DISCLAIMER: Another day, another…they don’t pay me anything at all. I just do this to amuse myself and you. That’s what allows me and mine to slip under the radar while playing with characters created by those more fortunate than us.
ARCHIVING: A master list of my fiction can be found here. Please do not archive or distribute without my permission.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to Howard Russell for all of the lovely commas.
A muffled scream rings outside the castle. It’s Dawn. I shake my head.
I’m way too exhausted for this.
Still, I can’t help wondering what the flavor of the minute is. Maybe she grew another head? That’s exactly what we need: an extra mouth for an extra mouthy Dawn.
Eh. There was only one scream. If she had, there’d’ve been two.
That’s too bad. With two heads she could argue with herself and leave me out of it.
I don’t even get why this is happening. It’s not like we didn’t warn her. She just wouldn’t believe us. You’d think she’d have it figured by now. Spotting and stopping the freakish and the fiendish is sort of what we do. Even if it does suck, we’re not half bad at it.
Well, she did want attention.
It could be spots. Or maybe she turned blue?
Nah. We don’t get that lucky. The Smurf jokes—though hopelessly tired—might be good for a laugh. Couldn’t have that.
Maybe her two beady little eyes became one great big eye in the middle? I try to picture how indignant she’d be. The gag really isn’t working for me, but that part is.
That’s the real problem. No one knew. No one could predict how this’d turn out. I guess that’s why she ignored us. She intentionally hopped in the Mixmaster of wacky, random, transmogrificationy fun because no one could give her a straight answer. All we do know…
No. Not ‘we’, ‘me.’ I knew this’d be bad. I told her so. She wouldn’t listen to me. Not like that’s hard to predict. It’s always bad. She never listens. And it always comes back to haunt me.
And what with the thrice in the wise, this was bound to be a triple feature. Three times the fun. Her wearing a horse’s ass was enough for me. I had to leave.
She deserves this.
So why am I still stressing? Dawn’s convinced that she’s so grown up she doesn’t need our advice. She’s all up for making her own choices. She should have to deal with the consequences.
Sounds great in theory, but again with the fallout…
Right on cue another scream echoes outside my window. Male voice and all, this one really isn’t Dawn.
Oh, Xander, you didn’t stay out there with Ms. Ed did you?
Dammit. It figures. I was comfy.
I leap out of bed as Dawn shrieks his name.
Yeah, yeah, he did.
And why would Dawn want him to stay? I sure wouldn’t want an audience if I’d done something that epically brain damaged.
Over by the window, Will waves a hand to catch my attention. I thought she was—
She says, “We need to get down there.” There’s a no-nonsense sorta edge to her voice. She’s worried too.
So, why am I tweaking? There’s trouble. Trouble’s normal. Ergo I should be fine.
And when did she get out of bed? I didn’t even feel her move. My gut reaction is to make a break for the door. She’s right. We need to be there. Like, now would be good. I jerk, fighting the impulse. She wants me to come with her. I stare at her, trying to make up my mind what to do.
Another cry echoes outside.
’Kay, so…not feeling any smarter.
That isn’t Dawn, but it’s definitely a girl—one of the girls. I need to—
Ignoring my instincts—yeah, that usually ends well. I trust Will, so I do.
“Hold onto me,” she says.
She’s hurt. Like really, really hurt. The only way I’m holding on is if it’s to help.
While I’m stalling, she opens the window and takes my hands one at a time, resting them on her shoulders.
That worked out about as well as—
Putting her arms around my waist, she goes out the window.
I grab hold.
My arms snap tight.
My calves smack the window ledge.
I turn my head to look down. My hair plasters to my face. We’re only about fortyish feet up. No big, right?
It’s a huge big! A massive, ginormous, big! We’re seriously moving! Not just a little bit ‘moving’…
It wouldn’t be so bad if she’d just fly upright, but no…she’s gotta play SuperWill. And with me hugging…hanging on to her neck, her hanging onto my waist.
Hanging’s right…more like dangling. At least half of me is. She’s totally getting leotards and a cape when I have time.
I tear my attention from the lawn whooshing underneath us. Of course, I have to shake my head to get my hair to behave. It only half works. And it’s not like I can use my hands. Eventually, I see something besides blurry nothing. The corners of her mouth are curled just a smidge, like she’s fighting a grin.
She’s enjoying this!
I roll my eyes. Just you wait!
Lifting my legs, I wrap them around her. It’s better, but a little weird. Way contactier than I’m comfortable with. Especially after yesterday.
Or was that today?
It’s one of those days, in a string of fuzzy days that all run together into one long day since Will turned up. Most of them spent in my bed.
Not that there’s anything to report. She was hurt and I helped. That was the only thing, except that other thing. But that other thing was nothing.
Or maybe it was everything.
It was nothing. At least nothing I have time for. Self analysis later. Now…
I crane my head around to look down. The ground’s so much closer.
That does it! Next time I get dragged out a window, I’m gonna be the one doing the dragging!
When we get close enough, I let go, hit the grass and tumble to my feet. Will touches down just a little too gracefully next to me, but I barely notice her. I’m way more interested in Xander and Satsu.
Why aren’t they moving?
More importantly, why do they look like they sprayed a can of that fake snow on before they dressed?
And y’know, it’d be just great if that was it. But no, this is the kind of nightmarish image that just keeps getting better the longer you look.
Xander has his back to me. Satsu stands a few feet away, sort of half-facing him. She’s turned just enough that I can just see the side of her face. Her chiseled white expression says ‘agony.’ But that’s not the only wigsome part. If that was it, the trauma—
Dawn’s behind them with her back to them and us. Her arms are folded across her chest. Her hip’s kinda cocked to the side. She hangs her head. It’s that super-sulky pose she puts on when she’s totally ticked off.
The green skin’s not so much surprising. I knew there’d be something like that, but…I’m seeing way more of it than I want to. Way more than I’ve seen since she was in diapers.
And she couldn’t care less! She acts like we’re not even here. How could she possibly miss my pointless landing? I mean, I could see her missing Will’s, what with the three points, but mine?
Green skin. That would’ve been great when she was a giant. Add a few leaves and we could’ve gotten her a job.
That’s not funny.
What’s her malfunction anyway? A little modesty wouldn’t kill her.
And what’s wrong with Satsu and Xander? Did she do that to them? Did they see her and just—?
No. That doesn’t make sense. Then why aren’t they moving? Dawn’s pose totally says ‘tantrum brewing.’ I’d be moving if I had a choice.
But she should’ve stomped away when we showed up. She should be off somewhere sulking by now.
She shifts her hips. Oh, jeez…please, don’t move.
Or move, yeah, but not this way! Don’t turn around! My head hurts enough without—
Y’know, I just hoped when it came, the cure might actually be a cure…minus the complication. After all that, we were kind of due.
Totally wishful thinking. Turns out, a curse really is a curse. Doesn’t matter what I do.
And I may’ve just hit on the real problem. It’s me. Not Dawn. She’s just a bonus added for domestic flavor.
My misery wasn’t quite complete. This is exactly what I was missing. Everyone’s awake. It’s only a matter of time before this yard fills up. And she’s just waiting. The Witless Whelp of the West plans to lecture me on the finer points of who-knows-what in front of god-knows-who without a costume change.
Without a costume.
Won’t that be fun?
Why didn’t I grab my bathrobe? It was right there. I could’ve brought it with and maybe—
With my jammies and Will’s jammies, we don’t have enough jammies to go around. There’s no more jammies, no more nothing…
Why isn’t she doing anything? I mean witch, right? Will, please put something on her to lessen the trauma—my trauma—when I kick her sorry, drama-loving butt all the way back to Berkley!
Somewhere in the jumble, I realize I actually mumbled, “Will.” It’s not the name I meant to say, just what slipped out. And by ‘slipped out,’ I mean ‘just barely.’ It didn’t sound much like ‘Will,’ more like a croak.
