Tiny Steps


by Jessica Brumley
Seventh in the St. Patrick's Series



Part One




"Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the class of 1999!"

Amidst the cheering seniors and the mass of fluttering caps that had so happily been flung in the air stood one melancholy soul.

< Somehow I thought I'd be more excited. >

Oh sure, she was happy she had graduated. She was with her friends, and even her parents had made an appearance, pretending they cared. She was free to move on with her life. Free to look beyond the world of required education and choose her own path to follow.

< It just seems so empty. >

Out of the mass of recent graduates, her best friend appeared in front of her. Xander Harris' face was alight with elation. Grabbing her in a mighty bear hug and swinging her around in the air he began to laugh. "Hey Will! We're finally out of here. Can you believe it? Out of high school. Out of Sunnydale. Man, I graduated! Who would've thought?"

Willow managed a weak smile, hoping it would satisfy. "That's great Xand. Really great."

Too overcome with happiness to notice Willow's lack of enthusiasm, Xander began to look around. "Seen Buffy? You were sitting close to her right? The R's and the S's, I mean."

"Um, she was just behind me. I don't see her now th-"

"Hey guys! We graduated! We're free of Herr Synder." Buffy's face was one huge grin.

"The Buffster. Just lookin' for you."

"Xander, I have to say I like the 'I'm a graduate' look on you. And Willow, you t- hey, what's wrong?" Buffy's manner morphed from elated to concerned as she noticed the look on her friend's face.

Startled out of her thoughts, Willow looked flustered. "Hmm? Oh sorry, just thinking about things."

"Oz things?"

Willow blushed guiltily. She should be thinking Oz things. She had felt terrible ever since their breakup a month ago. After finally recognizing her feelings towards Patrick, she felt she was living a lie with Oz. She cared for him too much to allow him to play that part. So, she broke it off. Oz seemed to take it in stride saying he was wondering when she would finally get around to telling him it was time to move on, but she knew she had hurt him deeply. She was slowly starting to work her way back into his life, if only as a friend. She still cared for him but she wasn't in love with him. It was actually the man she was in love with that currently occupied her thoughts.

"Um, no. Just thinking about my packing schedule."

The light in Buffy and Xander's eyes dimmed at the mention of the departure of their best friend.

"Will, do you really have to leave in just three days? You've got all summer. Why not go in August? Spend just these last two months with us. Come on, we don't want to lose you so soon." Xander's voice took on a pleading tone.

Willow looked up, her face a mask of sorrow. "I don't want to leave Xand. I've got to. Mom and Dad are leaving to go to Europe in a week and I've already signed up for early classes. You know that."

Xander looked down at the ground, kicking up a small pile of dirt with the toe of his shoe. "Yeah, I know. It's just so hard to think that you're leaving. I'll never see you again."

Buffy laughed. "It's okay Xander. We'll see her again. She'll visit us every chance she gets. Right Will?"

Willow put on her best reassuring face and tried desperately to summon up happy feelings. "Of course. Every holiday but weekends might be hard to manage. I'll be on the other side of the country you know."

Seeing Xander's face fall even more, Willow realized her mistake. "Hey, we'll hang out every second until then okay?"

At that moment a very flustered Watcher made his way through to crowd to the group. "Ahh, yes, there you are. You have no idea how very, uh, enthusiastic these teenagers can be." Pausing for a second, Giles rethought his words, "Well, actually, I imagine you can. Well, congratulations are in order. I'm very proud of you all. I was planning on asking you to my house later tonight. A small celebration for the three of you. You've come awfully far in just three years."

Buffy looked at Giles in exaggerated disbelief. "What? What's this I hear? Giles throwing a party?"

Giving the others a quick look, Buffy led them in a cheer, "All night rave!"

"What? What? No, no, you misunderstand. A small gathering. Just the three of you and possibly Angel if you wish to invite him Buffy. Very small."

The three teenagers burst out laughing.

"Just giving you a hard time G-man." Xander reassured the older man.

"Hm, yes, very droll." Giles said, obviously relieved. "I was thinking six?"

"We'll be there Giles."


*******


Willow sat in the back of her parents Lexus, staring out the window.

