Long Stretch of Lonesome

by Sheila Marie Lane
Copyright 1998

Obviously, I wrote this before the finale... the present-day stuff takes place between "Passion" and "I Only Have Eyes For You." The flashbacks, I hope, are obviously "Invisible Girl." All songs from the Patty Loveless album

Part One

"Good night, Willow."

"Good night, Oz."

He's always very careful to kiss me at the front door. Even on the rare occasions when he's allowed in my room, he doesn't try to make out or anything. It's very gentlemanly, very kind.

Some nights I just want to hit him.

"Busy night," he says with a half-laugh. Busy vampire night, he means. Giles and Buffy are only starting to recover from what happened to Jenny, so we're all picking up major slackage.


"You should probably go straight to, ah, bed."

I can't believe we're both still blushing over things like that. "I probably will."

"Okay. See you tomorrow."


I'm still thinking about his kiss when I walk into my bedroom. Oz is...Oz is wonderful. And a great kisser - I mean that. And the best boyfriend in the whole world. Everyone says he's perfect for me, in a tone that kind of offends me.

I suppose it's silly to be confused by all of it. It's nice, and I like nice. But sometimes I get just a little wistful for the way I felt about Xander. It was exciting. It was scary. It was--

It ended with me bawling and nearly getting killed by Angel. To quote Xander misquoting...someone, "Grab a grasp, Willow."

And I shouldn't forget how lonely it was. How hard it was to face him some days. How painful it still is because he doesn't remember any of our lives together with the emotion I do.

Like the thing with Marcie - well, that day when the thing with Marcie started. Does he remember it as well as I do? How could he? He was probably already watching Cordelia

Now life's so fast and everything is changing
And if you're changing too, then I don't blame you
I remember how you used to kiss me
But when I'm gone you don't seem to miss me

---"You Don't Seem to Miss Me"

"If you prick us, do we not bleed?"

I love Merchant of Venice, don't get me wrong. And that speech of Shylock's - well, before Buffy I was Outcast Girl, you know. I identify well. But I admit that day I wasn't paying nearly as much attention as I should have.*
Oh, listen to the May Queen of the World,* Xander's note said. *Am I wrong, or is she the world's only living heart donor?*

Years of long practice have taught me not to giggle at the right time - or the wrong time, you know what I mean. I even made a comment on the discussion. I looked like I was paying rapt attention as I scribbled back, *Give her a break. She can be sensitive.*

He read it and just looked at me.*
I think,* I added hurriedly.

The bell rang before he could add his opinion. Possibly a good thing.

On my way out, I remembered that I had to ask Ms. Miller a question about the final. But I get stuck behind Cordelia - who was actually, Goddess save us, being *complimented* by Ms. M. on her perception! Get real! I ducked out. No question was so urgent that I had to put up with Cordy.


I finally caught up with Ms. Miller between the next two classes.

"I'm really excited about my new paper topic," I said. I wanted her to approve. A lot.

"Well, what is it, Willow?"

"I'd like to compare some of the outcasts in Shakespeare's plays to their modern-day counterparts."

Well, I didn't think she had a clue what I meant, but she was paying attention. "Give me an example."

My first example was Shylock. He was outcast for two major reasons. His ethnic group - really his religion, but for him they were related - and the fact that he loaned people money at a time when you weren't supposed to charge interest. Now, banks loan money all the time and it's no big deal, but we have a whole myth built around the Italian Mafia, and similar issues crop up.

Then there was Hero from "Much Ado About Nothing" - rejected at the altar because her fiance thought she was cheating on him. "The Tempest" and Prospero...there were some really good possibilities, and lots of links to modern day. I was so excited about it!

Hey, get this. I chose an outcast Jew, a woman rejected by her lover, and a magician. Things that make you go, "Willow's scary."

I don't think I explained it well to Ms. Miller. That was back when talking was a lot more difficult for me. But I think the enthusiasm sold the project more than anything, and by the time Xander swung by to pick me up for Government, I had an okay.

I stopped in the doorway, right in front of Xander. "Did you hear that?"

"What, your paper? Yeah."