“Yeah, Buff?” she replies. She sounds pretty bad too. I have to look. Tearing my eyes from something I totally want to unsee—
Why is that hard? Clueless, but it’s painful and extremely icky.
I meet her gaze. She’s already looking at me. Well, at least…
Uh, no…it’s bad. We’re both just kind of lost.
When the castle flood lights flip on, lighting the surreal scene, Dawn finally blows. “I can’t believe you two!”
I shut her out and plead, “Will, do something?” I don’t want to hear squat from Dawn. The others are coming. I mean, lights, right? Just dress her. It’s all I ask.
And If I actually asked, it might be helpful. “Do something, please?” I mumble.
Oh, yeah…that should make my meaning much clearer. Of course, it doesn’t. She just stares at me.
I snap and turn on Dawn. She still has her back to me. I stomp across the lawn, fuming, “What the hell is wrong with you?” as I weave between Xander and Satsu. They’re totally—
Dawn’s hair, it’s green and wiggly, like worms or sna—
My foot snags. I smack the ground face first, barely managing to catch myself. Even that sucks. It doesn’t feel—
Maybe I’m just—
Fog rolls in. At least I think its fog…really, really quick fog. It clouds my vision. I can’t even see my hands.
Well, at least that means—
It means something hit me! I didn’t even get a chance to register how screwed I was and…
Nothing. There’s no pain, no…
It’s like moving a brick, but I slide my hand sideways. The grass isn’t wet. Really, really quick, totally dry fog.
What the hell?
And really heavy limbs. I flounder, trying to get up. My arms and legs feel like they’re made of lead, but I make it to my knees.
Will yells, “Buffy, don’t!”
Dawn giggles. “Thanks, Will.” Moving closer, she fumes, “Can’t you see?” This must be really amusing ’cause it makes her laugh even harder. I’m personally failing to see the funny.
I’m failing to see anything at all. One huge inky…completely unnatural nothing. That’s what I see.
Unfortunately I can hear just fine. Dawn’s never lacked the gift of gab. And she’s an absolute master of complaint.
“No, of course you can’t. But then, even when you aren’t blind, you still don’t see. You’re so wrapped up in your own bullshit that you totally miss the obvious.”
This is weird as hell. Is she laughing or crying?
Will shouts, “Dawn, no!”
A crunching sound right next to me gives Dawn away. In spite of the weight, I sweep my leg and plant her right on her bare rump. I want to kill her, but—
“What do—?” I stammer.
Before I finish, Will butts in, “She’s a gorgon.” Her tone’s flat. Totally deadpan. Like that answer is somehow supposed to make everything better.
What the hell is she talking about? “A gor-what?” Mid-stammer it hits me. My muscles tense. “It was you!” I shout. My face turns hot. “Let! Me! Go!” Unbelievable! She attacked me!
Ever helpful, she prompts, “Medusa.”
I still wanna—
Oh, shit! Xander and Satsu are—
Rustling next to me makes me flinch. Oh Hell!
The weight lifts as I scramble away. “And you didn’t know this would happen? How could you not know?” I yell.
Will cuts me off. “How could I know? You expect me to know everything. There’re some things I just can’t know.” She bites the last few words off and makes this grumpy sound, kind of a groan, but almost a growl.
I want to throw something. Of course, being able to see would make aiming and hitting so much easier. And there’s the tiny issue of finding something to throw. Being blind just ticks me off. It reminds me of those stupid tests.
I point out the obvious. “But Will, she’s a monster!”
She finally loses her cool. “And what exactly do you think a giantess is…or a kentauride? She’s been a monster!” But she can’t just lose it. She has to make me feel dumb too.
“A female centaur,” she replies.
Ah. The girls have a special name? Good to know. Shame, I’ve forgotten it already. Why couldn’t she just say ‘centaur’? And since when are centaurs monsters? I mean, pretty…monsters aren’t pretty, are they?
She explains, “Look, Buffy, the curse of the Thricewise is a penance malediction. There’s no way of knowing what will happen because the cursee creates the effect. The curser and the curse itself have nothing to do with it. It’s totally unpredictable. I told you that.”
I shout, “No you didn’t!”
She doesn’t say a word.
Almost as an afterthought and completely ignoring me, she adds, “Remember what happened to me with Kennedy?” Oh, goody, more dispassionate bluntness.
I don’t give the afterthought a second thought. My brain’s had enough. It and my stomach are off training for the next Olympics.
Goddammit! “You did this?” I snap in Dawn’s general direction.
No nothing, in fact. No breathing. No movement. No Dawn. She bailed.
The fog thins. Will’s sitting a few feet from me between Satsu and Xander. I meet her gaze through the thick black murk and fume, “Dammit! Why didn’t you let me do something, or—here’s a crazy idea—maybe do something yourself?”
Her face draws into a harsh scowl.
Nice. Really nice.
And the fog really isn’t fog. It falls to the ground like soot, covering us. I have no clue what it is. I shake it off my arms and instantly find sympathy for Pigpen. Hell with it. I shake the whole me and hold my breath waiting for the cloud to dissipate. When I meet her eyes again, nothing’s changed.
Well, something has changed. Somehow, she’s totally clean. Me, I’m still a wreck.
Of course, she makes me wait. And with the waiting comes an examination. She finally answers, “I did.” Her voice is chilling—quiet, almost passive, but angry—angry in ways screaming just can’t convey. And her answer is a little less than satisfying.
I open my mouth, not even sure what to say, but she gets there first. “I can’t fix everything for you. You may think I can, but I can’t. I can’t do it all.”
We’re surrounded by slayers. The entire team’s out here with us and a bunch of the trainees. They stand behind Will at the edge of the sooty mess. I look around, taking in all of their faces. Each one holds a question, but none of them speak. Instead, they listen to her. “What did you want me to do, Buffy? Gorgons are highly resistant to magic. If I had done something, there’s no telling what my something would’ve done. It would’ve been fun in that ‘flopped spell, unpredictable consequence, everything goes flooey’ kind of way.”
She takes a deep breath. Some of her anger fades. It doesn’t matter. I still feel like I’m five. “I’m sorry you think I failed you, but I got the impression you didn’t want that, so I did what I could. I stopped anyone else from ending up like them,” she says, punctuating with a subtle gesture to indicate the two statues on either side of her.
I need to say something, but I’ve still got nothing. And that’s probably a good thing. I thought nothing was the problem. But nothing was actually the best answer. That was a stalemate.
I should take a clue.
While I’m struggling with what not to say, Will stands up and offers me a hand. I accept, though touching her is the last thing I want. The glare she’s giving me is pretty hard to ignore, but I manage. As she tugs me to my feet, I play avoidy and guilty all at once by glancing at Xander. Who says I can’t multitask?
Go figure, it turns around to bite my ass. There’s an unmistakable bulge in his jeans, just level with my field of vision. I can’t miss it. No matter how much I want to.
My mouth falls open. I clamp it shut and let go, landing on my butt.
Another cloud billows up. I blink, praying that this—all of this—is just some huge mistake. I’m seeing things, right?
As the dust settles, cementing the nightmare in my mind, I expect to hear laughter. I want it so much, it’s almost there.
Lying down in bed, all comfy again… This should feel good.
And it might if only my stupid head would shut up.
No such luck.
I turn onto my side. Propping the worthless, malcontent part in my hand, I look at Will’s back. Some things never change. She’s glued to my computer. It’s been either that or the usual pile of musty old books for hours now. I don’t see how she does it, but somehow, she always manages.
At least one of us is.
She still insists it beats wallowing, but I’m not so much sold. I think I’m due a good wallow. My only problem is an over-abundance of things wallow-worthy. I may need to budget my time. That is if I can ever concentrate well enough to…
My attention drifts to the picture above my desk. Refusing to blink, I stare at it until it blurs.
