Summary: Buffy and Willow are best friends forever, right?
Timeline: Set during Season 6. Begins post-Doublemeat Palace.
Word Count: 1287
Disclaimer: Not mine. Joss is boss.
Author’s Note: Written for xlivvielockex for genfic_minis who requested “a TV game show, helpful advice, a surprise” and no “Kennedy bashing or magical addiction.” As always, thank you to ladyofthelog and penny_lane_42 for the wonderful beta.
It was almost midnight when Buffy arrived home, a cloud of rank Doublemeat medley musk trailing behind her. Double shifts were the suckiest but she needed the money for the huge stack of overdue bills and to top off her night with some sweet ‘n spicy special sauce, she still had to patrol. Her feet ached and she had super healing powers so how was that even possible?
Life sucked and then you died. Except she was doing that backwards—she died and then life sucked. Somebody up there had a twisted sense of humor and loved messing with her life. She wished they’d find a different hobby. Like backgammon. Or stamp collecting. Just put the Buffy Summers’ Game of Life back on the shelf, guys.
Buffy quietly closed the front door behind her, leaning against it for a moment as she debated what to do first: shower, eat, collapse on the couch in exhaustion, convince Spike she wanted him to do that erotic foot rub thingie because it was sexy and not because she’d just about kill for a foot rub even if it was from her not-boyfriend/sexcapades-partner.
A stream of click-clicks sounded from the dining room, drawing her forward on stumbling legs to find Willow sitting at the head of the table with her laptop, surrounded by dozens of books.
The rest was silence. Intense, academic-studying silence. And it was good. It was good that Willow was focused on school again. Focused on anything not-magic. Hard-working, genius Willow back in action.
For the first time all day, Buffy smiled. A real smile, not a fake, plastic one. Just the smallest upturn of the corners of her lips, but it felt good.
Willow scrunched up her nose—at first in what Buffy thought was concentration—then grimaced and made a disgusted face, only to glance up and discover Buffy standing in the doorway. The grimace turned into a look of embarrassed apology.
Oh, right. She’d smelled the smell. Yeesh.
“Hey,” Buffy said, giving a tired wave as she moved into the room and sat gingerly in the chair next to Willow.
“Hey there, working lady. How’d it go at the salt mines? Still bringing home the bacon?” Willow fidgeted with her laptop screen, angling it down so that Buffy couldn’t see what she was reading online.
“Yep, still bringing home the salty bacon. If ‘bacon’ is code for vegetable goop masquerading as a burger.” She frowned. “Except I accidentally dropped the take-out bag on the way home, so…”
“It’s okay. There’s leftovers from dinner. Spaghetti bake with extra gooey cheese. Extra yummy, too. It was so good Anya’s convinced it’s gotta be evil.”
“You all got together to have dinner? Everybody?”
“Not everybody, no.” Willow bit her lip. “Well, everybody who could come except…”
“Except me,” Buffy finished quietly. She sighed. “Thanks for cooking for Dawn. I know she’s sick of the Doublemeat mush I keep bringing home. And I can pay you back for the groceries when I get my paycheck in a couple days.”
“No problem. Don’t worry about it. It was fun.”
“Yeah, fun,” Buffy said with a smile, only this time it did feel plastic—kinda hard to be genuinely happy about being left out because she was stuck at her crappy job.
Willow was looking guilty now. “Do you want me to fix you a plate? Midnight snack? Or maybe some Eggos topped with whipped cream? Nothing’s yummier than breakfast food in the middle of the night.”
“No, thanks. I’m not hungry.” She was too tired to feel much of anything.
“Sure. Definitely sure.” Time to change the subject. “So what are you working on?” She glanced at the books on the table, the titles ranging from encyclopedias to almanacs to a treatise on pop culture. Eclectic taste like whoa. “What class is this for anyways?”
“Oh, um, it’s not, no, I mean, it’s not for a class. Not exactly. More like I’m brushing up on my light reading. Just, you know, for fun.” That awkward smile Willow was giving her? Yeah, she was so hiding something. Question was—did Buffy have the energy to find out the secret and did she even want to know?
The answer tonight was, surprisingly, yes. “And you’ve got every piece of knowledge known to man on your light reading list?”
Willow scoffed. “Not even. I’m just doing a survey of interesting topics. I’m curious, okay? It’s in my nature. I like facts. Facts are your friend.”
Buffy reached for Willow’s laptop and pulled her towards her. “What’s TV Tropes?” She clicked on the next tab. “And wiki-what?”
“It’s just research. Very boring research. ‘Cause knowledge is power and la-la-la fun.”
“Not magic?” Buffy remained unconvinced.
“No, most definitely not magic.”
“Okay. Good,” Buffy said, tension leaving her spine. She pushed the chair back and slowly rose to her feet and since when did her legs fall asleep just because she’d sat down for five minutes? “I’m gonna get cleaned up and head out.”
“Gonna go patrolling?” Ah, the look of best-friend concern. “Maybe you should call it a night. You look exhausted. That’s gotta be dangerous. Nine out of ten doctors discourage slaying sans sleep. True facts.”
“No can do. Evil waits for no naps.” She tried a reassuring smile. “I’ll be fine. A hot shower and bam: Slayer ready for action.”
“It’s going surprisingly well, Buffy,” Giles reassured her from over the phone. “The reports from the Coven say she’s progressing quickly in her studies, finding a natural grounding in her power.”
“So Willow hasn’t killed anyone lately?” Her hand clenched around the phone. “Good to know.”
Giles sighed. She imagined him closing his eyes briefly in frustration or maybe he’d pulled off his glasses to rub his temple.
“She needs our support now more than ever. She’s trying.”
“I know. I just…”
“She’s still Willow.”
“Is she? I feel like I don’t even know her anymore. Like I haven’t known her for a long time.”
“Give her a chance. I think she’ll surprise you.”
“Yeah,” Buffy grumbled. “Just what I need. More surprises.”
They said their goodbyes and Buffy hung up the phone. Turning around, she eyed the growing stack of mail resting on the kitchen counter. Willow’s mail. She couldn’t forward it to the Coven; something about no outside intrusions during dark magic rehab. Probably for the best. She didn’t want anything distracting Willow from learning how to not end the world (Buffy figured that had to be their first lesson: how to not end the world).
On top of the stack lay a letter that had just arrived today. It was marked ‘Urgent—Respond Immediately!’
Buffy opened it.
Congratulations! You’ve been selected for the preliminary round of competitors for Jeopardy!
America’s favorite quiz show. That salt ‘n pepper Canadian guy. Do-do do-do do-do doooo, do-do do-do do! Do-do-do-do-do…
Oh. And the answer is…
Now she knew why Willow’d been working so hard to become a walking encyclopedia of irrelevant and obscure factoids. You could win lots of money on Jeopardy—money that could go towards recouping the losses from a full copper re-pipe or buying clothes for Dawnie or putting food on the table.
Buffy crumpled the letter in her hand and moved to throw it away. The deadline for potential competitors was in two weeks. It’s not like Willow could participate in a stupid game show anyways. Hesitating, she smoothed out the edges and refolded the letter before carefully returning it to the envelope and placing it on the stack of unopened mail.
She reached up and swiped her sleeve across her cheeks. When had she started crying?
And when was Willow coming home?