"No, I meant..." But maybe I hadn't heard a laugh. There wasn't anybody there to make noise, anyway. Weird. "Never mind. So, you heard about my paper?"

"You're really up on it," Xander said in his "humor the weird student-type" voice.

"Yeah, I am." It would do no good to tell him that I identified with these people. It would just worry him. And he wouldn't really get it. Xander had his lonely moments, but...I don't know. I just think it was different for him. "What's your project?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. She gave us a topic sheet...I think." I had to loan him mine a week later. "I'll pick whatever of those sounds easiest."

"Sounds like a plan. Is that Cordelia talking to Buffy?"

We got there just as Cordy made one of her patented exits.

"What was Cordelia up to?" Xander asked.

"Bribery," Buffy said shortly. "She's desperate to be May Queen."

"Cordelia, man, she does love titles!"

...I don't really want to remember any more of that. We got all caught up in an old memory - Cordelia, even at twelve desperate for attention, being a pseudo-mountain man's "deputy" on a field trip. I look at it now, and think, number one, Buffy was already feeling left out because Cordy had just snubbed her, and because she was remembering when *she* was like that. Popular, I mean. We shouldn't have made it more obvious that she wasn't from here.

And also...I really mean it when I say Cordelia did it because she was desperate for attention. I've known her my whole life, since she stole my dump truck from the sandbox in preschool, and I had never picked up on that. It's very sad. And it makes me feel mean. And jealous. And petty.

Some days I feel all grown up and totally immature at the same time.


Anyway, the next thing I remember is facing down Principal Snyder - your average unforgettable experience anyway, right? This boy, Mitch, Cordy's stud-of-the-week, had been beaten nearly to death in the locker room, and of course the Slayerettes had to check it out. We're like the Scooby gang, only more people let them investigate stuff.

Buffy asked Snyder if Mitch was dead.

"There are no dead students here. This week," was his honest if tense reply. I'd have grinned, but I was afraid he's eviscerate me on the spot. That's not a friendly man, you know.

We all knew our jobs; by this point we were really starting to work together. Buffy had to get in there, and Xander and I had to be ready to run interference. Because, of course, Snyder wasn't going to let her near that locker room. And while Buffy was and is an incredibly intelligent person, she doesn't think on her feet the way she needs to. She told Snyder she was going in for Mitch's comb.


Snyder was closing in, ready to shut her down and possibly give her detention while she was at it. Xander hadn't come up with anything. Gotta distract him...gotta distract him...gotta--

"Sue!" Xander, help. "What did you say? Mitch was gonna sue the school?"

Well, that got the little rat - uh, principal's - attention. "Sue? Who?"

Xander, thankfully, jumped in. "Well, his dad *is* the most powerful lawyer in Sunnydale."

No, actually, that's Xander's mom. But hey.

"Hold on. What have you two heard?"

"His dad, the lawyer. You haven't heard of him?"

"Other lawyers call him 'The Beast,'" I chimed in. Snyder turned green and barreled away after Mitch.

Xander poked me in the arm. "The what?"

"I saw it on TV once."

"Whatever. C'mon, let's get out of here before Snyder comes back and remembers who else was with us."

We booked.


We met in the cafeteria to analyze the whole Mitch/locker room/beaten and bruised thing. You know, all that I really remember about that conversation is that Xander chose - chose! - to bookworm, *with* Giles, *in* the *library,* to avoid even talking to Cordelia.

That was a happy time, I think, when I was safely jealous of Buffy and safely dreaming of Xander.

That's revisionist. I hung on every movement of his eyes, every slang-filled sentence he uttered. I was a moron. A complete and utter twerp. And I hated it even while I was doing it.

The best thing about my relationship with Oz is that he's been just as silly about me as I am for him. I can't look Xander in the eye anymore without suppressing. At least I have honesty now.

How does Buffy handle it? She has nothing.

