Figuring Out By Pat Kelly



Willow was trying to concentrate on taking her last final of her junior year. Really, she was. She just couldn't seem to stay focused. Usually concentrating on academics let her forget her confusion, but Buffy was in the front row taking the final also, and that was the problem. Somehow Giles had gotten the slayer's expulsion revoked. She didn't know how he did it; all she knew was that Principal Snyder had taken a sick day today.

'Just one more question, then you'll be done. And you can go.' The hacker told herself.

Filling in the last bubble on her Scantron sheet, she put her still sharp, Number 2 pencil down, and raised her hand.

"Yes, Willow?" The proctor asked.

"Can I go to the bathroom?" She asked politely, trying not to look at Buffy. "I...I finished."

The woman nodded with a smile. "Do you need help with your chair?"

Willow saw her friend start to rise. "No, I got it. Thanks." She saw the hurt in Buffy's eyes, but wheeled herself to the bathroom without a word.

*****************************************************************************************************************************

The redhead stared at herself in the mirror -- she thought she looked better. Well, less corpse-like, anyway. She needed to think.

She wasn't distracted by Buffy because she had a burning desire to kiss her or anything like that (although since their mutual admission it had crossed her mind), it was more that she didn't know how to act or what to do. She admitted that she loved her, and that was the truth, but what next? She was a seventeen-year-old, book/computer geek, innocent, Jewish girl. She had always followed everyone else's expectations, and never did anything that could be considered, 'out of the norm.' But this...this was a huge leap out of the norm.

It's not that she had a problem with people who chose to be 'that way,' she had just never thought of herself as 'that way'. It scared her. She was concerned about what people would say, and she hated that. She had always believed that love was love. So what if they were both females? If love hits you, you can't just push it away. But even that wasn't the real issue. What really bothered her was, somebody was going to get hurt, and she didn't want to hurt anybody. By that, she meant Oz.

She figured out a while ago that Xander was a crush, and seeing him happy with Cordelia now, made her happy. But Oz was a terrific guy...a great all around person, actually. He'd helped her to come out of her shell, made her less shy, less afraid, and more open. But Buffy did that, too. After all, the slayer was the one who had made her go up to the guitarist in the first place. Without her encouragement, Willow would be alone.

'She's done so much for me.' The hacker silently remembered.

Buffy had gotten her to wear that outfit on Halloween, and forced her to realize that she had nothing to be ashamed of. Buffy had supported her when Xander couldn't, had been her first, real, female friend. She'd never had another girl to talk to; no other girls had wanted to talk to her. She hadn't realized what she was missing until the blonde entered her life. Buffy gave her all of that, while Oz repeatedly kept showing her why she was beautiful and worth it.

"I don't know what to do." She said aloud, a pained _expression on her face.

"Don't worry about it." Someone spoke.

In the mirror, she saw a certain brunette cheerleader come up behind her. "Cordelia!"

"Buffy or Oz, huh? Tough choice." The taller girl said, truthfully.

Willow gulped. "How'd you know?"

"Oh, please -- it's obvious." Cordelia rolled her eyes, but then dropped the 'Know-It-All' act. "Plus, I sort of heard her in the hospital." She could tell the hacker was nervous, and smiled. "Relax. I can keep quiet."

"That's it?" The redhead questioned in disbelief. "You're not gonna say anything?"

The brunette shrugged. "What would be the point?" She asked rhetorically, going to wash her hands. "It's a big decision; even I know that. And I'm not gonna get in the way."

Willow was touched. "Thanks, Cordelia."

"But, personally," Cordelia still felt the need to add her perspective, "if I had to choose between Buffy and Oz, I'd choose her. Not that I'm...you know." She turned on the faucet.

"Hey!" The hacker exclaimed. "There's nothing wrong with..." She trailed off, seeing the cheerleader's _expression. Knowing the girl hadn't meant anything by it, she was apologetic. "Sorry -- I'm just...I dunno." She sighed. "So why...why would you pick Buffy?"

"Cause she's different." The brunette stated simply, soaping her hands.

"You think?" Willow wasn't sarcastic often, but she felt it necessary just then.

