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.
One glance in the mirror is all it takes. I understand why with perfect clarity.
And I’d really rather not.
So you’d think one glance would be enough. The sane thing would be to walk away, but I have to look again.
Will says it’ll get better. I know she’s right, but that doesn’t change things now.
I really ought to just go. That’d be smart. But stupid me, I lean in to get a better look. I’ve never seen anything like this.
She said that too. Helpful.
But really, she was. The sarcasm’s what’s less than helpful. It isn’t even justified. She’s the only reason I didn’t bleed to death.
I tug the front of my undershirt down. My chest is pretty much the same. My bra helped some. Enough that I’m not a total tragedy.
I still don’t know how she got Dawn back without anyone else getting petrified. Or how she kept the gorgons from hijacking our portal.
That would’ve been fun. I wonder what stops that from happening anyway…normally. You’d think with such an advantage they could just—
Again, not exactly helpful. But neither is this. I lift my undershirt up and look at my tummy. It’s the same.
I’m not sure how she even found them in the first place. Anya said that was pretty much impossible. You don’t just open a portal to another realm. Something about hitting a gnat with a dart or…
Maybe it was a swarm of gnats? I don’t remember. She made it sound like you’d hit something, but probably not the same something you were shooting for.
I place my foot on the toilet lid and push up my sweats. My leg’s exactly the same. It looks like I fell head-first into a briar patch…and just kept falling through all of the briar patches.
It’s not quite that bad. Fine scrapes crisscross my skin. ‘Grass cut’ was actually the perfect description. They’re deeper, cleaner and shorter than typical scratches. Each one isn’t more than a centimeter long. They’re just tiny little things, but there are so many.
Maybe tens of thousands. One thing’s for sure, I’m not gonna take inventory.
It’s okay. They’ll fade. Nothing lasts on me. I only have three stubborn scars and the wounds were really deep. These aren’t.
There are a few spots that were spared, but not many. Not nearly enough. Tight clothing mostly kept them out, so…
At least I didn’t have to suffer through that. Her touching my thighs was bad enough. I would’ve died if—
But I understand now. I get why she reacted the way she did. Why she wanted to look so closely.
I probably shouldn’t, but the sealer Will used is some pretty serious stuff. I’d have to be a total dumbass to screw it up.
I’ll be careful.
I reach for the basket with all my makeup and sort through it until I find the right thing. Yeah, this should do. This stuff was pretty much designed to hide a tragedy. Things like Mount Vesuvius-sized zits and birth marks that cover half your face…and what I got it for: bruises. A plethora of tiny cuts shouldn’t be a problem.
My right hand just sucks. It’s mostly covered in gauze. She left my index and middle fingers free, along with my thumb. Good thing too, ’cause if she hadn’t, this Boris Karloff fashion statement would be history. As it is, the sling just had to go.
I’ll be fine.
I should moisturize first. But given—I think I’ll skip it.
I open the lid of the heavy mineral oil foundation and remove the brush. Funny, I’ve barely used this. That’s seriously gonna change. It takes a few minutes, but I manage to layer on enough to make my skin look smooth.
There’s one thing that really worries me. Where it doesn’t just outright hurt, my skin’s numb to the touch. I have to press to feel anything at all. And when I do all I feel is icky and prickly. I noticed it when Will was—
I don’t know if that’ll go away. I hope it does. But those three spots, the scars that actually stuck. All of them feel like this.
At least the blindfold spared my eyes. This could’ve been so much worse.
I stare at my reflection, meticulously painting on the face I need to see. It still feels weird, but I’m starting to look like me.
I’m really glad she went to sleep. She was exhausted. And there wasn’t anything left for us to talk about.
What could I possibly say?
No one’s touched me—I want to think like that, but that isn’t right at all. The only one who’s ever touched me like that is her. It wasn’t the way she touched me, but where. No one’s touched me there since Spike. And the last time he touched me like that, he tried to rape me.
I’m not sure she gets that. How much trust it takes.
I forgave him. And none of them can understand why. But that doesn’t matter. Forgiveness is meaningless…to this, at least. It’s a separate thing.
There’s still a part of me that’ll always remember how that felt. That’s not something you just forget. You move on. You try to get your life back. But you never forget.
That was my wake up call.
I heard it. And I almost listened.
That’s why I forgave him, because he was the bigger person. He actually listened. He tried to change. In fact, he tried so hard it killed him.