Cried myself to sleep last night
And I don't wanna feel like that no more
Woke up before the morning light
And I don't wanna feel like that no more
I couldn't think one thought that didn't start with your name
I couldn't see one day that wasn't more of the same
And I don't wanna feel like that
I don't wanna feel like that no more

I don't wanna feel like my life's hanging by a string
I don't wanna feel like I ain't feeling anything
I cried myself to sleep last night
And I don't want to feel like that no more

--"I Don't Want To Feel Like That"

Part Two

"And I think perhaps that if we match the known demon, ah, modus operandi, if you will, to the unsolved death file on that website you found--"


"But I'm quite convinced--"


"Well, perhaps another time then."

"You're welcome to try it."

I have been unexpectedly cranky all morning. Even Giles, sunk in his own angst, has picked up on it.

"Willow, is there something you'd like to talk about?"


He lifts a brow. I'm being snippy. I think it scares him. "Willow, if it's something about Buffy--"

"I haven't seen Buffy all morning. And no, it's not Xander, and no, although I'm sure it doesn't matter, Oz is fine too."

"Oh. Well then--"

Goddess, why can't I keep my mouth shut? "I said no, and I meant no. Look, just because my love life--" hasn't crashed and burned in mystical ways-- "--is all right right now doesn't mean I don't have problems. I'm still allowed to have problems. *Okay*?"

"Of course--of course, I'm sorry. I certainly never meant to imply--that is, I know--" He's babbling, poor man, and backing out of the room, and looking everywhere but at me. I have this sudden urge to throw myself at his feet and beg him to stop, to be Giles again. To get angry at me (even I know I'm totally out of line). To be in charge, like he used to be.

He and Buffy, they ran everything, I remember. They were like this team. Between the two of them--with my help and Xander's, natch--they could take on anything. Question anything. Handle anything.


"Giles, have you ever touched a ghost?" Buffy asked that afternoon when we were leaving school.

"Uh, no," he answered with a slightly bemused look. Xander was listening but not really concentrating on the conversation - that's what he told me later, anyway, after he *did* encounter Ghost Willow.

It only took about five seconds to figure out this wasn't a ghost, but a live invisible person. And that Cordelia was involved, which just made everyone happy. In an unhappy sort of way.

"So what now?" I asked, praying that I wouldn't actually have to deal with Cordelia.

"First thing tomorrow, why don't you pull up that missing kids list?" Buffy decided.

"Got it," I said. "I'll see ya then."

Xander followed me. Yeah, he used to do that back then. It started right after we met Buffy and Jesse died - the two of them lived on the same block and would walk home together. I think Xander felt then like Buffy does now, which is why I've walked with both of them more than once.

"Do you want to come to our place tonight for dinner? Mom's making her famous phone call to the Chinese place."

"Xander, do you guys even *have* a stove?"

"I think so. Is that what you reheat the pizza in?"

I knew he was kidding, but I couldn't resist. "No, that's an oven."

"Oh. Well. No."

I giggled. "Xander..."

He tossed his arm around my shoulders and laughed with me, and for that one moment my life was complete. Oh, I miss him.


I've walked Buffy home almost every day the last week. She's by herself too much as it is. Cordelia offered to drive her a couple of times, but she usually drives Xander home too, and Buffy doesn't want to be around even that sick and twisted couple more than she has to. I hope she doesn't mind me. I don't think so.

And with Buffy, I can't be grumpy. If anything even slightly wiggy happens to her in the near future, she'll crack.

"So," I say conversationally after we clear the campus, "Someone is eventually going to predict more quality demon time for us. Don't hit me, but I'm waiting for something interesting." That earns me a playful smack on the head. "Hey! I said not to hit me."

"Sorry." Buffy grins. "You're evil, Will."

"I know," I say cheerfully. "It's this genius brain of mine."

Buffy hesitates a minute. I can just about hear her thinking. "Is that why you do it?" she asks finally, quietly. "Because it's an intellectual thrill?"

"No! Of course not, Buffy!" She would take it like that. How do I explain? "I do it because I have to. Because you're the Slayer, and because I'm your friend, and because...I have to."

"Oh." I think that made her feel better. I hope so.

"But I have to have a way to, I don't know, fit it into my life. You act like it's your job, Xander acts like it's a game or like--"

"Or like it's an Indy Jones movie and he's the new Harrison Ford."