Why can’t things be that simple again? Not that they were all that simple, but none of us were embarrassing effigies of our former selves, injured or missing. And Dawn…she was still away at college. Normal-sized, not blown out of proportions. There were no hooves, manes, scales or any other assorted animal parts. She was just Dawn.
Now she’s all monstery and missing.
Worse, she’s gonna change back into plain old Dawn in a few hours. If she’s anywhere a gorgon might find homey, odds are it’ll be somewhere that Dawn, the nearly naked girl, won’t. We have to find her and the standard locator spells aren’t working. Will’s already tried.
Aside from the obvious wig, I’m not sure how to feel about any of this. Best guess, my head may explode. But that might actually be preferable to—
‘Shitty’ is the first thing that comes to mind. I feel shitty. But somehow, ‘shitty’ fails to sound shitty enough.
Even if I never say a word, it doesn’t matter. I need to be more careful what I wish. Rationally, I get that this isn’t my fault.
But ‘rational’ doesn’t even enter into it. Barring everything else that’s happened I’d still blame myself because I didn’t want her here.
Take into account the fact that she probably thinks I attacked her…
Probably because I did and I—
I don’t know. Your average, run-of-the-mill guilty conscience would be a huge step up from where I am now.
Mom would be so proud. I’m such a good sister. But it’s not like—
There’s no question. I love Dawn. I do. I miss her when she’s not around. But missing her is so much easier…and better for both of us. Because when she’s here, she’s just—
I want to strangle her. She makes me crazy!
And I don’t know what to do about it. She’s so clueless. She wants to be treated like an adult. Yet, for some unknown, utterly inexplicable reason, she believes that whining like a five-year-old is how you earn the privilege.
It makes no sense.
Protecting her is still way more than a sick obsession for me. I just need to know she’s somewhere safe. Somewhere away from all of this crap…and me.
We pull that off and I’ll be fine.
I let go of the breath I’ve been holding and blink. The ‘letting go’ makes this sound that surprises me. It’s somewhere between a sigh and a growl. Will even wonders what my malfunction is. I plaster on a sheepish grin to cover when she glances over her shoulder.
Thankfully, she just returns to her research, no questions asked. That’s good because I’m not sure what I would’ve said.
I scrunch my eyes closed and rub them.
College was good for Dawn. She should go back. One of us deserves a chance to make something of their life. Something that doesn’t carry with it a serious shot at a spot on Unsolved Mysteries.
I’m staring at my hands again. Go figure. As I return my attention to the focal point of my angst: our all-too-familiar picture—something else catches my eye. The second I see my helmet I feel this overwhelming need to motor. ‘Where to’ doesn’t even matter. Anywhere but here would do. Maybe if I could just get away for a few, I could—
I can’t think straight with her around.
That is, when I even have the headspace to think. The Sleeping Beauty act’s getting more than a little old.
Even if I could leave, I can’t leave like this. I’m way too upset. I’d just do something stupid. Probably several somethings. Those somethings would feel really good in the moment, but—
I can wait, I guess. I mean, I guess I have to wait. Besides, venting on a bunch of demons, or monsters, or whatever they are, can be just as good.
I shake my head. When get back to my study, Xander’s smiling face greets me. I shut my eyes and bear down. How could I have forgotten about him? I’ve been looking at that picture for—
Apparently, there’s no cure. Once ‘immortalized,’ you’re stuck. Or so the legend says.
I want to come up with something snide about the state of his ‘immortalization,’ but I just can’t. ‘Once a rock, always a rock’ hardly seems like something you’d joke about.
It’ll be okay. Will’s not convinced, or at least she’s not willing to accept. And I’m right there with her. There’s no way that’s an option. I’m not gonna settle.
We need a miracle.
Her chair squeaks. I open my eyes as she grabs another handful of books, setting them aside.
I just wish she’d—
I don’t know. I just, I—
She locates the books she wants and sits down.
It sucks, but I—
I wish she’d take this somewhere else. She’s making me—
Is that really it? Do I really want her to go?
The pages of her book rustle.
Things might’ve been—
That’s not even remotely sensey.
None of this is her fault. She sure didn’t ask for Amy to show up. Actually, Will kept the Amy trauma to a minimum. Unless you count what happened to her. Then there was lots of trauma. I wish she hadn’t. Her being hurt is just—
It’s so much easier when it’s me. With me, it’s expected. It comes with the territory. When it’s her, I always feel like she’s hurt because of me. And that’s just awful.
Really, she did the same thing with Dawn. The ‘damage control,’ not the ‘getting hurt.’ Will stopped it. She kept anyone else from becoming a rest stop for transient pigeons. Things could’ve turned out so much worse. If she hadn’t been here, Slayer Central might’ve turned into a Grecian garden before anyone clued.
Her being here is seriously setting me off. That’s the problem. I need her here. But I don’t want her here because—
Because with her around, I’m not sure of anything. It’s all too complicated.
This picture’s all I’ve had for so long. It figures. Now I’ve got the real thing and she’s totally freaking me out.
I draw in a deep breath. She’s so pretty. That smile’s just—
‘Once you fall for Willow…’
What an admission. When I said that, I never imagined counting myself among the fallen.
Well, I did, but not in that context. It’s no mystery I’ve always had a thing for her. I’d have to be pretty clueless to not see that. But I didn’t get what kind of a thing. I thought I just missed her. That’s all.
But that’s not all.
And I needed a stupid demon to point that out to me. What is it with me and demons? First it’s Spike. I’m not sure how I feel, but he’s got me all figured out. Next it’s a succubus showing me more of Will than—
I’m clueless what to do about it. There’s just no part of ‘in love with your best friend’ that ever ends well.
Jeez. Am I really in love?
I massage my eyelids with the tips of my fingers, pressing to make myself focus. I have no idea. I’m totally attached in an ‘I can’t imagine being without her again’ sort of way. As much as I want her to leave, the idea scares me. I’m not sure which is worse, having her here or not. I’m sort of damned if I do—
It always goes that way with me. I like my swords double-edged.
Everything about this is like that. There’s nothing new. I’ve always loved her. The question is, ‘how do I love her?’ And what does that mean?
Could I see myself naked and, umm…?
I mean, us naked? Like us together, naked, doing what—?
She clears her throat and turns the page of her book. Thank God she’s not looking because my face instantly flushes. I hide it with my hands.
Alright, that was just too weird. I really don’t need to go there, so…
I guess we’ll call that ‘good’ and drop it.
I can’t. I know I’m not crazy. Or I hope I’m not that crazy.
This has been going on for years. And it’s not just me. I didn’t start it. In fact, I would’ve never even considered it if she hadn’t gone there first.
There were times I caught her looking that I’d swear—
It freaked me out. I mean, we were in high school when that first happened. And yeah, we were so close that—
Boys are just mean.
That was such bullshit. It only happened once, but that was enough. I lost it. I wanted to kill them.
What’s worse…I had nothing. In a way they were right. They were totally wrong, but right. I did love her. That’s why it pissed me off so much.
So what if we held hands?
And since when is ‘confident’ synonymous with ‘dyke’? Stupid boys. Just because they couldn’t handle—
That so doesn’t matter. I need to keep it together. What matters is now.
This is normally a matter of attraction. Asking if I’m attracted is just stupid, not to mention pointless. I’ve been attracted and I’m still attracted. I was attracted back then when the last thing she felt was attractive.
It’s not like I really even had a chance to think. This isn’t something that’d just occur to me, especially when one of us was with someone. And it was always one or the other of us. The vacancy would open and get filled without any thought to—
It was just sort of expected. She was totally not an option. She’s my best friend. How could I even consider…?