Ira Rosenburg glanced back in his rearview mirror at his only daughter. She seemed listless. < Thinking back on it, she's been that way for a while. > Ira loved his daughter very much but she had never been planned on. Both he and his wife were career people to whom a child only caused disruption. But, Willow had been the perfect child. Self-reliant, trustworthy < and rather intelligent too, > Ira thought a little smugly. Still, Ira felt a hint of apprehension as he studied her face. < Is something the matter? >

"Willow, sweetie, your mother and I are very proud of you. We couldn't have hoped for more in a daughter."

Willow's head lifted at the praise her father was giving her. < This is new. > "Um, thanks dad."

"We love you kiddo. Don't we Sheila?"

Sheila broke out of her thoughts, obviously clueless at to what Ira had said. "What?"

Ira obligingly repeated his earlier statements.

Sheila threw a thankful look to her husband. "Yes, um, of course we do Willow. I'm so happy you finally graduated. Soon you won't have to be around people who have such a bad influence on you, like that Bunny girl"

"Buffy, dear" Ira reminded his wife gently.

"Hmm? Yes, Buffy, of course."

Willow's face had fallen once again during the course of the conversation. < Mom just had to mess it up didn't
she? >

Ira caught Willow's look and hastily added, "Buffy has been a great friend to our Willow, dear. Just look at how much more confident Willow is now that she has been exposed to Buffy. You've grown up into quite a young lady Willow. My little lady."

Willow smiled at her father. < He tries so hard. > "Thanks dad. That means a lot to me."

The car ride continued in amicable silence.



Part Two




"Ah, Willow, come right in. We've been waiting for you."

Giles opened his front door wider to allow Willow to enter.

< Great, I'm the last one to show up. >

Xander came bounding up to Willow, a goofy smile plastered on his face. "It's Willow! Willow of my buds!" he practically shouted.

Willow turned to Giles accusingly. "Oh Giles, you didn't give him Mountain Dew did you?"

"Well, ah, not exactly. He and Buffy brought their own. I'm afraid they're rather far gone."

Shaking her head, Willow moved to take a seat on the couch. < This is gonna be a long night. > Buffy and Xander had one major thing in common, a very low tolerance for the powerful potency of Mountain Dew caffeine. On the rare occasions they managed to somehow sneak it past their friends or mentors, they went wild. They carried on frenzied half conversations with each other and become oblivious to the outside world. Watching Buffy and Xander dance to some tune only they of the caffeine-high could hear, Willow allowed her thoughts to drift. < I'm really going. Just three more days. I'm really leaving them. They've been the only people I could relate to. Buffy was my one true girl friend. And Xander, God it's going to be hard to leave him. I've never gone more than two weeks without seeing him. > Willow wrinkled her nose in disgust at her unhappy thoughts < I won't be alone. Amy'll be with me. >

The horrid screech of Buffy and Xander attempting to sing roused Willow from her thoughts. Incredibly off tune, Buffy and Xander turned their outstretched hands to Willow.

"We'll miss you. We'll miss you. You're our friend. Our best bud. You help us with everything and you're always there. You're great at the net and other book stuff. Funny, smart, you are the thing that keeps us together. We'll miss you. We'll miss you Willow."

As the song ended, Buffy and Xander took deep bows. The silence in the room was deafening. Suddenly, Willow began to laugh. She laughed so hard she could feel tears coming out of her eyes. "That was terrible! Just terrible!" Willow said in between bouts of uncontrollable giggles.

Buffy put on her best pout. "It wasn't terrible. We made it up just for you!"

"Oh Buffy, I didn't mean it that way. It was wonderful. Thank you." Then, realizing the meaning behind the song, Willow flung herself into Buffy and Xander's arms. "I'll miss you guys too."

The voice of a confused Watcher drifted from the kitchen where he and Joyce were enjoying a cup of tea. "Did I just hear singing?"


*******


An abrupt knock on the front door caused Willow to jump, upsetting the table she, Buffy, and Xander had been playing poker at.

Willow surveyed the damage with a bashful grin. She had a really lousy hand and for once was determined to bluff her way past Buffy and Xander. < Problem is, secrets and I together cause jitters. > "Well, since I'm up, I'll get it."

Bounding down the hallway, Willow opened the door and gasped. "Patrick?"