Not much has changed with me. Well, everything’s changed. But me, the person I am—
No giant leaps forward here. Progress is overrated.
Thing is, the change didn’t matter. He was right. I still can’t love him. The part of me that remembers won’t go there.
I finish up my mascara and toss all of my makeup in the basket, then push it back where it belongs.
I look like me. That’s all I needed. I flip off the light and exit the bathroom.
Will’s still asleep. I walk over to the bed and sit down. She makes a couple of silly, incoherent sounds before wrapping her arm around my tummy.
People forget how to lie when they’re asleep. There’s no pretense. What you see is actually the truth. She cares. That much is totally true.
Smiling, I take her hand and wait. I need to figure this out before it gets too late. And I’d like her to think I’ve been here all along.
As I caress the back of her hand with my thumb, her arm grows heavier. When I’m sure she’s good and conked, I slip free and leave the room.
I can’t believe she lied to me! Why’d she even bother? She’s terrible at it and she knows it. Now I need to know why. There’s only one way to find out.
I walk down the hallway to Satsu’s room and tap on the door. I’m so not looking forward to this. There’s only one explanation for how she reacted. She’s hallucinating. Me covered in bloody slime wouldn’t freak her out like that. It’d be bad, but a different kind of bad. It’d take something worse—something different—to make her attack me. And I have to know what.
Whatever it is, Will lied to me about it. She said it was nothing. That Satsu was just delirious. But Will wouldn’t react that way either. Not without a reason. She’s the nurturing type. She’d want to help. The two things just aren’t meshy. If I know the truth about one, I can probably figure the other out.
When Ro opens the door, I ask, “How is she?”
“Joos fine,” she replies with a smile.
Cutting straight to the chase, I announce, “I need to see her.” I motion for Ro to step aside as I ask, “Would you mind?” It’s not a question.
She sneaks past me into the hall as I step through the doorway and turn to face her. She looks concerned. And that’s totally fair. So am I. I offer a reassuring smile and say, “I won’t be long. Take ten. Grab a snack,” but she doesn’t budge.
My expression hardens. She doesn’t look away. Instead she replies, “If you dun't mind, ma'am, I'd like tu vate.” I nod and shut the door.
That wasn’t about me. Well, not really. I don’t take it personally. Ro’s one of those girls that doesn’t have a lot. Her family’s pretty shitty, so we became her family. She’s protecting us. And I can totally respect that. Besides, backup—if this goes like everything else has today—not a terrible thing.
Satsu’s wearing that same crazy, saucer-eyed expression when I face her. It might not be as bad. At least she’s not losing it—not trying to break the ropes or anything. Not yet. Give it time.
I ask, “What do you see?” I have to figure the direct approach is gonna be best. I’ve been there. And reason isn’t something you immediately see.
She locks eyes with me and stammers, “Yu-you’re dead.”
Surprised, but not really, I say, “Oh.” I can’t help grinning. “Huh.” Well, that’s not new. “You mean like flesh-eating zombie ‘dead’?” I really should be ashamed of myself, but the question just sorta pops out. And as usual, I open my mouth and things get worse. She tweaks.
I mumble, “Yeah, ’cause that’d make total sense.” ‘Fresh from the funeral home dead’ wouldn’t freak her out so much. No surprise. My observation doesn’t help.
It takes a few for her to chill. I wait. When she’s mostly over the wig, I raise my hands and very slowly, inch toward the bed. I think I can fix this. As I move, I explain what I’m doing, “Look, I get that you’re scared. But if I really am what you think I am, I won’t have a pulse. I’m gonna let you check. Okay?”
She’s not been catatonic, so that sorta rules out the full sensory head trip. This is like IMAX. Everything she sees is really real and lots of fun, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. With any luck, I can, uh…make her see that.
And that I know so much about this only proves just how truly screwed up my life’s been.
I rest my left wrist in the palm of her hand. It’s really weird seeing her like this, but I’m glad she’s tied up. I’ve smacked her down once today. I’d hate to have to do that again.
All I can do is try to put her at ease. She can’t really move much, so I help position her fingers. She feels my skin and some of her tension fades. When she locates my pulse, things get even better.
I take her hand and say, “I’m really sorry about this.” I want that to be an apology. But I really can’t apologize for doing what’s right. I can’t let her walk around like this. Who knows who else she’d attack. I just hope it passes.
