DISCLAIMER: I don't own any characters herein, and I will return them (mostly) unharmed once I'm done playing. I am making no money from writing these stories. As a non-profit interpretation of the original work, this constitutes fair use under USC 17.107.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To rachel.mercer[at]hotmail.com
SPOILERS: for Buffy up to "Hush".

Dance While The Devil Sleeps
By hnsnrachel


She doesn't think it's laryngitis. She doesn't know what it is, but she's pretty certain that it's not that. For one thing, she's never heard of laryngitis affecting an entire town. For another, laryngitis definitely isn't something that afflicts people immediately, and she's not been able to speak ever since she crossed the borders of Sunnydale.

Erica doesn't like the inexplicable, so she's determined to get to the bottom of this.

From the hospital, it's a short drive to the university library. With the doomsday chaos that seems to have infected the town, it takes longer than she was anticipating, and, for a second, she contemplates cutting the journey short and just going to the town library. It probably won't be worth it, though. The university is more likely to hold some of the medical books she's sure she needs. If she can just figure out what's causing the, literally infectious silence, maybe the sense that something's just not right will disappear.

As she makes her way through the parking lot, it's still light out, but it's rapidly heading towards twilight, and Erica doesn't know why the thought of leaving the library in darkness troubles her. Clearly the mystery that shrouds the sudden arrest of her vocal chords is more worrying than she thought. The blonde's steps hurry as she realizes that the salve for what bothers her must be beyond the doors of the typically Californian building she can see in the distance.

The library is deserted when she gets there, and there's not a single librarian that she can see. In the strangeness of the day so far, it doesn't really register how unusual that is until she's wandering in the stacks, looking for the computers. Though Erica's certain that the answer will lie in medicine, the news may give her a place to start. Maybe there was some kind of accident here recently, something that released a strange toxin into the air. Or, possibly, the residents of Sunnydale were showing symptoms in the days before they were all silenced that may lead her to a logical, medical explanation.

She walks down one narrow corridor surrounded by books, and vaguely wonders why a college library needs so many tomes about the occult.

Eventually, the blonde finds the small computer area, buried way at the back of the building, like it's a secret they want no one to find. It's here that she sees the first people since she arrived on the UC Sunnydale campus. A bored looking student, his MP3 player blasting in his ears as he scrolls through what looks like dense text, and a redhead whose fingers fly across the keyboard, her gaze fixed on the screen as pages fly across it so quickly that Erica wonders how she can possibly be taking in any information. It's the woman she sits closest to, though she couldn't explain why.

Several hours of arduous searching later, Erica's found nothing. She could see nothing in the news that would give her a reference point, so she's just been logging in to medical journals and searching for voice loss. A few possibilities have presented themselves, but on further research, they either have an incubation period that far exceeds the seconds it takes whatever this is, or aren't capable of striking so many people all at once, or, most often, both. She's tired, she's frustrated, and she's dying for a cup of coffee.

Glancing around her, the blonde lets out a heavy sigh, the only sound she's capable of making, and draws the attention of the woman to her left. The girl's green eyes meet Erica's blue, and a soft smile slips onto her elfin face. Her red hair shines in the florescent lighting, and, for just a second, she takes Erica's breath away. Shaking it off and pushing the memory to the back of her mind, Erica offers a grin that might be more a grimace and turns away. Whatever was in her eyes clearly causes concern because, moments later, she looks up at a presence at her side and finds concern written all over the other woman's face. For a moment, they're frozen there, in a connection that Erica doesn't want to explain, and then the girl sits down beside her, glancing at the screen the blonde's planted in front of.

At the sight of the search query, something lights up in the younger woman's face. She takes the pen from Erica's hand and scribbles at the bottom of the page of sparse notes the blonde has been able to make. I was just about to go home, well, back to my dorm. I think I have some books there that might help.

She looks at Erica expectantly before double-taking and writing even more frantically. Sorry, you don't know me. I'm Willow. I'm a student here. Are you a teacher? It's rude of me to invite a teacher back to my room. Or even a stranger, really. Erica had no idea that was what the redhead was doing, but at the panic that takes residence on the pretty features of the younger woman, she feels the need to comfort, to reassure. Resting her hand on Willow's slightly shaking one, the blonde closes her eyes against the electricity she feels, forces the urge back down where it belongs. Softly taking the pen from the warm hand beneath her own, Erica moves away from the touch she'd rather lean into and neatly prints: Erica. I'm not a teacher. Do you really think you might be able to find out what this is?