A million and one thoughts ran through her head. Confusions, joy, fear, undeniable happiness. Choosing to go with happiness, her face erupted in a huge grin only to leave moments later as the man standing before her shook his head regretfully.

"I wish he was here Willow but I'm Angel."

Blushing a deep shade of red Willow mumbled a quick, "Oh, of course" and opened the door wider to allow Angel to pass.

Angel remained where he was. His gaze became concerned. "I'm sorry I'm not him Willow. I really am."

Willow suddenly found Giles' floor pattern very interesting. "It's okay. You just caught me off guard."

"You really miss him don't you?" Angel's voice was soft.

Willow nodded her head ever so slightly. "Yes, I do. But, I, I really don't want to talk about it Angel."

"It's okay. I understand."

Willow gestured for Angel to come in. Noticing Angel's small wince and the fact that he made no move to enter, Willow quickly realized the situation. "Why don't you come in Angel?" she said, stressing the last three words.

Angel looked up, his expression a mix of gratitude and wonder. "Thanks Willow."


*******


"You guys, I hate to bring this up, but I have to go home. Mom wants me to get up early tomorrow because she's taking me on a college clothes shopping spree."

Buffy looked at Willow with envy written on her face. "Lucky. I sure could use some new clothes." She said with a suggestive cough directed at her mother.

Joyce gave Buffy her best 'I'm your mother, don't push me' look which caused Buffy to back down immediately.

"Spoil sport." Buffy muttered under her breath.

Willow stood up and walked towards the door. "I'll see you all tomorrow, okay?"

A chorus of "Bye." rose from the remaining guests. With a quick glance to Buffy, who nodded her head in agreement, Angel stood up as well. "I was about to leave too. I'll walk you home, if that's okay?"

Willow reluctantly nodded her consent. She had really wanted to be alone and being with Angel was a painful reminder of some of the things that had gone wrong in her life.

Angel held the front door open for Willow and together they walked out into the night.


*******


"So," Angel said, attempting to break the silence the two of them had maintained thus far, "what day do you leave?"

"Um, Monday. My flight is at 9 in the morning."

"Excited?"

"Well, yeah, I guess. It's kind of scary though. I mean, I'm going all alone. Amy isn't coming until the end of the summer. I have to spend a summer with no friends. I'm scared."

"It's okay to be scared. But just think of it, you're going to college. You get to make your own decisions. You'll make friends in no time. Just don't shut people out because you're scared. Be aggressive Willow. Take charge in making friendships." Willow gulped, "But, I'm not exactly the aggressive type. I'm, well, shy is a good word to use here."

Angel chuckled softly. "Willow, you were shy two years ago but not anymore. You've grown up. A fire burns inside your eyes. Just remember that you're a very special person and you'll do fine."

"You really think I'll be okay?"

"Willow, I know you'll be fine. You'll make a great doctor."

Willow stumbled slightly in her steps before continuing. "I'm not so sure about that part. I mean, I've always wanted to go into something computer related or manage a business. It wasn't until just recently that I wanted to become a doctor."

Angel smiled at Willow's words. "Willow, you'll switch your career choice a million and one times before finally decide. If you want to be a doctor right now, then go for it. If it turns out that you don't like it, switch majors. I for one think that a person as caring and nurturing as you would be a fantastic doctor. You never give up on people. Just look at me and Patrick."

Willow stopped in her tracks. Her eyes welled with tears that she fought to keep from spilling over. Angel, noticing her reaction, became instantly contrite. "Oh, Willow, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I just meant that you never gave up on me when I lost my soul and you never gave up on Patrick. You helped us when we needed you the most. We both owe you our soul."

"Patrick doesn't seem to see it that way." Willow said, a trace of bitterness lacing her voice.

"Not really. Patrick just got scared. He hurt you Willow. He couldn't face the fact that he had done such a terrible thing."

"But I don't blame him! I never did. I knew it was all an accident."

"Willow, we vampires are funny creatures. We either run from the ones we love or try to kill them." Willow opened her mouth to ask Angel to elaborate on his statement but he stopped her. "Here you are. Home, I mean. In case I don't see you before you leave, thank you for everything. You're the first true friend I've had in a long time. I owe you so much."

Willow was momentarily rendered speechless by the gratitude burning in Angel's eyes. Doing the only thing that seemed right, she flung her arms around him neck.