She tries to make eye contact. It doesn’t work. She turns away. I don’t blame her. And I don’t want to stress her out any more than I have to. So, again, I get right to the point. “Look, I need to know something. You don’t see the same thing when you look at different people. That much is obvious. What’d you see when you looked at Will?”
Satsu mumbles, “Light.”
’Kay, that’s not really helpful. I give her a sec, hoping she has more to offer. Finally, I run short on patience and ask, “What kind of light? Is she like a big glowy ball?”
“No, she’s beautiful.”
An annoying little niggle of jealousy accompanies her statement. Yeah, I’m seriously losing patience with this. One more time. I ask, “Would you mind describing exactly what you saw?” I can’t make it any plainer. It might be easier for me to talk to Ro. She was alone with Satsu for hours. You’d sort of think they’d talk.
Huh, imagine that. I might be firming up.
Satsu whispers, “Her hair was white and her skin was pale, like a porcelain doll. She shimmered in the light.”
Her voice has this dreamy quality. Honestly, if I wasn’t irritated before—
“The light, it was in her eyes. But I blinked and she changed. There was nothing. The light was gone and her hair was black.”
“Alright, I get it,” I interject, hoping she’ll just stop. Me dead and Will with black hair. That much rings a bell. She’s seeing our pasts.
She turns really quickly to face me. It hurts her to look at me, but she doesn’t give in. Glaring, she asks, “Do you?” I gape at her, not knowing what to expect. “Ro told me some things. I get what this is. It’s not about the past or the future. Not really. It’s about the person. This is the truth.”
“How’d you die, Buffy?”
Again, I say, huh?
Which time? I guess she means the one that should’ve stuck.
She knows this. They all know this. It’s practically required reading. Not that I want it to be.
I respond dryly, “I fell.” That’s not all of it, but I’m not gonna explain. I shouldn’t have to. I fell…and I haven’t stopped falling.
“Then why’s there a knife in your back?”
“There’s a knife in your back, right between your shoulder blades. It looks like something a Klingon might carry.”
“A cling on? Clinging to what? You mean like static?”
I just stare.
Oh! That’s that stupid show Xander likes. Klingons are the guys with cheap fake tans, Grecian Formula hair and paste-on goatees. There are Muppets with better hair. And those clothes! They wear those awful black and silver polyester jumpsuits.
Knives? They had knives? There might’ve been a letter opener, but I don’t remember any knives.
While I’m trying to decipher Satsu’s cleverly encrypted geek code, she gets all serious on me. I think we have enough geeks. I’m gonna vote that she never become one of them. They can’t have her.
That is, if there’s even a vote. There’s never a vote.
Finally, she explains, “This means something. Either someone’s going to try to kill you or maybe they’ll betray you? Or maybe they did betray you. It has to be something like that.”
And here I was looking for answers. Silly me, I should’ve expected more questions. Maybe if I asked for questions someone would actually give me answers?
Nah, that’s too easy. It’d never work.
I should check on Dawn. If Will’s up when I get back, I’ll be able to tell her the truth. Or part of it, instead of just outright lying. She needs to learn that trick.
Besides, I should. I need to know Dawn’s okay. And it’d be nice to know if they’ve made some headway with Xander. I don’t see why Will won’t. She just got really defensive. Talk about high drama. I didn’t have the heart to reply, ‘Not really,’ when she shouted, ‘Can’t you see what this is doing to me?’
Well, I can, but I can’t. She’s obviously wigged about something. No clue what. But I can’t see what’s so bad that she can’t help her oldest, dearest friend.
I chickened out. It was easier to drop it. And probably safer. I’m afraid I’ll hit a nerve and she’ll disappear again.
Just standing here is pointless. I excuse myself. “Thanks. I need to go, but one more thing. If you knew what this was, why’d you get so upset?”
“Have you seen yourself?” Satsu asks, immediately thinking better of it. “No, I guess you haven’t.” She anxiously looks away. “Sorry. I had to talk with Ro for this to make sense.”
I head for the door, turning back to say, “That’s okay. Fair enough.” As I exit the room, curiosity strikes. Ro’s standing just down the hallway, but I have to ask, “What about Ro? What do you see?” Guilt takes over and I give Ro a nervous glance. “Umm…I mean, if it’s alright to ask.”