"I mean it." Cordelia insisted. "You need that -- you've changed a lot cause of her, Willow, which is a positive thing. Buffy gives you confidence, you help her keep her sanity. It all has to do with completeness...or whatever. Like in that movie with Tom Cruise."

The redhead absorbed her words. "What about Oz?"

"He's more like you than not -- he's smart, he can use a computer without it having a meltdown, and he stays quiet. The only big difference between you is the fact that he's cool, and you're..." The cheerleader grinned when she noticed the glare. "Anyway, people who are totally alike and in a relationship don't last. Cause guess what? It's boring; trust me, it's been proven."

Scary though it might have been, Cordelia was making sense.

"So that's why you and Xander are still together?" Willow deduced, wearing a small grin.

"Exactly." Cordelia said, rinsing her hands. "I give him fashion sense, and he gives me..." She was drawing a blank. "Huh. I know I get something out of it..."

"Probably in the broom closet." The hacker snickered, and neither she nor the brunette could believe that those words came out of her mouth.

Once she recovered, Cordelia dried her hands with a few paper towels, and tossed them in the trashcan. "This is what I mean. Last year there was no way you would've said that...at least not to me." She told the shorter girl, matter-of-factly. "It's Buffy's influence."

"Are you *sure* you're giving Xander fashion sense?" Willow asked suddenly, as she turned the chair around.

It didn't seem that way.

"I'm working on it, okay?" The cheerleader smiled. "I'm gonna go to the Quad. You're done finals, right? Want a lift?" The redhead nodded gratefully, letting Cordelia take over. "Oh, and Willow?"

"Yeah?" The hacker responded.

She never thought she'd think this, but she was glad Cordelia was a part of the gang, and that they were becoming friends. Her once mortal enemy had been very helpful. Now she just had to talk with Buffy.

"Leave the broom closet alone." Cordelia sounded like she was joking, but could've been serious.

She was considering telling the brunette that she was perfectly capable of pushing herself.

***********************************************************************************************************************

Willow was walking slowly, on crutches, around Buffy's bedroom. The slayer was out patrolling, and her mom had told her friend that she could come in and wait for her to get back. Everything that Buffy was, was contained in this room. Everything from her life before her duty trapped her. Stuffed animals were on her bed, dull-bladed ice skates were hanging on the back of her dresser chair, and pictures were situated on her dresser mirror.

The hacker laughed as she looked at them. One of the pictures was of Buffy, her, and Xander at the ice rink -- they were standing over an embarrassed Xander, who had fallen on his butt. Unlike him, Buffy had a lot of talent on the ice. If not for her slaying, she would probably be training for the Olympics right now. It was an amazing thing to watch; the blonde was so graceful as she glided on the cold surface, her movements flawless -- the redhead had been transfixed.

She wasn't sure when her love for Buffy had surpassed friendship. Heck, she didn't even know that love was what she felt until recently. Everyone knew that she wasn't too sure of her emotions, but her feelings most likely changed when she had begun getting over her hopeless pursuit of Xander. While she was depressed about how he'd never even glanced at her, Buffy gave her compliments, and she came to feel attractive.

At first, she thought it was just friendly support, but she saw something else in Buffy's eyes. Nothing verging on lust or anything like that...more like a genuine affection -- even when the slayer was wrapped up in Angel. As quickly as she saw it, though, it was gone. She lived for the moments when Buffy would direct all her attention to her, because there was no one else in the room except them, even if it was so crowded you could barely move.

Eventually, however, she'd met Oz, and she didn't see those moments anymore. He was someone who actually liked her -- a guy someone. A guitar player. In a band. And if that wasn't shocking enough, he was sensitive. Not like a regular guy at all, so it made sense that she got swept up. She was thrilled; her life had turned a corner, and for once, she was headed towards something good. Except that's when Buffy's life chose to fall apart.

As much as Willow wanted to continue to be happy, she couldn't. Not just because her life was threatened, but also because Buffy was -- to put it in the simplest terms -- incredibly unhappy. Her friend needed her for support, only she wasn't sought out, because Buffy wanted her not to worry. The slayer had always put others' happiness before her own, which was why, when Willow had a chance to give her what she thought would make her happy, she took it -- she tried to give Angel back his soul.