"Yup." I have to giggle; that's totally Xander. "Giles and I, we sort of see it as an extended, hands-on research assignment. It's how *we* cope."

"So this whole thing is homework with vampires?"

"Well, if you want to put it *that* way..."

"I stand by my earlier statement. You're evil." But she's smiling again.

"Why, thank you."

There's another long pause.



"It's not just a job anymore."

"What is it?" I put my arm around her reflexively. She's hurting so much.

"It's who I am, now. It's what defines me."

"I know."

"It's the only thing that keeps me from getting lost. Or worse."

Oh, Buffy...

There are those moments and they just never fade
The look in his eyes and the way the light played
God moved in that moment and the angels all cried
And they gave you a memory that you have till you die
And the lesson you learn and you don't dare forget
What makes you grow old is replacing hope with regret

When there's too many memories for one heart to hold
Once a future so bright now seems so distant and cold
And the shadows grow long and your eyes look so old
When there's too many memories for one heart to hold
--"Too Many Memories"


"So, Willow, what does your fortune cookie say?"

I like Mrs. Harris. She looks really tough - like Xander when he's mad, only, you know, like a mom version. But she's really nice to me. I think she knew how I felt about Xander and was being kind.

"Let me see. Probably the 'tall, dark, handsome stranger' one again."

"You always get those," Xander said through a mouthful of Mongolian Beef.

"Maybe it'll come true then." I sent what I hoped was a saucy look in his direction. He crossed his eyes at me. I stuck my tongue out at him.

"Children," Mrs. Harris said mildly. "I don't want to have to defend one of you in court."

"Yes, ma'am," we said in unison.

"So what does it say?" Xander grabbed my cookie away.


"Hm& 'Watch your relations with other people carefully; be reserved.' What the heck does that mean?"

"I think it's the fortune cookie version of 'don't trust men,' Mrs. Harris said in a voice that meant to be light.


"It doesn't say men," I babbled quickly, "just people. What's yours, Xander?"

Both Harrises seemed glad to avoid a subject even I didn't know much about. They don't talk about Mr. Harris ever, and even my mom's never met him. There's just an extra car in the driveway sometimes. We just all act like we've forgotten him.


I was at the computer that night, doing my usual all-night research gig, digging up every dead and missing student ever. Just laying the groundwork for the next morning. I watched all the missing, dead, vanished names appear on my computer.

I remember thinking, what would it be like to be one of those missing students? Life goes on so quickly in Sunnydale. We close ranks and march on. It's the only thing we can do. I think. Otherwise, we'd be too terrified to go on.

So people are forgotten more easily. I didn't like that. I didn't want to be forgotten. I already had enough of the feeling from Xander to really, really hate it. It scared me, in a very personal way. Xander had already proven he could do it - or at least act it - with his dad. And he never talked about Jesse.

And just for a minute there, I swore there was someone next to me, all but whispering to me. *You too, someday. What if it happens to you? Who's there to remember you, when Buffy's dead? When Xander turns away?*

I feel a cold snap coming; frost is on the window pane
Trees are green, bees are humming, but I'm freezing just the same

Can't put my finger on it - where did we lose the flame
We'll both end up broken-hearted if we don't find that flame again

Lately we've been missing something and love is wearing at the seams
And you say baby, aw, it ain't nothing, and that's exactly what I mean
--"That's Exactly What I Mean"

Part Three

Bronze music has its odd moments anyway, and tonight's band - the best way to describe it is to say that *Xander* won't dance to it. He and Cordy ditched a while ago. Buffy never even showed. I know she's patrolling again. She wants Angel to show up so she can dust him. It doesn't do her any good to tell her he won't show when it's to her advantage. Giles just encourages her. Some nights he even hunts with her.

And there's nothing I can do to help. So, in the interest of not tanking my own love life, I'm curled up next to Oz on one of the Bronze couches, ignoring the psycho music, and talking about everything under the sun.

"I wish you could tell me why you're sad," Oz says finally.

"I thought I was hiding it better. Sorry."

"You don't have to hide it from me." I shrug. "If you don't want to."

There's a long pause, then he reaches behind the couch for something. "Uh, if you want me to distract you..."