The pen goes back in Willow's hand, Erica curving the girl's fingers around it, smirking slightly at the look on the redhead's face. It's a kind of mortified relief that the blonde has never seen before, but, as she watches, it settles into resolve, something that Erica recognizes. With her eyes fixed firmly on the paper, the younger woman scribbles Yes.

This time, she actually hands the pen back to Erica, and something sparks in the blonde's chest as she thinks; progress. The ink settles on the paper almost independently, Erica's thoughts focused on how unlike her this is. All of this, not just the slightly off-putting attraction to a woman who's far too young, far too innocent and far too female to make any sense. She definitely shouldn't be going anywhere with her. It's not like the very few men she'd taken home on the first date, they haven't been to dinner and a movie and maybe out dancing. She's known Willow all of five minutes. And yet, she trusts her, the goodness she feels coming off the younger woman in waves. She's just not sure she trusts herself. So how the pen forms the words, Then I'd love to help you look, she doesn't know.

She's glad of it when she's rewarded with a beaming smile.

Willow won't let Erica wait outside the building for whoever this 'Buffy' is who the redhead insists needs to walk them home. This is the point where they'd usually find themselves bogged down in small talk, but that's not anything Erica's ever been all that great at, so she's not exactly complaining that their voicelessness is rendering awkward conversation very difficult. Instead, she sips at the machine-coffee Willow led her to when she 'asked' and silently takes in her companion. She's tiny, not just in frame but in height too, and the elfin comparison from earlier slips back into the blonde's brain. The redhead is also incredibly cute, her soft features open and friendly, an honest beauty that's refreshing. Erica senses that the younger woman truly has no idea how attractive she is, though how that's possible, the blonde has no idea. The redhead's hair brushes her shoulders, the choppy, sleek cut making Erica's fingers itch to touch it, and what the hell is wrong with her? Maybe it's all a part of whatever paralyzed her voice, a symptom or a cause she should keep in mind while they're sifting through whatever information Willow believes she has. Not that the redhead can help her; she can't possibly tell the younger woman what she's thinking, especially not when she doesn't understand it herself. If she believed in magic, she'd swear it was a spell. The redhead offers a nervous smile at the intensity of Erica's gaze, and she looks down at her coffee before smiling back at the other woman, silently admonishing herself for shaking the other woman's confidence, no matter how unintentional it was.

As though she can read Erica's mind, Willow reaches out toward her, hesitating for only a second before resting her hand on the older woman's arm, her thumb stroking soothingly. The blonde doesn't know whether she's saying that it's okay to look at her, or if she's offering comfort for the whole situation, but she's saying that something's okay, and not having the use of her voice hasn't been quite this frustrating all day. Even if so many of the things that she suddenly feels like she's bursting to say seemingly come from nowhere and make no sense in the surgeon's head. She wants to tell Willow about the heat that's emanating from the contact and infusing her body. She wants to tell her that she doesn't understand what's going on but that she feels drawn to her. She wants to ask if it's okay to kiss the younger woman, though she really can't comprehend the impulse. Maybe, in the end, it's better that she can't, that she's forced to stay silent, stoic and strong.

The moment is broken by the arrival of a petite blonde girl, and Erica takes her in, noting the high fashion and the sheer lack of size, wondering why Willow was so insistent that they couldn't go anywhere without this strangest of bodyguards. This girl looks like a stiff wind would break her clean in two, so what protection she'll be from the malevolence that thickens the air, the surgeon doesn't know. But Willow looks so relieved to see her, and they hug, briefly before the girl Willow called Buffy casts a concerned looks towards Erica before her eyes seek an explanation in the smile of the redhead.

Apparently satisfied, Buffy strides over. She doesn't offer her hand, but studies Erica, the way the blonde does a patient before even thinking about surgery. It's thorough, and, though being the younger woman's slide on a microscope would bother the older under normal circumstances… with the things she feels lurking in the night in Sunnydale, it probably just makes sense.

All in all, she's never been in a town that seems so strange, and she can't wait to leave. But, before she can, there are so many things she has to do. After her voice returns – all their voices return – she still has work to do, and that just makes it all the more imperative that they find a solution soon. If the redhead and her friend can help with that, Erica knows that she'll be forever grateful, even if they are both so young that she doubts they'll ever be in contact again. They'll go on with their lives, and she'll go on with hers, and after a while, the two younger women will probably forget that there was ever a woman named Erica who crossed paths with them.