It was dangerous, but how could she not try? After all that Buffy had done for her?

If it came down to Buffy or Oz, she knew now that she would pick her over him without question. And it wasn't because Buffy was nicer to her, or because she thought the blonde was a better person than Oz. No...the reason was, that if Buffy died, she wouldn't ever be the same. In the hospital, she'd spent a lot of time thinking about that, the dream being the catalyst. The very idea made her blood run cold, and it took a while for the uneasiness to go away.

Willow loved Buffy. After she had 'visited' her, and somehow knew what the slayer planned to do following the Acathla/Angelus showdown, she knew it for sure. This was one emotion she was certain of, and though it was hidden for a long time, it was without a doubt, that pleasant, four-letter word. She was still unclear as to what would happen in the coming months, but she could always depend on having their friendship there, no matter what.

'What good is one without the other, anyway?'

She jumped as the object of her thoughts came in through the window. "Uh...hi, Buffy. Front door broken?"

"Mom's still an issue." The slayer answered, frowning.

"She's still not comfortable with the whole...?" Willow took her hand off a crutch, and moved her fist up and down in a 'staking' motion.

Buffy smiled at the demonstration. "Try extremely uncomfortable. She's in semi-denial...we haven't been talking much. Plus, she wigged on Giles."

"Poor Giles." Willow said with sympathy. "Well, she left about a half-an-hour ago."

"Gallery?" The blonde asked.

The redhead nodded, and then her eyes bulged. "W-wait...Giles couldn't convince her? *Giles*?" It boggled the mind.

"What can I say?" Buffy smirked. "She's stubborn."

"It's good you're not, though. I mean, aren't stubborn people such a pain sometimes? But you? Pshaw." Willow flicked her hand as if she was swatting away the ridiculous notion, and slowly grinned. "That's crazy."

"Willow Rosenberg! What the heck's gotten into you lately?" The slayer eyed her. "You're --"

"Feisty?" Then the hacker laughed, because, well...'feisty' was a funny word.

The blonde was suspicious, but let it drop, moving on. "Hey...how'd you get up here?"

"Um, slowly?" The redhead sheepishly smiled.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Sit." She helped her over to the bed, placed the crutches on the floor, and sat by her. "You can't push yourself too hard, Will."

"Thanks." Willow said, moved by the caring in her voice. "How'd patrol go?"

The slayer looked bummed. "Minimal slayage. I had to wait twenty minutes for some newbie to dig himself out -- *twenty minutes*. I should've brought a shovel." She sighed. "Since Spike and Druscilla split, it's been pretty quiet."

"Isn't that good?" The hacker wondered. "Cause you deserve a break."

"Yeah, it is." The blonde agreed, and then shrugged. "I just get bored. I think it's cause I have a short attention span. That's what the guidance counselor told my mom, anyway."

"What grade were you in?" The redhead asked, amused.

Buffy blinked. "Huh? Sorry...what were we talking about again?"

Willow gaped, and when her friend started to smile, she hit her with a pillow. Buffy's laughter was the next thing she heard, and after it died down, they both grew quiet. It didn't take long before the silence reached an uncomfortable level, as each dwelled on what was in the back of their minds. They couldn't put it off -- it was too important to ignore. Their feelings were begging to be acknowledged; in reality, not just in a dream.

The slayer got the courage first. "Wanna...talk?" She questioned vaguely. "About us, I mean. I think maybe we should." She admitted, getting more to the point. "But if you're not ready, or-or you're tired or something, then...I'm sure there's plenty of other topics worth discussing. Like the weather."

The hacker shook her head. "No, it's okay. I'm not gonna get any readier. Let's do it." She immediately flushed, and looked as though she were going to hyperventilate. "Do talking! I meant talking -- honest! Where-where your mouth moves, and...and then sounds come out and make these handy things called words. Don't you just love those?"

The blonde rubbed her friend's back reassuringly. "Breathe, Will. I know what you meant...and words are of the good." She took her own advice then, and breathed deeply. "Okay, here goes." She waited a beat before speaking, checking to make sure Willow had calmed. "It's...a little scary."

"To you, too?" The redhead said in surprise.