The Sunnydale High '98 yearbook lands in my lap. "Oh."

"The seniors just got them today."

I flip through all the pages. It's funny how much daily school life for everyone does *not* have to do with us.

"Kinda weird, isn't it? No vampires, no werewolves...it's like the yearbook of Dorian Grey."

Sometimes Oz really does understand.

Our junior pictures look goofy, of course - except for Cordelia's, which was professionally done even though it wasn't supposed to be, and Buffy's, 'cause she's pretty. Oz's senior picture is very nice.

I should quit avoiding the faculty section.

Oz puts his hand over mine as I start to page back. "Will you sign it, Willow?"


*Have a good summer...*

We were so shocked over Marcie's yearbook, and Giles was so totally befuddled. There wasn't any real way to explain to him that Marcie made *me* look like a May Queen.

I dug my freshman yearbook out the other day, I don't remember why. I do have a few signatures that mean something. A silly scribble from Xander; a caricature of someone we hated - possibly Cordelia, but it's a bad drawing so I can't tell - from Jesse. Some messages written in Advanced Computer Geek from that group of friends - you know, the group that was mostly destroyed when I started dating a robot.

There's something I could point out to Buffy. My first real boyfriend was a maniacal demon robot, and you don't see me having major guilt spurts. Of course, I can just see her convincing me that it was all my fault, and then hating me. That's the kind of kick she's on these days.

And right under the picture of the Computer Club is a short note from Miss Calendar.

"Willow - you were a joy to teach, and I can't wait to teach you and learn from you next year. Love, Jenny Calendar."

Can you hear it cross the valley
Can you hear that mournful sound?
I'm riding rails of silver
Going to where I'm bound...

If you should see a diamond
Fall down from the sky
It is just a teardrop
>From the corner of my eye
As good-bye, as I fly
To where I'm bound
--"Where I'm Bound"


Miss Calendar's picture is prettier this year than any other year. Except it's wet now.

"Oh, Willow, I'm sorry. Please don't cry. Shh, I'm sorry."

I try to kiss him, but he turns his face away and just hugs me.



He's comforting me. He's here for me. What's wrong with me that that's not enough? All I used to want was for an exciting boy to be nice to me, and now all I want is for a nice boy to be exciting. I feel so awful.

I have to get out of here.

"I'm sorry, Oz. I - you're really sweet, it's just - I have to go home now. I have to leave. No, don't - stay there, please. I'm sorry. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

He lets me go. Which is maybe not a good thing, but I can't think right now.


"Cordelia's a moron," Xander said briefly.

"Why?" Giles was digging in a book and paying no attention to us.

"She'd rather be dead than see someone else more popular."

"Yeesh, I never thought of it that way."

"I have." Xander's eyes were hard. "Quite a lot."

"Xander, you're being pretty hard on her."

"Am I?" He gave a short laugh. "Do you remember the night Jesse picked Darla up at the Bronze?"

I could hardly forget it, having been picked up myself that night. But reminding Xander of that was bad. "Yes."

"Cordy turned him down. For about the zillionth time. If he hadn't been trying so hard to prove that he was her kind of man..."

"Then Darla would have grabbed him anyway. Or someone else." Or Xander, which terrified me.

"I'm sorry, I know it's cruel. But Cordelia Chase is selfish until proven innocent in my book. She'd have to do something borderline miraculous to make me like her."

Wonder what changed his mind? When she helped fight the Master? Or the look on her face when Kevin died? Or maybe he never did change his mind, just his hormones.

I don't think so. But I want to. Because it's been so much harder to watch him when he actually *likes* her.



"Hi, Xander." I tuck my feet farther under me. Even in balmy Sunnydale, sitting on Xander's stone patio for long periods of time will make anyone freeze, and I've been here at least an hour. But Xander always sneaks in the back way when he doesn't want to explain to his mom that he's been snogging Cordelia.

He nudges me over onto the grass - duh, I should have waited there - and throws his jacket over my shoulders. I toss it off.


"I don't want your jacket."

"Will, you've gotta be freezing."

"We've all suffered worse fates."

He sighs heavily, then rests his forehead against my shoulder. "I'm aware of that."