When it did finally come up, I made a total fool of myself. I acted like such an idiot. It was so embarrassing. She told me about Tara and I just lost it. I told myself I was just shocked. It was a bombshell. I reacted badly. But if I’m honest, I flipped out because her admission meant that things—
It seriously complicated things between us. Or at least it did for me. Something that had been completely off limits was suddenly possible. I could consider it. There were times when I even did. The walls in Mom’s house were really thin.
But she was with Tara and there was no way. I’d never. They were in love. Like, really in love. Standing in the way of that—
I felt so guilty even being able to hear them. I had to bail.
I’m making this sound like some sort of federal case. It really wasn’t. It wasn’t even a big deal. When they were there and…I wasn’t. I found other places to be. I put that out of my mind. She wasn’t available.
After that, we both—
I was jealous.
The realization…or admission—more like an admission—almost makes me laugh. I choke it down. That’s just bad. Talk about skipping ahead.
And y’know, that’s so not what I wanted. I just couldn’t believe that of all people, I ended up with Spike. Our world was falling apart. Not just the usual, things were totally falling apart. It wasn’t a test. No joke. No games. And he was the only one who cared enough to stick around.
I was grateful for that. For him. For the comfort. Comfort was all I really needed.
I just couldn’t figure out why she sided with them. Why she stayed with Kennedy. It’s not like she said much. She thought I was tired.
Yeah, I was in pretty bad shape. We all were. I still sorta am.
And she thought I might not be thinking straight. None of them did. They thought I’d lost it.
But I think with her what it came down to was loss. We had all lost so much. But Will…she’d lost more than—
More than anyone ever should. More than any of us had before Xander.
And it was all because of me.
It’s no wonder.
She couldn’t make that kind of choice again. The who didn’t so much matter. Just the potential was enough.
That’s something I could never ask. And I really couldn’t blame her either. I just had to accept. She either wanted to be with me or she wanted to be with someone she barely knew.
She made her choice.
And I got over it.
Or I got over it as much as I could. It still hurts, but the brutal truth is that all of the smart rats had already abandoned ship. I was doomed along with anyone that chose to stay. The fact that anyone did—
The fact that she stayed and did exactly what I asked her to do…it shows undoubtedly how she feels. Nothing else matters.
I just wish it had been her holding me. That’s all I really wanted. The other stuff…?
I’m not sure what I want. All I’m really sure of is that I want it to be her holding me next time things get that bad. Like it used to be. Things would fall apart and it’d be us.
I open my eyes and look up. Her smile—that same ol’, familiar happy face—it just seems wrong now.
I was pretty sure I’d never see her again after that. Yet here she is.
I sigh, feeling like a total amateur for not holding this one in.
It’s strange. I used to know exactly what ‘right’was. There wasn’t any question. Now questions are all I have. And I don’t even know how to begin to get that back. It’s like I’ve lost a part of myself. The part of me that was sure.
I’m not sure of anything now.
Well, I’m sure that I’m miserable. That’s about it.
But maybe that is it. She was part of that. Not the misery, the other. I knew because we were together we could figure it out. We’d make it work. It’d be okay.
Back then, I wouldn’t have given this a moment’s thought. Not without knowing. And that’s the problem. I don’t know. She won’t tell me. All I know is that things between Will and Kenn aren’t the same. Something happened.
And it was something really bad.
It’s not like Will to make flippant comments about death. But she did. And then she clammed up. I laughed it off to make it easier on her.
Later, when I asked…
I guess they’re still together, but not really together, together. She said something about needing a break. But it was like she was blowing me off.
Anyway, there’s a lot more to that story. Like that’s anything new. That’s how everything is with Will now. Partial, incomplete…
It’s hard to believe that I used to know her better than anyone else. Now I don’t know her at all.
I want to.
I’d say that pretty much counts as curious. Yeah…curious is a good word.
And it’s not because of sex. I mean, not really. I’m totally curious about that…and completely clueless, with a side of absolutely terrified by the idea. Even if it wasn’t Will, I’d still be wigged. Add her and the wig pretty much goes off the charts.
All I really want to do is kiss her. Everything else is just too—
That’s it. Is that so wrong?
I’m absolutely certain of one thing, I do love her. There’s no question. Being able to express that…I sort of know how it’d be.
That was such a long time ago. And things were so awful after.
Maybe this wouldn’t be awful. It’s not like Will’s gonna lose her soul over me.
That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be awful.
It could still be awful.
Yeah, it’d probably be awful. We are talking about me. I can pretty much make anything awful. It’s a gift.
I must be losing my mind. All any of this really means is that I have something else to stress about. Like I need another something. I have plenty of other somethings.
Worse, I wonder if I’m feeling what I’m feeling because I really feel that way, or if it’s just because I’m lonely. Am I’m grabbing hold of the first big thing...someone I have really strong feelings for?
I’m falling. I hang on.
If that’s all this is, then I’m stupid. But not just…I’m the world’s biggest idiot for even entertaining the idea.
I love her. But there’s a difference. Even if I really am in love with her—and right now, I’m not sure—but if I get sure, I could lose her, so I can’t—
That made lots of sense.
Really it did, in an overly complex, ‘completely butchered by my worthless brain’ sort of way.
I need to just get over it and move on. It’s stupid to even consider. Unrequited love can be oodles of fun, right?
Who am I kidding?
I doubt she’s ever seen any potential in us. And seriously, if I’m smart, that’s where I should be.
Well, there’s always a first.
At the very least, I’ve had enough abject humiliation for one night.
Maybe tomorrow. Stupid demon.
My shoulders ache. I’ve been ignoring them, but they’re way past the ignoring. I roll onto my back, turning to face my desk, the picture and the source of my bonus angst.
As bonuses go, it’s almost as good as moving granite-Xander. Satsu wasn’t terrible, but Xander—the guy weighs a ton. Sort of literally, now. Even with help, I thought I might end up in traction when we loaded him onto the truck. At least they’re not out in plain view anymore. Maybe it’ll limit the scandal, and after the damage control, this will all just blow over.
Uh, yeah…I still live with over two-hundred teenage girls. I’ll be amazed if he doesn’t end up stripped and standing in the main hall by morning.
And there are just certain pranks that should carry a death sentence.
I’m so horrible. I really, really wanted to accidentally snap part of him off. It’s not like it was a big part or anything. He’d barely miss it.
A smirk pulls at the corners of my mouth. And it’d totally limit my trauma. But Will gave me this disapproving glare. I swear there are times I think she’s channeling Mom.
Yeah. That’s not even funny. She’s right. If we ever get him back, he’d bleed to death.
That ‘if’ lingers forever. I just feel numb.
Finally, about the time I’m getting restless, Will glances over her shoulder and says, “I think I may’ve found something.”
Grateful for the distraction, I roll of bed and lean over her to look. I love the way she smells. I missed this smell. Uh, yeah…’kay, so…stopping now…
She gives me a look. Before I make a complete ass of myself, I focus on the passage she’s pointing at. ‘The immortal gorgon is invulnerable…’ blah, blah, blah ‘…aegis may be derived from her lament.’
That last part’s what she actually wants me to read, but I don’t see the big. ’Course it might help if I understood what ‘aegis’ is. Sounds like a spa treatment. I thought people were all gross back then. Through another sigh, I say, “So?” thinking better of it a second too late.
Yeah, really smooth. You’ve already pissed her off once tonight. Keep going and maybe you’ll—
“Yeah, I know it’s not much,” she admits.
I bite my lip to stifle another sigh. This one’s all about relief. I’m being way hypersensitive. It’s not like me.
Actually, it’s pretty much the opposite of me. I guess that’s another thing for the pile.
I really need to go for a ride and get my head straight. This is just getting—
She prompts me to pay attention by asking, “You do get how this works, right?”