"You don't owe me anything Angel. I always help my friends." Willow whispered into his neck .


*******


Willow closed the door behind her and threw herself on her bed. She was exhausted. Breathing in deeply, she could feel her eyes start to droop shut. Just as she was on the verge of sleep, the shrill sound of her phone discarded any hope of sleeping. Picking up the phone, she mumbled a groggy, "-ello?"

"Oh, Willow. Did I wake you?" Amy Madison's voice came through, sounding apologetic.

Sitting up in her bed, Willow took a deep breath. "Not really. I just got in. So, what's the matter?"

"Nothing. I just wanted you to know that I'm coming with you on Monday."

"What!? Amy, I thought you weren't coming until the end of the summer?"

"Well, I wasn't until dad got called away on business for the rest of the summer. So, instead of hanging around Sunnydale by myself, I suggested to my dad that I tag along with you. That's okay right?"

Willow was flustered. This was unexpected. It completely upset her summer plans. < Wait! What are you thinking Rosenberg? You won't have to go by yourself. This is great! > "Sure Amy. No problem. Do you have your ticket ready?"

"Yeah, get this, Dad pulled rank with his company for sending him away all summer and had them book two first class-tickets. You can refund yours. We're going in style."

Willow was dumbstruck. "First class?" she managed to squeak.

"Yep," Amy said proudly, "No roommate of mine deserves any less. So, are we staying in the dorm?"

"Yeah. Usually Duke doesn't let freshman stay in the dorm before August but they made an exception for me since I was taking early classes. I was going to stay in the dorm by myself and hold it over for you."

"Well, you won't have to now. We Wicca take places by storm. Duke University won't know what hit them. Hey, I have to go. I'll talk to you more later okay?"

Willow smiled happily, infected Amy's obvious enthusiasm for college life. "Sure thing Amy."

"Night."

"Night."

Willow hung up the phone and snuggled back into her bed. < Should change first, > she thought sleepily. < Too tired, > her evil side thought back at her. Giving into temptation this once, she shut her eyes. For the first time Willow found herself excited about her future and as she drifted off to sleep she unconsciously closed off the part of her that ached for Patrick.



Part Three




The blaring noise of her alarm clock awoke Willow from a very good dream.

*whack*

Willow experienced an evil satisfaction at the sound of crunching plastic and the room once again fell into blessed silence. She slowly lowered her head back to the pillow, trying to recapture an echo of her dream.

"Willow!"

< Damn! >

"Willow, it's 7:30! Your plane leaves in an hour and a half."

Throwing herself upright, Willow glanced over at her alarm clock. Her broken alarm clock. < Damn! > That seemed to be her new favorite word of the day. Rolling out of bed, Willow walked over to her closet and pulled out the outfit she and Buffy had chosen the night. A girl had to arrive in style after all. The dark green fleece sweater and a pleated skirt gave Willow the look she was trying to achieve, smart and confident. Too bad that wasn't how she felt. She was lonely and scared. < Yeah, scared is definitely a major theme here. > Willow closed her eyes and tried desperately to recapture the excitement she had felt when she and Amy had discussed traveling, but all she could conjure up was a horrible feeling of emptiness.

"Willow! It's 7:50! What are you doing up there? We're going to be late."

Willow glanced in the mirror one last time to make sure everything was in place. As she scanned her image she stopped when she met her own gaze straight on. Angel had told her that a fire burned in her eyes. Looking hard at her reflection, she didn't see it. All she saw was a lonely and scared child. She was so lonely.

Willow put on her ever-popular resolve face and marched downstairs.


*******


"Flight 345 for Raleigh is departing in 10 minutes."

Willow shot an apprehensive look at her parents. They both smiled reassuringly but it didn't lessen her anxiety. "Where are they? I don't want leave without saying goodbye!"

"It's okay Willow. Joyce called and said they were stuck in traffic, but they'll be here." Sheila told her daughter encouragingly, blinking back tears. She and Willow had never really been close, but she was struck with an almost unbearable ache. Her daughter was leaving her. She was growing up.

At that moment Amy appeared, her father in tow. "Hello Mr. and Mrs. Rosenberg. Hey Willow. Sorry, they took forever checking in my bags. Hey, where is everyone?"

Willow turned worried eyes upon Amy. "Stuck in traffic."