"*Oh yeah*." Buffy answered with emphasis, and then realized how that sounded. "Oh, not the idea of you and me..." She made some nondescript hand motions Willow couldn't decipher exactly, but the hacker knew what she was driving at. "There's just gonna be...change. Which I usually avoid at all costs."

"I know what you mean. Boy, do I." Willow said in relief, beginning to smile. "And this...this is gonna be a big change." She wanted to ask a question, but didn't know if she should. When the slayer's hand came to rest atop hers, she relaxed and took the dive. "Did you ever think you were...?"

"Nope." Buffy smiled. "It came outta nowhere. You're the first, Will."

"I am?" The hacker wanted to cry, and it didn't take long for it to happen. A drop cascaded down her cheek. "You are, too, Buffy -- the first. For-for me."

That fact was comforting to them both. It made this step that they were taking, all the more special. Willow found herself wondering if she'd always noticed other girls, but had managed to rationalize it before now. Had that been why she settled on Xander all those years? Because she knew he was safe and that they'd never get past the friend stage? Did she go after Oz simply because she thought that's what Buffy wanted her to do?

Oz. Angel. They had to deal with them next.

The blonde seemed to read her mind, as she wiped away the tear. "I told you about Angel, didn't I?"

"You really saw him?" Willow had been somewhat skeptical the first time she heard it.

"Live and in color, and he's fine with us. I swear I'm not nuts." Buffy told her with a grin, and then paused, as she wanted to say this right. "I don't know how long I've had...'more than friendly' kinda feelings, but I do know that they're not some weird, grief/rebound thing. They're not." She looked her friend directly in the eyes. "I want this, okay? I want *you*. Believe me?"

Willow couldn't find any reason not to, and inside she was celebrating. "Yeah, I do."

The slayer had cringed, expecting a different answer. She slowly raised an eyelid, somewhat disbelieving. "That was easy."

"You wouldn't lie about this." The hacker said simply.

"Not a chance." The blonde sighed in relief. "And yeah, I'll always have 'Angel' memories, and the happy ones are great," She admitted, recalling what was said in their shared dream, "but now I wanna make lots of 'Willow' memories. If you wanna help out, that's even better."

"I sure do." Willow said with enthusiasm, smiling. "I'd be hurt if I wasn't included."

"So then Oz is...?" Buffy held her breath, her _expression saying, 'fill in the blank anytime.'

The redhead sighed. "Sweet. And funny. And the first guy who ever wanted to go out with plain old, nerdy me. I really like him."

The slayer went from upbeat to depressed in a millisecond, feeling vulnerable and stupid. "You're right. He's a great guy. And he'd do anything for you." It was going to kill her to say this, but she had to. "Oz makes you happy. So we'll just...pretend like this conversation never happened, that's all. It's no big deal. We'll be friends, and everything'll --"

The hacker placed two, firm hands on the other girl's shoulders. "You didn't let me finish. And I hafta, so ssh." Buffy waited, and Willow spoke some more. "He's all those things, Buffy, but...he's not you. Know why?"

"Cause I'm me?" The blonde supplied.

Willow nodded with a bright smile. "And that's kinda why I love you, so if I stayed Oz's girlfriend, it sorta wouldn't be fair."

"Willow," Buffy's hazel eyes were growing larger by the second, "do you know what you just said?"

"Yeah, I said I..." Then it dawned on the redhead. "Oh." The words rolled off her tongue so fast that her brain hadn't registered them, but now that it was caught up, it told the muscles of her face to make her look pleased. "Hey, I said it! Out loud and everything. Good for me."

Buffy chuckled at the exclamation of her best friend. "I love you, too." Her vision was blurry as she hugged the hacker, but she didn't care. "God...is this strange or what?"

"Yeah, but good strange." Willow added, squeezing back with equal force. "Now I gotta figure out what I'm gonna tell Oz."

The two girls remained in that position for what seemed like an awfully long time, completely content in the other's arms. It was an indescribable feeling, which probably didn't occur very often in life. Positive energy practically swirled around them; all the times that they'd ever suffered, were forgotten. There was safety here, healing. All these grand, mystical happenings had a very simple explanation, of course. They were the telltale signs that two people were in love, and had found solace in one another. Whatever else resulted from their choice, that would never change.