I confess, “Not really. I mean, not so much.” I’m probably missing something important. Scratch that ‘probably,’ make mine a ‘definitely’ with a side of ‘completely clueless.’
She turns to face me and I move away, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. Being close to her really isn’t helping.
When I’m settled, I make eye contact and she goes on. “There’s no cure. That’s what they say. But people are always inclined to say something doesn’t exist if it seems impossible.”
I nod. She’s totally right. The impossible typically is. Or at least, it’s damned painful and potentially life-endy—normally both.
“I think it’s a hint. Maybe not from someone who absolutely knew, but more like an educated guess. There are some universal truths—things that work pretty much across the board. One of them is the use of the heart to cure poison. We’ve seen that one enough times.”
I think I see where she’s going. Oh, that’d suck!
She smiles. I glance at the picture. It’s that same smile, an actual happy smile. There’s nothing false about it. She looks so drained, but it doesn’t matter. Her smile lights up the room. How I feel doesn’t matter much either. I have to smile too because she has hope.
“Tears, Buffy,” she says through that beautiful smile. “Getting your hands on gorgon tears would be impossible. But we have an advantage.”
“Finding her is still an issue,” I point out.
She stands and I feel this overwhelming need to protect her again. It’s obvious she’s not moving well. And I get the feeling we’re about to do something monumentally stupid. Like that’s anything new. Moving toward the door, she says, “I have an idea where to look, but I need to get started. Even with help, this is gonna take a while.”
No matter how much I want to, I can’t protect her. All I can do is help. I stand and follow her out.
When Will tried to describe this, I just knew it’d be truly bizarre. But ‘bizarre’ doesn’t begin to cover it. My imagination didn’t do it justice.
Actually, I think it’s one of the most messed up things she’s ever done to me. And because of her I look like tomato every time I hear ‘Wind Beneath My Wings.’ Dorkiest pop song ever. Totally Pavlovian response. Doesn’t matter where I am or who I’m with, I’m instantly mortified.
I close my eyes. Not that it helps. Not that I expect it to help. I still see.
But ‘see’ isn’t right. What this is isn’t exactly like seeing. I want it to be seeing, so I try to make it like seeing. But it’s more like sensing, or…
I have no clue. Nothing really looks right. There are no shadows. The textures are all wrong. It’s just not.
The blindfold itches. It’s annoying. I get the ‘why,’ but it’d be nice if it wasn’t itchy. Skipping the whole ‘magical superglue’ thing would’ve been even better. I get the point, but I can’t help thinking that I’m gonna end up looking like Whoopi Goldberg when she takes it off.
And that’s just one tiny thing, an insignificant thing in a heap of other things that are way more disturbing. Like, it wouldn’t be so bad if it was me actually doing the seeing.
It’s totally not me. Everything I see is from Will’s perspective.
Total mind job, I’m part of the view. And I actually even sort of look like me. So much for creative license.
The funny…the girls are way more wigged than I am. Leigh’s looking around, like it might change something. And Ro’s doing something that looks sort of like a sobriety test. I nonchalantly twirl the scythe as I stifle a giggle. Kinda cool. All those years of pretending are paying major dividends. I look completely at ease.
The other two probably had the right idea. They’re behind us, so it’s hard to say what’s up with them. I’m sure they’re having fun. I know I am.
Will said this works like sonar. She’s sharing what she ‘sees’ with us. There’s no way anyone not witchy could do this, but she can share. It’d be nice if we could, but we can’t, so she’s our eyes. So long as we all stick together, we should be okay.
I mean, I guess we’ll be okay. I hope we will.
Strange how stuff works.
One insignificant detail sets me at ease. The bookshelves that line walls are full of books.
Now if it were just me dealing with a bunch of shapes, the books would look like blocks. They don’t. Each one has something written on its spine. That’s Willow. She knows exactly what’s here. She should. She chose it…along with pretty much everything else researchy we have.
We’ll be fine.
I’ll do what I always do. Take it as it comes and do the best I can. There’s really no sense wigging over something I can’t change.
It doesn’t matter that there are tons of problems besides the obvious. Minor details, like I know if I look over my shoulder what I see won’t change. Where there’s something blocking Will, the image fades. She can’t see what’s on the other side, so we can’t. If we stay huddled like this, anything moving at us from the outside of our circle isn’t gonna show up. We’re still gonna have to rely on sensing rather than seeing…or sorta seeing. There may be traces of movement, but—
This beats any of the absent alternatives. We’re getting Dawn back. I’d go for it blind and alone if I had to.
I don’t. This is better. End of story.
A strange glow comes from in front of the bookcase near Ro and Leigh. They step back. It’s just weird, kinda pretty, but weird. I guess that’s the portal. I mean, what else could it be? Maybe this is how portals look to Will? The colors are dazzling, all of them. It looks like rainbow concentrate. And here I thought portals just looked like glowing white blobs. In the center of the strange, pretty light is nothing. It looks like a swirling void. Like the sorta thing you get sucked into and squished.
As usual, the waiting was mind numbingly horrible. Drooling was almost an issue. Now here we are and I’m not sure we’re ready. But I’m pretty sure that even another hour of trying to see things through someone else’s magical bat-eyes wouldn’t help. That and Will made it plain that just doing this was going to be hard on her. She can only keep it up for so long. Once she’s done, we’re totally blind, so…
We may as well get moving. What’s the worst that can happen?
We’ll be fine.
Motioning for the others to follow, I walk over to portal and say, “Let’s go.” Navigating is gonna take some getting used to, but I pull it off without running into anyone…or tripping over my own feet.
Yup, things are just peachy.
I enter the portal and everything goes black. My grip tightens on the scythe. After the standard whooshy, crushing badness, I come out shaken and shaking on the other side. Blind is bad enough, but blind and alone in a place that totally sets me off?
And I expected…?
I expected to be able to breathe. The air’s thick and smells like ammonia.
And it’s hot. Not just a little hot, like ‘summertime in Riverside’ hot. More like ‘next to an active volcano’ hot. The kind of heat that closes in, getting worse, oppressive and nasty.
Wigging might actually be the right answer. But that’s not gonna happen. The others are right behind me. And we have a job to do.
I step aside to give them room. Good thing there’s nothing to trip over ’cause that’d just be stylish, even for me.
It doesn’t take Will long to join me…and with her, my eyes. This place doesn’t look nearly as bad as it smells. Or at least, my sense of pattern recognition makes it look sort of normal. There are pieces of broken marble columns littering the ground. And plants, lots and lots of plants. It’s an overgrown tropical garden in the center of some ruins. Greek stuff. Like a little slice of the Acropolis meets reruns of Gilligan’s Island.
And here we are, just me and the Professor. I had such a thing for him…
When I was five.
I think he reminded me of Dad. Little girls and their fathers, it’s so cliché…and kind of embarrassing.
Yeah…and that turned out well.
But really, Will’s more like Mary Ann, or maybe a mix of the two, the answer person, problem solver and the naïve, small town girl. That’s how she was when we met. Post Buffy, she’s more like a Mary Ann who miraculously survived being left to fend on the streets of Beirut.
Destroying the people I love—just a little hobby of mine.
I really need to shelve the guilt and get my head in the game.
The others appear one at a time. As Will lifts into the air, the view gets even stranger…if that’s possible. She holds position directly overhead. It’s good, though. We’ll have to adjust a little, but it clears up most of the line-of-sight issues.
When the team’s all with me, I whisper, “Stay close.” I don’t need to tell them much. If they weren’t with the program, they wouldn’t be with me.
We’ll be fine.
There’s a tower up ahead. It’s not very big, but it’s the only thing standing, so I guess that’s our goal. It’s as good a goal as any. The view’s still pretty crappy, even with Will overhead. There’s lots of thick cover between here and there. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not. But just standing around is pretty much pointless.
