dark fire, almost destroying the world.
Can you atone for something like that?
What if you make a habit of fighting the forces of evil -- how many times do you have to save the world before that kind of transgression gets cancelled out?
"Well, anyway," Buffy rushes in, her voice a little too bright, "no real news from here. Xander's working, Giles is still spending all day in the library, Dawnie's settling in for her first semester --"
"I've only been gone four days," Willow points out.
"Right. I know, I just -- hey, have fun with the Jewitches," Buffy says.
"Sounds like a plan," and it's Willow's determined-to-be-cheerful voice. It makes Buffy's heart hurt.
Maybe it's because they're a thousand miles apart, but there are things Buffy's never said that suddenly come unbidden to her mouth.
"Will?" Buffy says, quietly. "You know we forgave you a long time ago, right?"
There's what might be a muffled sniff from the other end of the line, but when Willow pipes up again she sounds completely normal. "I know," she says. "I don't feel guilty about it anymore."