They separated, but stayed close, and Buffy spoke. "You know, people are gonna say things when they find out, and it probably won't be --" She was cut off by the touch of Willow's lips to hers.

At the moment, the hacker's main concern wasn't other people's bigoted attitudes. They'd worry about that when they had to. Right now, her only concern was Buffy, and how much she wanted to kiss her. She hadn't had an overwhelming need to before, but after all they'd just revealed, she didn't want to wait any longer -- that first contact was electric. It wasn't incredibly long, it wasn't even very involved, but because it was theirs, the kiss was wonderful.

The redhead was dumbstruck by what she'd just initiated. "Your mouth and my mouth went," She brought two of her fingers together, touching them at the tips, "and we," She moved a finger back and forth between her and Buffy, "and I," Then pointed to herself, "and you," Then pointed at her companion, "whoa."

"What you said." The blonde whispered before taking her turn. When they pulled back the second time, she hummed. "I think I like doing that. But just to make sure..."

Willow whimpered as the third try came to a close. "Hmm...nice."

"Very nice." Buffy concurred, and was about to go for a fourth when she heard a growling noise, and a giggling hacker. "Somebody's hungry."

"I guess I am." The redhead wet her lips at the thought of one thing in particular. "Is there ice cream?"

The slayer had to work hard to get herself out of her, 'My New Girlfriend Just Moistened Her Lips' Daze. "Um...yeah. Flavor?"

"Rocky Road?" Willow asked hopefully.

The blonde smiled. "Your wish is my command. Be right back." She jumped off the bed, and took off for the doorway.

"Buffy?" Willow called, and the girl obediently turned around, eyebrows raised. "I have an idea." There was a glint in her eye.

*** ******************************************************************************************************************* That idea was to have a group sleepover, to celebrate surviving through their junior year. It wasn't anything fancy, but the normality was relaxing. They were all gathered inside Buffy's bedroom, watching movies and eating popcorn. She and the slayer were on the bed, the guitarist was sitting in the chair, and Xander and Cordelia were on the floor. Willow was trying to get the guts to tell Oz about the new developments -- the sooner the better. She wasn't good at secret keeping, and it ate her up inside.

"Just to recap, we've watched a really cheesy Godzilla, a bizarre movie about computers..." Buffy was saying. Willow said the hacking was totally inaccurate, but Xander was quite fond of the female lead. "...And Who Framed Roger Rabbit? If Xander didn't have to pause it to stare at Jessica, we would've finished ten minutes ago." She rolled her eyes.

"What?" Xander questioned defensively. "I appreciate good animation." His girlfriend smacked him.

"My point is, it's late, and this place is a mess. Example -- there's kernels everywhere." She picked one out of the sheets. "If we don't go to sleep soon, and turn off the lights, my mom will come in here, see the mess, and kill me." The blonde explained, seriously. "Also, sleeping with guys in the room? Not allowed. So, men...downstairs with you."

"I plan on camping out right here." Xander said with a waggle of his eyebrows, and the slayer sternly shook her head. "Come on, Buff! I thought we were buds!"

"Oh, we are, Xand." She assured him, smiling. "But there's limits to 'bud' privileges."

"Move it, Xander." Cordelia instructed, glaring at him.

He coughed, springing to his feet. "Guess that's my cue." Then he was out the door.

The cheerleader was proud. "He learns fast."

"I'm gone." Oz announced, intending to follow his friend's lead.

"Oz?" Willow blurted out quickly, and he turned around. "Can we...?" She swallowed. "I need to talk to you."

************************************************************************************************************************

"Still kind of in shock mode right now."

That was the first thing out of Oz's mouth, as Willow had just given him a condensed version of everything that had happened. They were on the bed, Cordelia and Buffy having temporarily cleared out. She spoke with great difficulty -- it hurt her to hurt him. When she got to the part where she said it wasn't because he was a bad boyfriend, that he was an amazing person, she thought it sounded lame. Actually, if any other girl had told him that during a 'break up,' Oz wouldn't have believed them, but Willow could never be anything less than sincere.

She interpreted his silence as a negative thing, and looked at her lap. "You hate me."

"No." Oz assured her immediately. "Just thinking." He paused. "Is this a recent thing, or...?"