As I pick past the overgrown plants and broken bits of former building, cautiously moving toward the little tower, I notice something that’s pretty cool. We’re in a huge cavern. Light or dark shouldn’t really matter, but it looks like it’s broad daylight in here. The light source according to Willow-vision is a bunch of jagged rock formations on the ceiling. I’m not sure how she gets that, or why I see it, but they shimmer like crazy.
I want to think it’s pretty, but that’s usually a mistake. The second I start enjoying the view, things turn ugly. It’s a standard.
The ferns ahead of us rustle. I freeze.
I just had to go there.
Thing is, I didn’t see anything else move, just the plants.
I clutch the scythe with both hands, wringing it in my grip. It’s funny. I have to think about pretty much everything else except this. Out of all the stuff in my life, there are only a handful of things I just do. They come naturally, sort of like breathing. Not that that’s getting any easier.
But I think if I could just do this, I’d be fine.
I’m not. There’s tons of other stuff for me to screw up.
And that might be one of the dumber—
A blinding, fiery light erupts all around me. I dive to escape, but never hit the ground. Something grabs hold, jerking me up by my shoulders.
Darkness closes in. Panicked screams ring out as I sail through the air.
I reach, trying to find something to hold onto. My hand catches a branch, but it’s ripped away.
Something’s not right. There should be pressure and noise. There’s no other noise, just the screaming. Where’s the big boom…and the heat? I saw fire.
My skin burns, but it’s not hot. There’s no heat. No more than there was. Something stung me.
Several somethings stung me a lot! I swing at whatever, hitting myself instead.
No clue. It makes no sense.
The scythe hits something, not me, and there’s a whimper.
I go limp. Her arms are around me. Or I think—
Yeah, she’s holding me so tight I thought—
It figures. This is exactly what I wanted. And I’m losing it.
I put my arms around her waist. She winces when I touch her lower back.
I hit her. I can’t believe I—
«I’m fine. Please settle down. I need your help.»
She taught me to project when we did this before. I had to really focus for her to hear. Now she’s just hearing?
Or maybe I’m just flipping out and the projecting is—
But you’re hurt.
Uh, I mean, yeah…you’re okay?
I rest my cheek against her shoulder. My skin feels like it’s been sanded. It hurts, but at the same time it’s good. She rubs my back to calm me. My shirt sticks, but—
Something brushed my leg. Then the plant moved. Next was the explosion.
«There wasn’t an explosion. Think about it.»
The plants blew apart. They disintegrated. I go over it again and she corrects me.
«Yeah, sort of, but no fire. Here watch.»
She shows me, somehow slowing things down so they make sense. The plants become a swarm. Or maybe it was a swarm on the plants not in the plants. I can’t tell. But she’s right, there wasn’t an explosion, just tons of little blackish-green specks, sorta like bugs. The fire was me. Me and lots of creative license. Spielberg would be proud.
The girls! I tense up. What happened to—?
«They’re fine. See?»
As the swarm surrounds us, Will casts a shield and lifts me up into it. The girls are thrown back the way we came, through the portal. Part of the cloud follows them. I don’t know why, but it can’t get through. Must be Will. It bounces off the portal and flies back at us.
I should’ve known. She said she’d do that. She didn’t want them to come, but she—
«It’s fine, Buffy. Just relax.»
The swarm’s out there and we’re—
“Some things never change. The blind still lead the blind.”
Uh-boy. I sort of missed the obvious. The strange voice clears that up for me.
“Did you bring us a tribute, witch?”
I roll my eyes. We’ve got company. Our luck, lots of company.
The only real surprise is how far away she sounds. We must be near the ceiling.
Will shouts, “We’ve come for what belongs to us.”
Completely blowing Will off, Medusa replies, “It’s been ages since we’ve had a slayer to entertain us. The last one was such pleasant company I gouged her eyes out to afford us more time.”
It’s nice to feel appreciated.
«That’s not Medusa. Perseus beheaded Medusa.»
Okay, whatever…I wish she’d stop.
«Clash of the Titans, remember? We watched it with Xander.»
But that was just a stupid movie.
«You should’ve learned the same thing when Ms. Miller covered Greek mythology in English class.»
Ms. Miller? That was sophomore year. You can’t seriously expect me to remember—
«Buffy.» Funny, Will manages scold me while she simultaneously takes me off the market. “The slayer’s mine.” She pulls off annoyed and indifferent so seamlessly that I almost miss: “You’ll have to fight me for her.” She’s practically territorial. There’s just a hint of a smile in her voice when she adds, “I don’t think you want that.”
«We need to do this and go. Can you sense Dawn?»
I thought you couldn’t fight them?
«I can’t. Not directly. But I can make things pretty interesting for them.»
“You know better, witch.” The gorgon, whoever she is, sounds way more amused than Will.
Oh! Yeah, umm…this is just too weird. She needs to slow down if she expects me to play along. I think—
My skin goes all tingly and warm. The pain eases and my head starts to swim just a little.
It’s okay. It’s just Will making things even harder on me.
As I search, trying to give her what she wants, angry cries sound out below us. The ‘interesting’ must’ve started.
“You’ll pay for this!” the gorgon rages.
Yeah, that would be the ‘interesting.’ I wonder what Will’s doing to them.
She shouts, “Put it on my tab,” grumbling internally, «Annoying bitches.»
Will, shame on you.
I can’t help it, I have to snicker. This is almost funny. From the rumbling sounds, I’d guess that she’s redecorating.
«Uh, sorry…but they are. Y’know, any time would be good.»
«Dawn, remember? Sweet girl, kinda tall. Sometimes taller. Y’know, your sister?»
Oh…’kay, so…sarcasm not really helpful…but nine o’clock maybe?
«Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Wrap your legs around my waist. You’re gonna have to let go of me. Don’t worry, I won’t let you fall.»
It feels kinda weird, but I do. I think I see where she’s going with this. I grab and we bail.
«Just trust me. When you have her, knock her out.»
You want me to hit Dawn?
«Yeah, you have any better ideas?»
Nope. I really wish I did. I’ll probably never hear the end of this.
This was already too—
«Hold on to me until you see Dawn, ’kay?»
She grabs the sides of my drop harness. I almost didn’t wear the stupid thing. I’m kind of glad I did now.
«I won’t let go.»
That’s so not what’s stressing me out. Our clothes are all sweaty and stuck to our skin. And what she wants is—
My cheeks flush. Like I need more heat. I’m already dying. I do what she wants, tightening my hold and she—
We turn. She’s on top of—
«I’m really sorry, but this is gonna hurt.»
What happened to pep talks? Remember those? Nice, fluffy little platitudes—
I hate it when she does this!
The acceleration is—
It’s scary, but in a really cool way.
And being blind again or still, all I can do is hope, or pray. One of those, maybe two…
Two gees, maybe three. Something just short of passing out—something that makes Bernadine look like a pathetic toy. I stiffen against the force.
She’d look really cute in—
And suddenly, I see. It’s strange, what I see is Dawn. No green skin, nothing weird, just my little sister. And I can’t take my eyes off her. She’s right below us.
I reach down and snatch hold of her raised hand, hanging on for all I’m worth.
My arm snaps tight. It hurts like hell, but I can’t let go. I won’t let go.
None of this matters. I do my job. If being ripped from a standstill to whatever—
That wasn’t enough to make her black out. I thump her over the head. She goes limp.
We climb, almost straight up. It makes me dizzy.
I think I’m gonna be sick.
“Shush, it’s okay. I’ve got you.”
Her voice is soft and soothing. The sunlight’s so warm. My skin’s all tingly.
She smiles. Exactly that smile. Everything’s so beautiful, perfect almost to the last detail. I think everyone should have at least one perfect day.
We stroll through the park, just us Scoobies. Children play and birds sing. It’s a little chilly, but the air smells crisp and good.