"Hey, don't worry. They'll be here."

Willow turned and began scanning the terminal once again. Suddenly, a voice broke out among the crowd.

"Wait! Don't let that plane leave. Wait! Willow!"

Willow's face broke into a huge grin and she began to run towards the source of the voice. "Xander! Buffy! Oz! I was afraid you wouldn't make it!"

Xander scooped her up into a big hug and spun her around. Willow squealed in relief and dizzy happiness. Xander put her down to allow Buffy and Oz their turn. Buffy pulled Willow into a Slayer-hug. "Eep! Buffy, breathing equals good!"

The Slayer released her, instantly contrite. "Sorry Wills."

Willow turned towards Oz. "Thanks for coming." She said softly.

Oz smiled, "Well, I had to say goodbye, didn't I?"

Willow threw her arms around Oz's neck.

Buffy and Xander were unable to remain still and joined the group hug, laughing and crying. "Final call for flight 345 to Raleigh."

The group quickly broke apart. "Hold that plane!" they all called out in unison. Xander scooped up Willow's carry-on bag and they all ran towards the Rosenbergs and Amy.

Buffy was the first to speak up. "You better go." She said, her voice breaking, "Be sure and call me the second you guys get in."

A chorus of "Me too!" followed her statement. Willow looked around, tears in her eyes. "Of course I will. I'm just gonna miss you guys so much!"

They all flocked together for yet another group hug when the flight attendant came up to Mr. Rosenburg. "Sir, if you are planning to catch this plane, I'm going to have to ask that you board now."

"Of course, of course. Willow?"

Willow pulled back from the hug, "Hmm?"

"It's time to go sweetie."

Willow sighed, regretful their goodbye was so short, and reluctantly moved away. "Ready Amy?"

"Let's do it!"

Turning back for one final hug, Willow heard Buffy whisper, "Angel and Giles said they were sorry they missed you and to have you call them too."

Willow slowly walked over to her parents before throwing herself in their arms. "I'll miss you so much."

Sheila and Ira closed their arms around their only daughter. "We'll miss you too Willow." Sheila said softly.

Willow broke out of the embrace and turned to Amy. "Let's go."

"Duke, here we come!"

Linking arms, the two young witches ran to the gate, their excitement evident in their frenzied babble. As they handed the attendant their tickets they stepped onto the platform that lead towards their future without hesitation, and without a backwards glance


*******


Willow and Amy slowly walked off the plane into Raleigh/Durham airport and looked around. Here they were, on the East Coast, 2,000 miles away from the place they called home. The two girls faced each other and squealed. "Eek! We're here!"

Amy looked around at the bustle of people surrounding them. "How about 'Eek! We're lost!'?"

Those few words brought Willow out of her blissful state and back to reality. "Oh! Um, okay. I can handle this. We have to go to baggage. To pick up our baggage- did I just say that?"

Amy giggled. "Yep, some college girls we are. How about we ask for help."

"Help? Help is good. Helping people help." Turning around, Willow spotted a flight attendant. Dragging Amy back to the desk, Willow caught the attention of the woman standing behind it. "Um, hi. Can you help us? We're looking for the baggage pickup."

"Oh, sure. See that elevator? Well, go down it and take a right and it's in plain sight from there."

The girls relief was evident. "Are you girls from around here?"

"No, we're from California. We're going to Duke University."

The flight attendant looked at the girls in a new light. "That's great! Duke is a hard school to get into. Tell you what, after you get your baggage, go to the information and tell whoever's there that you're trying to get to Duke. They'll help you with your luggage and get you a ride."

"Really? Oh, that's great. Thanks so much!"

"Bye girls, and welcome to the east coast!"


*******


"Okay, take a right, in plain site -- here it is!!"

"Okay, we should be on baggage claim 3." Amy and Willow walked over to the conveyor belt and waited for it to activate and bring their luggage around. A beeping red light alerted them to the oncoming luggage. Quickly spotting their own bags, the girls grabbed them and made their way to the transportation desk.

"Excuse me, um, a flight attendant told us we could ask for help here."

The man at the desk looked up. "What seems to be the problem?"

Amy took over, "We're from out of town and we're staring school at Duke this year. Could you help us with our luggage and getting a ride?"