"Very recent." The redhead told him. "It's all pretty new to me, too; I *so* didn't see it coming. If I did, I would've..." She trailed off, taking a breath. "I just...love her, Oz. I really do, and it's-it's sudden, and it's crazy, but...I can't ignore it, ya know? I don't want to." She whispered her next few words. "I'm so sorry."

"It's...it's okay, Will. Some stuff you don't plan." He cared for her, and was upset by the turn of events, but he did understand. "It's like when I'm playing sometimes -- I'll just be messing around, trying out different chords, and then there's this awesome sound. Totally by accident. But it's cool, so I wanna figure out where it came from." Smiling, he couldn't blame her for feeling something she had no control over. "I'm glad you told me. And Buffy's good people."

"Yeah." Willow smiled, and then it vanished. "You're not mad at her, are you? Cause she didn't --"

He shook his head. "I'm not mad -- promise. I just need time." He said to her, honestly. This was an odd situation, but he wasn't the type to explode. He took one step at a time, dealing with things in his own, calm way. "But if you're happy...I hope it works out. For both of you."

If he wasn't the one she wanted, there was nothing he could do about it. If Buffy was, then he'd be supportive -- he wasn't the macho/territorial type, anyhow. It was the break up he wasn't expecting; the partner choice didn't really faze him. Not much did. Expending energy disliking those who had differing gender preferences, or who belonged to another racial group, seemed like a waste of time. Some people are one way, and then some people are another way...why the hell did that matter? Energy was better spent trying to find some joy in life.

The only people he didn't associate with, were the people who were...well, assholes. And the redhead was not. He and Willow were together for around five months, and had gone slow, testing the waters. He'd never met someone like her before, nor had he ever been in a relationship like theirs before. For those few months, he'd been allowed to get to know one of the sweetest, kindest people in the world, and he was grateful. She was one of those rare individuals you hated to see unhappy -- which was why he wasn't going to stand in the way.

"I am -- we are." She said with certainty, and hugged him. "Ooh, you're the best, you know that? I was so lucky. Some other girl's gonna be lucky, too."

"The 'werewolf' thing might be an issue." Oz reminded her.

"You could look on the Internet. Betcha there's a chat room for werewolves." Willow suggested, and they laughed lightly. "Still friends?"

"Still friends." He echoed. There was quiet for a moment, and then he moved off of the bed. "Better go stake out the couch before Xander does." He leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Night, Will."

"Night, Oz."

*****************************************************************************************************************************

Later, the girls were back in the room, and it was dark. The redhead and the blonde were facing each other in the bed, and the brunette was on the floor, lying atop blankets. They were all still awake, enjoying the peacefulness that was few and far between in Sunnydale.

"Is he okay?" Buffy asked Willow quietly, referring to Oz.

"I think so." The hacker answered, feeling as if a weight had been lifted. "It went really well -- he's still gonna hang around with us and all."

"Good." The slayer smiled. "Hopefully Xander won't wig, either."

"Oh, I already told him." Cordelia spoke from the floor.

"Cordelia!" They exclaimed in unison.

"What?" The cheerleader didn't see what the problem was. "You were gonna tell him, anyway."

"Right." Buffy agreed, sighing. "*We* were."

"I thought he was making weird faces at me." Willow frowned, wondering what Cordelia thought 'keeping quiet' meant. "Do you think he's freaked?"

The brunette snickered. "Are you kidding? He's down there having some stupid guy fantasy about you two." The girlfriends were disturbed -- that was worse than him freaking. "Listen, I told him to shut up about it till he can think of something intelligent to say. Could take a while." She smirked, even though they couldn't see. "But the next time you wanna come out of the closet --"

"Cordelia!" They shrieked again, in total disbelief.

"Geez...are you both gonna be like this from now on?" The cheerleader cringed. "Cause maybe you should take a Valium or something."

Buffy grit her teeth. "Thanks for the advice, Cordy. We're going to sleep now."

She tentatively started to put her arm around Willow. The redhead didn't pull away, so she shifted closer, and they smiled at one another, thinking the same thing.

'Definitely good strange.'

They lived on a Hellmouth -- what wasn't strange?



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