This definitely isn’t home. It’s too bad my one perfect day didn’t happen there. I miss the—
It’s weird. There are things you really don’t notice until they’re gone.
Tropical plants aren’t native to Southern California, so they always looked staged. Golf courses in the desert, palm trees in the city…it’s all part of that. Everything has that quality, like it’s been touched. Nothing really belongs. It sounds awful when I put it that way.
It isn’t. I think it’s beautiful. I miss it. Just one palm tree would’ve made this so much more, umm…
A little boy calls out to his friends. The sound of children playing is pretty much the same everywhere in the world, until someone speaks. I picked up enough French in high school to almost carry on a conversation with a six-year-old. He wants to see the ball. Or I think that’s it. It’s either that or something about a bowl. Doubtful. Another little boy tosses a big red ball overhead with both arms. It’s about all he can manage. He nearly lands on his butt.
Yup, that was it.
I giggle and turn to Will. She’s so pretty. All of the stress she normally carries is gone. She swings her arms as she walks, like she doesn’t have a care in the world.
Strange, but comforting.
And Xander seems better…or he’s acting like he’s better. The great big, gaping holes Sunnydale left are in the past. I’m glad. I was worried about him. He’s laughing and smiling…and of course, cracking silly jokes.
Weird, it’s my birthday. Maybe it really was just the Hellmouth making my life a nightmare. Since I’ve been here, at least that much has normaled up.
It could be that the sunset guy’s actually cutting me some slack. Unlikely, but maybe. Could be he likes birthdays. No clue.
I think we tried to make this day perfect just so we’d have something to hold on to. I did. After everything that happened, when we were finally together again, I just had to. I had to make them smile. I had to smile even if it was the last thing I felt like doing. I forced it. And by forcing it, because they were happy, they made me happy.
Understanding that what we have is fleeting changes you. You make the best of what you have.
This one day—I could live here. But I can’t. My body feels heavy. I’m not awake…or not entirely awake. Everything’s too murky. I’m clinging to the last remnants of sleep.
I get that.
But maybe I could. Nothing says I have to wake up. This might be the answer. I could just stay here. There has to be a way to do that. There are ways to do pretty much everything else, even stuff that people think is impossible, like returning from the grave.
I could play ‘Groundhog Day’ until stuff blows over. But I wouldn’t need to change a thing. I could just hang out and be with the people I love.
It’s not a bad idea, but the pain tells me something else. Somewhere, not here, I hurt. I’m still way too hot and every inch of me stings or aches or…
Umm…does that weird burny-itchy thing. I hate that. My head’s all muzzy and throbby. I may have a concussion. That’d explain this.
One thing’s for sure, I’m gonna have one helluva headache. Moving fast is a really bad idea. Moving at all will probably suck.
If it wasn’t for the smell, I might wig. But the smell is too, umm…mediciney, maybe too herbaly? Has to be something Will cooked up.
I don’t want to open my eyes. How I got here, ‘where’ here is—total mystery. One I’m in no hurry to solve. I want this to last as long as possible. This is probably the only break I’m gonna get. The one or two brain cells that haven’t been bruised tell me that.
Besides, there’s nothing indicating that I’m in danger, so…
Actually, it’s kind of the opposite. The hard surfaces suck. But on the plus side: I’m up to my neck in warm water. Speculation seems safe. I’m probably in a bathtub. Where the bathtub is hardly matters. ‘Bathtub’ denotes brightly lit little rooms where people usually leave you alone…unless they’re your sister.
The last thing I remember, we stopped. It’s not falling or flying that kills, it’s that sudden stop. All the fluids and other goodies in your body just keep going. That’s what makes fighter pilots black out. Why I know that—equally clueless. Too much Discovery Channel I guess.
The real mystery is how she stopped like that and stayed conscious. I mean, she’d have to, what with the fall and the monsters. If one didn’t kill us, the other would. It’s just a fact. So, me, here, now is pretty good indication…
I’d say I’m not dead. I’m in too much pain for that.
It’s pretty bad when the pain tells you—
“Get off of me!”
My eyes snap open. It’s Will. She’s in trouble.
I reach forward, grabbing onto the tub to leap out. My shoulder pulls. The pain is—
My shoulder nearly pops, but the pain—it shoots down my arm. My fingers slip. They stop working. I fall backwards.
Water sloshes onto the floor behind me. Blurry flashes of light make me dizzy and sick.
I stare my hand. It’s raw looking, like it’s been partially flayed. My arm’s crisscrossed with scratches. Dark red lines. So many it—
Another voice cuts through, “What’s wrong with you?”
Her and me. Both of us.
My stomach clenches. I set my jaw.
Not Will. That’s wasn’t Willow.
Was that Satsu?
That was weird. I thought there was some sort of social taboo preventing English people from getting that flustered. She didn’t even sound—
But that takes a close second to the tub. There’s a red smear on the edge where I touched.
The water’s red. It’s hard to tell what’s—it looks a little like Jell-O—like when you’re making Jell-O. Dark red and—
The color scares me. The water’s still sloshing, moving front to back…back and forth…
Not Jell-O. It’s too thick. Like syrup.
Well, that explains everything. Will left me to marinade in a tub full of—
“Get off! Let me go!” Her frantic cries take my mind off the syrup.
I try again, this time with my left arm. The right one’s done. It’s dislocated or something. I guess she set it. I don’t remember her setting it and that worries me.
Whatever. Not using that one. It’s too tender.
“Will, are you oh…?” Crashing comes from the other room, cutting Satsu off. I jump out of the bath as she begs, “Willow! No, please stop!” Sliding, I catch myself on the vanity.
Wrong arm! I use the other. Oww! Both. Somehow I keep from falling.
A door slams. No clue who said that last part. Not me. Probably Satsu. She’s just more wigged than I’ve ever heard her. It’s—
I leave more red handprints on the counter. They look like something from a ‘B’ horror movie.
There are footprints too. Same story. Dark red on green tile. Cheery.
What the hell’s wrong with me?
It looks like they left me to exsanguinate in the bathtub. I obviously didn’t, but—
It’s not blood. The color’s off and texture’s totally wrong. Blood’s more opaque and sticky. This stuff’s clearer and slimy. It’s sticky too, but not the same.
Well, whatever it is, I’m covered in it. I part my fingers and that weird, viscous, webby thing happens.
I’ve been slimed.
I’m really faint and I hurt in fun new ways, but it doesn’t matter. I’m still able to move.
The mirror glints out of the corner of my eyes. Not gonna look. That wouldn’t be good. I need to keep moving.
I go for the robe hanging on the door and put it on, tying it closed. Everywhere I touch, the white terrycloth turns red. My right hand’s the worst of it. At least I think it is. I hope it is.
Using my left hand, I open the bathroom door and peek out. I’m in the room where we put the statues. Granite Xander stands across from me, looking terrified…and horny. What a truly twisted combo.
Rowena and Satsu are between him and the door, whispering back and forth. They notice me and Satsu’s expression changes. In a heartbeat, she goes from perfectly fine to disbelieving. Stopping somewhere around abject horror, she screams, “No!” She shoves Ro aside and charges. The look in her eyes says ‘I’m the enemy.’
Reflex takes over. She kicks. I turn out of her attack. She just misses my face. It leaves her completely off balance. I thought she knew better than this. As she stumbles past me, I sweep my foot and take out her other leg. She topples backward.
I hate to do it, but she’s completely out of her mind.
She lands, kicks off and springs up. This part’s totally fluid. She’s still Satsu. A really wigged, maybe-psychotic Satsu, but definitely Satsu.
And I’m still me. I use her inertia against her. She flips forward and I put everything I have into one brutal uppercut. It connects, throwing her onto her back. As she slides away, my hand explains in explicit terms why that was a truly awful idea. Clutching it, I drop to my knees.