I can't help but rest my head against his. I miss him so much! He was the one constant in my universe for forever.

"I need you," I say without even thinking about it. "I can't handle my life without you."

"I know. And I've managed to trash everything so completely - I can't even give you anything anymore, can I?"

"I think I helped you with the trashing part."

"Only a little."

I don't know what to say about the rest. Is he right? "I'm scared, Xander."

"I know."

There's some lines you can't cross twice. Is ours one of them?

"For what it's worth..."

I hold my breath.

"Me too."

"Me too what?"

I can feel Xander smile sadly. "Me too everything."

Time, time is a river
Flowing forever
Away from the sound of your heart
Only you can break this silence
Whisper forgiveness
Let me back into your arms

Oh, I'd give all my dreams
Give up my home and everything I've ever known
To have you back again, to have you back again
I'd stand in the rain, no place to hide
Drown in my shame, swallow my pride
To have you back again, to have you back again
--"To Have You Back Again"

Part Four

Despair drags at me, slowing my steps as I walk home from Xander's.

Life hurts. It hurts so much, and in ways I never imagined back when we were hunting invisible girls. Physical damage and danger is bad enough, but this emotional strain is worse for me. I hurt when I look between Oz and Xander - it's a choice I shouldn't even have to make, and I'm still torn. What if neither of them is right for me? What does that say about me? And I hurt for Buffy, because her choice is even less possible.

We can't live like this. None of us can. Sooner or later all of us will get sucked down into the pain, and never come back.


I was being dragged down, down to the floor, down out of my will. The gas that filled the room was filling my lungs, clawing at me from the inside. I tried to fight it; Giles and Xander were trying to get us out of Marcie's trap, but I couldn't help them. I couldn't. *I'm going to black out,* I said rather calmly to myself, *and then I'm going to die. I don't want to die. Come on, God. I haven't humiliated myself in front of Xander nearly enough for one lifetime. I have so many more stupid things I can do. Give me a break, God...*

"I'm blacking out on you," Xander said as he did so on top of me. Come to think of it, that hurt a little.

I was out, I think, but I came back awake a little someone grabbed me. I thought it might be Marcie, but I couldn't even manage to fight her.


I can't sleep. I see shapes in the dark - something I haven't done since I was two and my parents gave me my own room with my own balcony. I used to wake up screaming, seeing monsters, but after my parents made noises about moving me back into their room I shut up.

I see monsters. I see ghosts. I see demons. Angel, Jesse...Jenny, Marcie. Cordelia. Xander. Oz. Buffy. My own personal freak show of horrors. All the people that surround me every day, and the people I can't reach.

When my private line rings, I grab it real fast, before my mom and dad can hear. "Hello?"

"Will?" It's Buffy.

"What's wrong?"

"I can't sleep. Nightmares."

"Me too."

"Really? I don't think of you as the nightmare type."

I make a rude noise into the phone. She giggles. "Of course I have nightmares. Mine are just a little more...prosaic than yours."

"What are yours about?"

"The usual."

"The guys, you mean. Poor Willow," she says wryly.

"I'm sorry. I know my problems aren't as bad as yours-"

"Hey, that doesn't mean they're not problems. Share, girlfriend."

In the dark, her voice is soft enough to hide most of her pain, and it's almost like old times. Back when I was periodically avoiding Xander and she was pretending to avoid Angel, but for entirely different reasons.

"Just the usual. The guy I've got doesn't seem like enough. Which makes me a terrible person, no doubt."

"Nah. You always want things to change."

"I do?"

"Well, in general. A generic you."


"And, of course, the nice thing is that things do change. This time next year, you could be dating Xander. Oz could be dating Cordelia."

"Oz could be dating Xander."

The thought gives us fits of quiet giggles for a few moments.

"Things will change," Buffy says after we've sobered a tad. "They will." It's not really a statement or a question. Just pure hope in a sentence.

"They will. For better." For worse is not contemplatable.

We whisper softly about boys, about change, and about anything but the shapes in the dark until our moms come to wake us up for school.