"Duke? Very impressive. Would you like to rent a car or take a taxi?"

Willow and Amy looked at one another, trying to decide.

"A taxi, if that's okay with you Amy?"

"Sure thing."

"All right, hold on and I'll get someone to help you. Duke you say? Do you girls like basketball?"


*******


"'Bout five more minutes." The cab driver told the tired girls.

Willow and Amy sat up straight, their tired bodies rejuvenating at the thought of finally arriving at their destination.

"Mind if I give ya'll a bit of advice?"

"Of course not."

Stopping at a red light, the cab driver turned around to face the girls. "Krzyezwski. Coach K. Remember that name and you'll do fine."

The witches exchanged puzzled glances with each other and then shrugged.

"Where did you want to be dropped off?"

"Um, the registrar's office. I have early registration."

The driver made no comment and continued to drive. The girls were soon staring out the window at the campus they would be attending.

"Here we go." The driver stopped the car. "You girls need any help?"

"No, we got it, thanks."

"Well okay then. I'm off. Hope you girls do real good here."

Willow paid the man as Amy went around back to start pulling out the trunks. "Um, actually, could you help us with the luggage?" Amy groaned at the weight of her load. "Geez Willow! What all did you pack?"

Willow flashed Amy an unrepentant grin. "Don't worry, the rest is coming by UPS on Wednesday."

As soon as the trunks were taken out of the cab and deposited in front of the registrar's office, the two girls paused to take in their surroundings.

Willow linked her arm through Amy's and smiled. "You know, I'm finally starting to understand that whole 'Today is the first day of the rest of your life.' Feeling."



Part Four




2 years later

"--7:00, Friday morning, and you're listening to Ace and TJ in the morning on Kiss 95.1. Man have we got a schedule for you. We've got the weekend blastoff which include--"

Willow groggily lifted her hand to turn off her clock radio. Groaning, she turned over, seeking the bliss of sleep once more.

"Oh no you don't. You'll be late for class Willow! And if I'm up, you're up!"

The voice of Amy Madison dragged Willow back from the recesses of slumber. "Five more minutes," she mumbled, rebelliously closing her eyes once more.

Expecting to hear a sound of protest, Willow was surprised when Amy remained silent. Sighing happily, she allowed her mind to seek the brink of sleep once more. Suddenly, her comforter was snatched off her body, leaving her shivering from the cold of the apartment. Her eyes now wide open, she caught sight of Amy's grinning and unrepentant face. "That was mean."

"Hey, at least I didn't splash water on you're face this time."

Yawning, Willow forced her weary body from the bed. "You're worse than my mother," she gripped.

"You love it." Amy shot back.

"Amy?"

"Yeah?"

"Have you seen my socks?"


*******


After Willow's customary search for socks, homework, and shoes was done with, she picked up her satchel of books and headed towards the kitchen. Plopping her books down on the table, Willow walked towards the pantry for her handy stash of pop tarts. Quietly munching on a strawberry one, she began to plan her day. < Okay, Advanced Bio5 in 30 minutes, meet with Danielle in the library at 11 to compare notes, lunch with Amy, Chris, and Matt at Applebee's, head back here at 2 to talk to Mary about her moving in, class at 4, home at 7, dinner at -- >

"Hey Amy?"

"Yeah?" came the muffled reply from down the hall.

"Do I have plans for dinner?"

Amy emerged from the bathroom, towel firmly wrapped around her head. "Willow! I swear! Yeah, you have plans. You, me, and Mary are celebrating at Carrabba's remember?"

Willow grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, I knew there was something."

"S'okay. Hey, hand me a pop tart would you?"

As Willow handed Amy her breakfast pastry she was pleasantly surprised at how relaxed and calm she felt. Willow closed her eyes as she allowed the wave of tranquillity transform her face into a visage of contentment. Taking a deep breath she was startled out of her meditative state by a sudden feeling of being shaken. She opened her eyes to see Amy with her arms on her shoulders.

"Where did you go Will?"

"Look at us Amy. We're juniors. At Duke. We're both making great grades. I finally decided to stick with pre-med, and I love it. You're doing great in all your pre-law classes. We have a ton of friends. We have our own apartment off campus, a great one at that. We're getting a great new roommate who is not only incredibly nice but brings down the rent. We're both becoming very advanced in our wiccan ways. Do I need to continue? Life is good."