Yup, still me…dumb as a post. Tears roll down my cheeks. They burn everywhere they touch.
While I was dealing with Satsu, butchering my hand and maybe re-dislocating my shoulder, Ro crossed the room. All I can do is hope she doesn’t want to hurt me too. Not that it matters. I’ve got enough just—
“She’s doon,” Ro informs me after stooping to check Satsu out first.
Thanks for the news flash.
I look up. Y’know, I know I’m not exactly shower fresh which is funny what with the bathtub. But whatever…is it really all that bad? Her expression tells me ‘yes,’ emphatically.
I blow it off, muttering through clenched teeth, “You think maybe we could get Satsu to her room and—?” My throat tickles. I choke, doubling over in half.
Finally I get control. My eyes water. My nose is… I mop my face. It’s useless. Everything, all of me, is covered in this—
I give up and try to finish my thought. “I dunno, maybe tie her up or something, before she actually kills someone?” God, I sound like shit.
“Yeah, na prublem. Boot I tink she’s joost sceered,” Ro replies.
Oh, come on. I get the ‘want to protect your friends,’ but really…‘just scared’? Have you learned nothing? That’s exactly what makes her dangerous. I give Ro a stern glare and offer my opinion, “Maybe so, but she seems pretty dangerous to me.” There’s an order in there. If she’s smart, she’ll follow it.
I still need to find Will. No wonder she bolted. I struggle to rise and Ro tries to help. It might actually be comical if it didn’t hurt so damned much. Somehow, I make it to my feet. Now all I have to do is stay here. Every step is an adventure, but I manage to cross the room. It’s like my skin’s too tight or something. With every move, it pulls and burns.
At the doorway, I turn back and look at Dawn. She’s lying in bed, covered up to her neck. It’s funny, she looks so cozy. This might be any time. Me poking my nose in her room to make sure she’s okay. Trouble is, her skin’s still a sickly, powder green. And her hair—it really isn’t hair. Nothing’s changed. I sorta hoped it had. But that’d just be too easy.
It’s funny, she’s wearing dark glasses. They look totally out of place. I crack a grin despite myself.
“We shouldn’t leave her alone,” I remark as I open the door. “Would you call Ops and see if they’ll send someone?”
That’s all I need to hear. I take off down the hall. Best I’ve got is a guess. Will would want out of here. I head for the front door. She’s got at least five minutes on me. The truth is, she could be anywhere on the planet by now. All I have is hope.
Just my luck, it’s what—probably mid-morning considering the hall traffic. Everyone steers clear. Shocked glances are the norm. Some of the girls are even clueless enough to stop and stare.
I lock eyes with one of the rubber-neckers. She wigs and looks away as I grumble, “Oh, come on. I get that I look like Carrie at her after prom party. But really…is all of this attention necessary? A couple of nights ago we had zombies climbing the walls. This stuff should be totally passé by now.” The gripe takes me all the way into the main hall. More importantly, it takes my mind off the signals my body’s sending. It’s unhappy in a big way.
I make a beeline for the exit. I hope that when I get outside something will come to me—some inspiration. I push the door open and nothing. It’s a nice sunny day and a lot of the girls are out here. Joy. But that’s the only new thing I learn.
Ignoring them, I follow my nose. Of course, all that my nose knows is pungent herbal badness. I smell like one of those Asian homeopathic medicine shops.
I make it to the stable, completely on autopilot and turn around. I shake my head. The sun’s in the western sky. It’s mid-afternoon, not mid-morning. I’m totally lost.
This is useless.
Oh, no shit! It worked!
I stare at the tree line, trying to get my head around—
It worked. I smile. It hurts.
I don’t care. This is just too cool. It actually worked.
How’d I miss that? Satsu might’ve been a raving lunatic, but she was totally Satsu.
Why Satsu? That makes no sense. Why’d she bail and leave Xander—?
Where’s Will? We need to help Xander.
Well, maybe if I go in and get cleaned up, she’ll show. I hope. It’s so not like her to leave when she’s actually getting somewhere.
I trudge back the way I came. It’s so weird. I feel better, but worse. It’s harder to move. The forty-five stairs that lay between me and my soft bed have never been more—
My body’s stiff. My skin’s—
I’m not even sure. It feels a couple of sizes too small.
Despite the warmth outside, in here it’s chilly and damp. I shiver as I climb.
I finally make it to my room and almost turn around. I feel like an idiot. All that and I don’t have the key. I try it anyway. It surprises me when the door swings open.
Will sits on the edge of my bed. Without even looking up, she says, “Close the door.”
I shake my head and follow her completely unnecessary instruction. There’s a large bowl on my nightstand and towels on the bed. I take the hint and lay down.
Reaching into the bowl, she fishes out a washcloth and wrings it. When she faces me, I ask, “What happened?”
She meets my eyes. Raising the cloth to my face, she gently wipes my forehead clean as she says. “You’ve been cut by a blade of grass, right?”
Not exactly what I meant, but why bother? She’s bound to get there eventually. Besides, she sounds really stressed. Letting her lead—probably not a horrible idea.
The cloth’s warm. I shut my eyes. Even with all of the—this feels good. Whatever’s on the cloth smells sweet and kinda floral. It’s a pretty smell. The weird part is that it mixes with the other smell. The two things actually smell good together.
We deserve a few minutes to just—
Did she just say that grass did this?
No. She said before that the plants exploded…or she showed me. So the—?
Oh. She’s gotta be kidding. You mean I got my clock cleaned by a bunch of stupid plants?
And a cleaner clock…always helpful.
Stupid expression. Who comes up with these?
My ass was gr—
Dealing. Moving on. Her question might’ve been rhetorical, but I answer anyway, “Yeah, when I was little.” Maybe it’ll help to talk. “I think that was part of growing up. I just had to know if it worked. Mom was less than impressed.”
Will finishes up my face and rinses the cloth. My neck is next on the list. I get how this is gonna go. And honestly, I don’t care. She can do whatever. I’ll just be happy to be clean.
Uh, yeah, just keep telling yourself that. It’ll help. Of course, it won’t change the fact that she’s extremely gentle and a little too attentive. It won’t make her hands stop trembling. Or block her breath from your skin. And it really won’t change the fact that it’s been over two years since anyone’s touched—
But this isn’t that.
This is me making this more than it is. The only saving grace is the pain. And even that’s—
It wouldn’t kill me to be a little less twisted. I should be ashamed. It’s just…
It’s sad. That’s what it is.
I’m so attention starved. I want to read more in. I really need to stop being so pathetic. She’s just taking care of me. This is nothing new.
The shaking—it’s nothing. It means nothing. She has lots of other reasons to wig…besides me. Like take the fact that she bailed on her best friend. Xander’s still—but she’s here with me.
And that makes no sense.
I shouldn’t ask. But there’s no way she wouldn’t flip. She needs time.
It feels like a blessing when she starts to talk. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I think the plants produced some sort of natural anti-coagulant.” Her tone is so straightforward. It’s like she’s giving a report. I close my eyes. Just focusing on the sound takes my mind off what she’s doing and makes everything easier. “You were bleeding so badly. This was the only thing I could think to do. It works sort of like that liquid bandage stuff, but it’s better for you. This is the second part. It seals the skin. The first part stops the bleeding and cleans the wounds.”
I open my eyes when she laughs. A smile brightens her face. “I’ve just never had to use so much of it,” she says, looking positively amused.
“It figures it’d be me,” I reply with a snicker. “I’ve always been good for research and testing.” Her smile’s still infectious. I grin and I shut my eyes.
Water trickles into the bowl. She turns to face me and whispers, “Yeah, you do keep me on my toes.”
When she runs out of bare skin, I reach for the belt of my robe, but she gently moves my hands away and takes over.
I really hope she finds something else to say.
Continue to Part 4: Gravity (conclusion)
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