My mom was shaking me. I had to get up and go to school. Which was okay, because I loved school, except for the part where I was really tired and wanted to go to back to sleep. But she kept shaking me...

"I'm up, Mom," I said, rather groggily, in the direction of Angel's ear. He looked a bit startled. I could feel Xander's hands on my shoulders, so I was okay. Then Giles grabbed me, too, and we were out of there.

"What happened?" I managed as Xander settled me into a library chair. "Did Marcie--"

"--Try to kill you? And me? And Giles? Yes." Xander looked incredibly angry. "I hope Buffy gets to her first, 'cause she's not gonna want to deal with me. Invisible or no."

"Xander...why are you mad?"

"She hurt you," he said simply, and my heart turned over in my chest.

"Oh. That's all right." He probably had no clue why I was smiling like an idiot.

Every drop of rain that ever fell into my life
Helps me ride this pain, they were a blessing in disguise
And I know in time this'll soon be yesterday
Nothing I can't climb, I've got the will to find the way...

So when the morning comes
I'll do more than just survive
I'll walk into the sun and live until I die...

Yeah, let the devil do his worst
But don't take any bets
That life has finally quenched my thirst
The party ain't over yet
-- "The Party Ain't Over Yet"


It's amazing how much better I feel this morning, even without enough sleep. I have this funny feeling like when I'm about to ace a math test. Like my subconscious has all the answers and is waiting for the right time to tell me.

Knowing *of* an answer, even though I don't know the answer yet, makes me abnormally cheerful. It screws with everyone's minds.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing, I decide after watching Giles watch me for a while. I have to giggle.

"What?" he asks cautiously.

"Nothing." I bat my eyes at him; he flushes.

"You've just...your behavior has changed."

"Change is good," I say cheerfully.

Change. Hm.


"What do you think happened to Marcie?" I asked not long after that.

"I don't know, Xander said through a mouthful of - what was it that night? - pizza, I think. "She's probably becoming a Man in Black."

"That's not a cheerful thought."

"Oh sorry. Hey, I just thought of something. If we ignore Cordelia, d'you think she'll disappear?"

I gave it some serious consideration. "That *is* a cheerful thought."

"Yeah, it is, isn't it?" And we smiled companionably together.

Buffy was still quiet, and when Xander split, I asked her why.

"I don't know...it's just something that Cordelia said." She had this funny look on her face. "Cordelia had what Marcie always wanted, but she says she was just as lonely."

"She's wrong," I said firmly. "Marcie was *abandoned.*"

"I know. But still...guess it's that whole 'be careful what you wish for' bit."


I don't think it was that. I think that Marcie, and Cordy, and the rest of us forgot something really important.

Here's the thing. You always think that where you are, right now, this exact moment in time, is where you'll be forever. If you're happy or sad, if you're pretty...if you're lonely...if you're in pain...if you're in love.

Oz plops himself down next to me as I finish the thought. My smile must encourage him. "Hey, Willow," he says with flattering enthusiasm. "Miss me?"

"Mmm." He shifts uncomfortably at the way I'm looking at him.


"Hush a sec. I'm looking."

Oz is sweet, and loving, and very special. Even the werewolf thing I don't mind much.

We're not stuck in one moment. The present doesn't repeat in an endless loop. It's okay for Oz to be perfect for me now; I don't have to promise him forever when he's never even asked for it. I can just...seize the day.

"Willow, why are you smiling at me like that?"

"Hey, Will!" Xander, Cordelia, and Buffy - my personal Three Stooges - step between the sun and us.

"Hi Xander," I say, never taking my eyes off Oz. He's smiling now, too.

"What're you doing?"

I grab Oz and give him a hard kiss. Then I grin up at Xander. "Seizing the day, my friend. Living in the moment."

Buffy's looking doubtful, but I just wink at her. She'll understand too. Some day.

When that long stretch of lonesome
Finally comes to an end
My heart belonging to someone
It'll never be longing again
And the shadows that have dogged me
Since I can't remember when
Finally give quarter to the sunlight on my skin
When that long stretch of lonesome comes to an end

There I'll live again
When that long stretch of lonesome comes to an end
--"Long Stretch of Lonesome"

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