She doesn't know why that bothers her so much.

The walk back to Willow's dormitory isn't a long one, but it's tense. The blonde – Buffy – seems to be on high alert, every little sound drawing her attention, her hand diving deep into the heavy bag over her shoulder each time. In the silence that's enveloped the town, they can hear all the things they normally wouldn't, the creak of tree branches in the wind, the sound of cars on the freeway that leads past the school. By the time they get to the place Willow calls home, the redhead's hand is clenched tightly around Erica's forearm, and the older blonde is completely on edge.

Buffy leaves them at the door, the two blondes exchanging an indecipherable look before Buffy hugs Willow, stepping back to watch the other women enter the building. Once safely inside the red-brick dormitory, Erica glances back over her shoulder, seeing no sign of the younger woman who escorted them. It's a sign of how weird the town is that she doesn't really think that's strange.

Inside the dorm, it's like a silent movie; people are everywhere, sitting in silent groups, seeking out company despite the inability to comfort one another with words. It's the pack mentality reasserting itself. Whatever's going on, there's a feeling of safety in numbers, one that Erica herself has felt since meeting Willow. The unease that filled her body earlier in the day has eased somewhat, even though she still feels like she's just a few steps away from a panic she's not felt since the first time a solo surgery started going wrong. Now, just like then, it's internalized, but it wouldn't take much to tip her over the edge.

Willow's room is pretty typical of a freshman dorm. She and her roommate have several posters adorning the wall, a TV, and papers spread everywhere. Erica's eyes are drawn to the desk, her academic curiosity showing itself despite the strangeness of the situation. The books aren't what she expected, though... The Compendium of Demonology, Bristow's Demon Index, The Pagan Rites. What kind of classes are taught at this school, exactly?

Willow must see Erica's attention on her books, because she comes over, leads Erica away by the wrist and sits her on what the older woman assumes is her bed, the redhead's expression a little panicked. Pacing, she tries to write on the notebook she pulls from the bedside table before flouncing a little and sitting on the bed with Erica. The pen keeps moving across the paper, but Erica's too impatient to wait, so she leans over, reading across Willow's shoulder as she keeps writing.

The first few words are a little sloppy but Erica decodes them eventually. You're going to think I'm crazy, but please, please don't leave. As the writing becomes neater, Erica's reading speeds up, until she's waiting impatiently for Willow to add the next words. It's dangerous in Sunnydale alone. Maybe more dangerous tonight. Demons are real. Vampires are real.

Erica looks at the younger woman in disbelief, and Willow looks up, her expression earnest, her eyes sincere, and vividly green, and Erica doesn't know where the impulse comes from, but she can feel warm breathe across her cheek, and she's scared but doesn't want to admit it, and maybe this girl is crazy, but maybe she's not and it's as good an explanation as any for whatever this silence is, and her head is spinning and Willow is pretty and smells so good, and she can't help but lean in and kiss her.

Willow's lips are soft and pliable beneath hers, and though she's not exactly kissing Erica back, she's not pushing her away, either. Erica's hands come up to tangle in soft hair, and suddenly Willow's with her, kissing her back with as much desperation as Erica can feel in her own body. They break apart for air, eyes meeting before they crash back together, needing something real, something that feels kind of normal, needing to panic in their own way. The warmth of smooth skin under Erica's hands grounds her, comforts her, and she tumbles back against the bed, Willow falling on top of her as their tongues tangle.

Later, it will all be impressions. Soft skin, trembling hands and slim, long fingers. The fruity scent of the soft hair the blonde nuzzled against. A heat that scorched her, settled under her skin and grew until it engulfed her completely. Wet heat around her fingers and soft lips against her mouth.

The next morning, Erica wakes up alone. The air is cool against her naked skin where it's not covered by the comforter, and she's disoriented, unsure of where she is. It's not a familiar room, but she feels sated, aching in all the right places, and it doesn't take long for the night to come back to her. She wonders where Willow is and starts to ask a question before realizing that it's futile. And then she stops because she's sure she heard the "Willow, are you-" somewhere other than in her mind.

Frowning, she tries again, this time asking herself what's going on. "Are you crazy? Sicknesses don't just disappear." Her voice is definitely working again, and she sits up, a mixture of annoyance and relief flooding her body. The blonde still doesn't understand what's happened, but she's glad for the return to normalcy.

She leaves before Willow returns to save them both the awkward morning-after conversation.

Erica doesn't think about that night again until Seattle.

The End

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