Amy paused, weighing Willow's words. "You know what? You're right. We have great lives."

The two girls sat, quietly nibbling on their breakfast, enjoying a peaceful moment of bliss. Suddenly, Willow gasped.

"What's wrong Willow?"

"My life is not perfect. It's bad, it's worse than bad, it's terrible. It's filth. I'm destined to have ill fate sent my way. The Goddess is punishing me. Oh Goddess, what did I do to deserve such-- "

Alarmed, Amy finally interrupted Willow's maniacal tirade. "What's wrong Willow?"

"I have a Bio test in 20 minutes," she wailed pitifully.


*******


Stepping out into the crisp air of a North Carolinian October, Willow practically bounced with giddiness. < I knew the answers! I think I did really well! That studying with Maria and Will paid off! >

Bounding happily towards the library, Willow did not heed the admiring gazes guys threw her way. College had been wonderful for Willow. She had slowly lost her often-paralyzing bashfulness. Gradually, Willow began letting people in. She was no longer shy when it came to meeting new people. Her confidence added an irresistible glow to her aura that attracted people of all ages and genders. She began to dress with a new style that matched her new personality: smart and confident. Her hair was shoulder length and usually worn in a sophisticated French twist. Even her hair color had deepened into a darker red. Her eyes, no longer hidden by a bowed head, often sparkled with laughter. In addition to these changes, she had come into her calling as a witch. Studying with Amy and others of their brethren in the area, Willow became quite proficient in the craft.

Willow was dedicated to the wiccan ways and always found her choice to go into a scientific field ironic. She blended the two principles of science and science-fiction, choosing for herself what to believe and discard. It was her proficiency in both that allowed her to excel in school, as she never accepted things at face value, always seeking a deeper knowledge and understanding of her subject matter.

Although her skill was ample, Willow didn't like to be dependent on it. She rarely used it, preferring to rely on her wits and physical prowess. Determined to no longer be useful only as a brain and a liability for those who protected her, Willow signed up for a self-defense class her freshman year of college, a class she had continued throughout college. Although her strength was not extraordinary, her moves were fluid and graceful, and her speed often won the sparing matches in her class.

Willow and Amy had found that although vampires were not as prominent in North Carolina as in California, they still inhabited the area. Although the two girls never purposely went after a vampire, they had dispatched a few they found attacking students on campus. Vampires in North Carolina were much more cautious, there was a greater fear of discovery. The mystical energies of the Hellmouth did not call upon them to make impulsive attacks that revealed their true nature. For the most part, Willow's life had been devoid of contact with evil immortal beings.

Life was normal as normal as a young witch could hope for. School, friends, an occasional boyfriend, trying to decide on a major comprised Willow's life. And she was happy with it.

As Willow neared the old library building, she spotted Danielle waving in her direction. Willow waved back and approached her friend.

"Hey Danielle."

"Will," the other girl nodded in acknowledgment,."How'd you do?"

"I think I did really well!"

"That's great Willow! Now all you have to do is help me not fail my test."

Willow grinned and gestured towards the door. "After you."


*******


At 7 o'clock, a weary Willow unlocked the door to her apartment and walked inside. Dragging her feet down the hallway, she made it to her room. Throwing her books on the floor, Willow turned her computer on. While waiting for the computer to boot up, she changed into her outfit for dinner that night. Pausing to click the "Download Mail" icon, she sat in front of the mirror to apply a light coat of makeup and pull her hair up. Ten minutes later she was satisfied with the result. Her hair was piled on her head in a loose bun allowing small tendrils to cascade across her face.

Upon hearing the "You've Got Mail" alert, Willow crossed the room and sat down in front of the computer. Four new messages. One from Danielle and one from Kelly, confirming the study session on Tuesday. Another from her biology teacher, informing her of the changes in the requirements for the lab. One from Buffy! Willow squealed in excitement. She hadn't heard from Buffy in at least a month. Quickly opening the file, she scanned the message.

