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Willow peered into the darkness, her eyes narrowing as she struggled to see anything out of place. Her nose wrinkled at the smell of the damp air, but she leaned forward anyway. Her hand touched the cold metal, causing her to draw back slightly before putting her hand back. She sighed as she realized that there was nothing unusual in the darkness. She moved forward until her head was nearly in the dark hole, her green eyes seeing nothing. She straightened up, casting an apologetic smile at Xander who was standing beside her. "I don't see anything, Xan."

"Neither did I," he said with a frown. He ran a hand through his dark hair, asking, "It has to be there. I put two in this morning. Anya watched me to do it! She's my witness. When I pulled everything out, there was only one. Only one!"

"That is definitely strange," Buffy said as she made a face at Willow behind Xander's back. She watched with satisfaction as the redhead tried not to laugh, instead keeping her expression serious as she listened to Xander.

"Xander, you're being stupid," Anya said sharply, her patience with her lover nearing its breaking point. "This is too much, even for you."

"I'm not being stupid!" he said with a glare. "This isn't the first time that it has happened. This is like, what, the sixth time in three months? Once, maybe twice, it could have been an accident or something. But, six times? No way. There's something in there."

Willow sighed, looking at the ceiling as she struggled to figure out how to deal with the situation. In all their years fighting vampires and evil, this was a new one. She wanted nothing more than to laugh and tell Xander that it was a funny joke, but they had serious work to do. In fact, when he had first called her, she'd thought he was joking. She'd told Buffy the situation, the slayer laughing as she had closed her book, eager to stop studying for her sociology test. When they had arrived at Xander's apartment, though, Willow had seen the look in his eyes, realizing with alarm that her friend was serious. That had changed things. She'd tried to become serious, but Buffy wasn't helping. Willow looked at Dawn, who was actually listening and seemed to think that it wasn't all a joke. As Xander and Anya began to bicker, Willow shook her head, "Xander, I don't know. I can't see anything in there. Are you sure both were in there?"

"Yes," Xander nodded, his argument with Anya stopping as he answered Willow's question.

"You know, it took one of mine last week," Dawn said, speaking up for the first time since they'd moved into the small room.

"Really?" Buffy looked at her sister with a frown as she grew thoughtful. "I remember that. The green one, with the sparkly stuff."

"I thought I might have lost it upstairs, but I couldn't find it in my room at all," Dawn said with a sigh.

"Actually, we've lost several in the last few months," Willow observed, her humor at the situation leaving as she started to think. She looked at Buffy, saying, "There's no way-"

Buffy shrugged, "This is the Hellmouth. Who knows? Anything is possible."

"But, this is ridiculous," Willow laughed, running a hand through her hair. "Now we're all being silly."

"Hey, I wasn't being silly!" Xander said, giving his best friend a smile. He was glad to see that they were starting to agree with him. For a month, he'd thought he was going crazy. That's why he'd never mentioned anything before, because it seemed so far fetched. Now, though, hearing that they had been having the same problem, it made him feel better.

"So, what do we do?" Anya asked, deciding that Xander wasn't really the type to be so dramatic about something unless there was truth to it. Besides, she'd much rather be part of the group than be out of the loop. If that meant she had to be stupid sometimes, so be it. For Xander, she could be stupid.

"This is so cool," Dawn said as she moved past Willow to look into the darkness of the washing machine. She shot them a smile as she excitedly said, "We've got our very own sock monster!"


"We don't know that it is a sock monster," Buffy said, rolling her eyes. Only her little sister could be excited at the idea of a sock monster. And, what the heck *was* a sock monster anyway?

She looked at Willow, a small smile crossing her face as she looked at her best friend. She'd been doing that a lot, lately. Looking at Willow. Lately? Who was she kidding. She'd been doing it since Willow had confessed that she was dating Tara. That one statement had forced Buffy into dealing with the sudden blinding jealousy she had felt as well as the intense hatred she had felt for the other girl. She'd never liked Oz, deciding early on that it was merely because he was definitely not good enough for her best friend. It hadn't been because he was a werewolf; she had, after all, been in love with a vampire. It had been many different things that had never really mattered. She'd just known that she didn't like him. She knew it was horrible to admit that she had been pleased when he had left, though she had hated seeing her friend in such pain. It had only been the last few months, since her death and rebirth of sorts, that she had begun to realize the true nature of her feelings for Willow. Not only was the redhead her best friend, but Buffy truly believed she was her soul mate. It sounded so corny, but she knew that it was true. Even Angel had seen it, offering her reassurance during their reunion a few months prior. She honestly didn't know if her feelings had always been there or if they had grown over time, all she knew was that she needed Willow in a way that both scared and excited her.

Willow had to laugh as Dawn started to argue with Buffy, her smile freezing when she found the slayer's attention focused on her, the smile on the blonde's face one that she had seen several times in the past few months. It was a confusing smile, one that left her curious and confused and hopeful. She didn't know what it meant, but she was more than ready to find out. She had realized years ago that she was in love with Buffy, never being brave enough to confess her feelings. Then, it was too late. Buffy had been dead. That had been the worst summer of her life. She hadn't rested until she had found a way to bring her best friend back, only to find out later that she had pulled Buffy from heaven. Willow had lived with the guilt of that ever since, pushing it away gradually as Buffy began to live again. She shook her head slightly, deciding that she and Buffy really needed to have a talk soon. She hadn't confessed her love because it had all been so hectic. Buffy coming back, Tara moving back East, Xander's engagement, Giles moving to England-.there hadn't been time to think lately much less have a serious talk that could ruin the most wonderful part of her life. Okay, honestly, she'd been scared. But, she had learned that life was too short to live it in fear. Soon, they'd have a talk. Soon, she'd tell Buffy that she loved her, wanted to be her lover, wanted to be her life.

"Willow?" Xander said the redhead's name again, snapping his fingers this time to draw her attention away from Buffy. He exchanged a meaningful look with Anya, arching a brow as he made sure she observed this latest evidence in his belief that there was something happening between his two best friends. He smiled as Anya nodded, acknowledging the moment. He only wanted them both to be happy, knowing in his heart of hearts that they belonged together. Stop it, Harris, he scolded himself mentally. This wasn't the time to be playing matchmaker for his two friends. They had a sock monster to find. "Earth to Willow, come in."

"I can hear you," Willow said, her cheeks turning a pretty shade of pink at getting caught staring at Buffy. She glared at him as she grabbed his fingers, "and stop that snapping!"

"What do we do?" he asked with a smile as he gestured to the washing machine that Dawn was peering into.

"I really don't know, Xander," Willow said with a frown. "It's not like we've ever dealt with anything like this before."

"Well, I think we need to find out what sort of demon would want to steal socks," Anya said. "Then, we can figure out how he is doing it. After that, we let Buffy knock him around a bit and get our socks back."

"Hey now," Buffy spoke up, "there will be no knocking around by this slayer if we can help it. I mean, stealing socks isn't quite up there with plans for world destruction, ya know?"

"You're no fun," Anya said with a slight smile as she added, "Okay, no unnecessary violence, got it."

"Hey guys, I think I see something shiny," Dawn said with a triumphant smile. "Maybe it's a clue or something! I'll get it."

"Dawn, don't climb in there," Willow said, watching with amusement as the teen partially disappeared into the washing machine. Her amusement turned to surprise as the teen called out to them.

"Oh my God-you guys aren't going to believe this!" Dawn said excitedly right before she disappeared.


End of Part 2