Willow,

So sorry I've haven't written earlier. Things have been pretty hectic around Sunnydale. Kera died. The new master vampire in Chicago got her. The new Slayer has been called to Sunnydale and Giles is to be her Watcher since I've been relieved from active duty. I don't know about this, I've never been one to share. < grin > I'm glad to hear you decided to stick to medicine. You'll make a great doctor. I got a letter from Xander yesterday. He says he wrote to you too so I'm assuming you've already received his letter or you will soon. He and Anya have finally decided to get married! Can you believe it? I was so surprised but I think it's all for the best. Well, I have to go. Sorry it's so short but Angel's pestering me to get off. We've got a meeting with Giles. I'll talk to you later.

Buffy

P.S. Angel sends his love

Willow stared at the screen, speechless. She had no idea things were that serious between Xander and Anya. Suddenly, Willow felt a pang of unhappiness that she and the other Slayerettes had grown so far apart. She and Buffy rarely talked and when they did, it was just through EM. She hadn't heard from Xander, who was attending college in New York, in at least 3 months. Oz had gone off to Europe with his band on tour. They just drifted farther and farther apart without even realizing it.

< I guess that's just part of growing up. >

"Willow? You here? We're gonna be late." Amy's voice drifted down the hallway.

"Sure thing, I'm coming Amy!"

Shutting the computer down, Willow hurried to join Amy.


*******


5 years later


Willow tucked the last stray tendril of hair behind her ear and eyed her reflection in the mirror critically. Underneath her calm and poised exterior, Willow was giddy with excitement. The long awaited day had finally come. After today, she would finally be able to sign the esteemed "M.D." after her name. She would be addressed with the venerable "Doctor" before her name. Her diagnoses would finally carry weight. She would truly be able to help people to the fullest extent.

Finally satisfied with her appearance, Willow turned to leave the room when a glimpse of white behind the dresser caught her eye. Bending down to see what had fallen back there she retrieved a photograph. Turning it over, she caught her breath painfully. The memories this simple picture invoked were remarkable. The picture was the one Giles had taken the night of Angel and, her mind paused before saying the name, Patrick's Saint's Day, over six years ago. Willow had cast a small glamour spell she had found over Patrick and Angel to enable them to be visible in a photograph. She had been so elated when she found the spell. < I wanted to remember that day forever. >

Her fingers lightly trailed over the picture pausing on each face.

Buffy. Her first best girl friend. The one who was always there for her. The one who started her on the path to becoming her own person. Buffy was the one who was never afraid to share her opinion, the one who risked everything for others, the one whose suffering was the greatest.

Xander. Her best friend since childhood. The class-clown exterior that covered the good intentions and feelings of inadequacy underneath. Poor Xander, always doubting, always hurting, but determined not to let anyone see.

Oz. The stoic guy who could take anything. The laid-back one for whom life was a lazy ride. Oz was the one you could turn to, the one your could count on to remain calm. The steady rock.

Cordelia. The bane of her existence for so long. Cordelia had become someone Willow was proud to call a friend. Cordelia Chase, who tried so hard to maintain a fašade of self-absorption and a 'better than thou' attitude, but who was truly caring and attached to the Scooby Gang, no matter the manner in which she demonstrated it.

Angel. Cryptic guy. The one who gave Willow the optimistic belief that good could exist in anyone. That anyone as evil as Angelus could become someone as kind as Angel gave Willow hope. He was the one who accepted her for who she was, and for whom she would do anything.

Her fingers came to rest on the one face that she always searched for. The one face that she remembered above any others.

< Patricků >

She had only known him for a few months but he had become her best friend. The one she felt she could tell anything to. The one she always thought would be there for her.

< I thought wrong.. >

As usual, the memories of Patrick came quickly. His smile, the look in his eyes when she asked if she could call him Patrick, the sound of his voice when he told him about his sister. And the memory of the look on his face when he woke up from the nightmare came just as quickly as the others.

Sighing, Willow straightened up, pushing all the heavy thoughts behind her. She carefully put the picture into her top drawer and shook her head to clear her pensiveness. Squaring her shoulders, she walked out of her room in the medical student dorm and towards her future.


********
"Dr. Samuel James Remington."

The clapping continued as the newly appointed doctor walked up to accept his diploma.

"Dr. Willow Elise Rosenberg."

Willow proudly stood and walked across the platform. The exuberant cheers of her parents and friends could be heard over the crowd. Eyes misty with happiness, Willow accepted the slip of curled paper that ended one chapter of her life and began another.


END

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