Yeah, I should’ve known better.
I was dreaming.
I have no idea why I’m awake, whether it was the dream that woke me or something else.
Moonlight pours in through my bedroom window, creating a pool on the floor.
There was an angel. Or I think she was an angel.
A few moments drift by. I can’t piece it together. It’s like a bunch of broken fragments. And they’re fading. What’s left doesn’t make any sense at all.
Movement in the hallway distracts me. I sit up and look around. I’m alone. It’s almost midnight. Will went to sleep around six. That’s plenty of time. It’s probably just her.
Her and a herd of hippos in pink tutus.
This isn’t funny.
Do I or do I not live with over two-hundred other slayers?
It’s probably just a patrol, but it doesn’t sound right. The girls move lighter. And they always chit-chat to pass the time.
Quick, but quiet, I slide across my bed. I want the scythe. It’s propped in the corner next to my weapons chest. I’m not even sure how it got there, but—
Who cares? It’s there and I snatch it up. The feel good doesn’t last. My first impulse makes me feel like I’m five. Not to mention, more than a little bit paranoid. I follow it anyway. Dropping to the floor, I join the litter of dust bunnies under my bed. I never did clean under here. It’s just plain gross.
That and if my instincts are right, this is so obvious, it’s barely worth doing. It’s not worth the ick-factor. But it’s also the best idea I have.
That’s so sad.
The door rattles, makes a popping noise and swings open. A strange female voice calls out, “Ms. Summers, it’s time for your medicine.”
’Kay, so…maybe I should be upset? I just got one upped. I’m no longer the most pathetic person in this room.
Back to the two-hundred slayers I live with. How’d these freaks get past the patrols?
Oh, and scratch ‘paranoid.’ That doesn’t even apply. Labels like that should only be used to describe people who don’t have military organizations hunting them. But that’s just the cherry on top of this sundae of evil.
Do they make evil sundaes?
Well, we’ve seen evil chocolate bars. Why not evil sundaes?
Yeah, that’s exactly what this is. Every demon, vamp and even the occasional god wants me dead. Now my own people want to prick with me…?
Sounds like a garnish on a yummy treat.
Shadows move on the floor at the foot of my bed. There are at least five of them, maybe more.
But these aren’t ‘my people.’ My people are here. These people are just from the same country I am. I suppose, it’d be more accurate to say ‘my own government.’
’Cause accuracy always makes the truly twisted so much easier to take.
As they enter my room, I have an idea. It’s crazy, but in a good way. Careful to not give myself away, I lay the scythe down and glance past my feet toward the door. They’re all right there clustered at the foot of my bed.
I give my mattress and box spring a hard shove. The whole heavy, awkward thing flips up. But it’s not quite enough. I spring up, hit it again and dive for the scythe.
The bad guys are really noisy. Well, them and my bed. Crashing, thudding, grunting…the usual stuff.
Bet they didn’t see that coming.
And go figure, it pisses them off. Gunfire rings out. As I roll away from what’s left of my bed, bullets tear through it. A few hit just a little too close for comfort. But there’s no pattern, except I count eight. The person shooting’s all over the place. Good thing eight seems to be it. And there’s only one gun. But one’s enough.
God, I hate guns!
The pause gives me time to get up and gone. Right in front of them, even flat on the floor, is the worst possible place to be. As I sprint to the right of the door, a metallic scrape and click tells me that the one with the gun just reloaded.
What’s left of my mattress and box springs lay at an angle, propped against the door. They shudder and go bouncing across the footboard when the men force their way in. Now, the door is cover and my mattress and box spring are obstacles. Both things work in my favor. The gun still sucks, but I might be okay.
I kick the half-opened door closed. I smile when the guy who’s stupid enough to just stand there yelps. That door weighs a ton. His right arm’s toast. He pushes it open. Or maybe he falls against it. It’s hard to say, but the door swings open again.
Y’know, I’ve had dreams like this. Armed men dressed in the latest paramilitary eveningwear bust into my room. They never end well. You’d think there might be the potential for naughty fun, especially with the Riley reference. But silly me, I always miss the hunky honey and go straight to the bad place. I guess it’s because Mr. Iowa wasn’t so much about that.
And that turned out well.
The woman says, “This is all very amusing, but I’ve got your witch. Why don’t you just come out before I get frustrated and do something we’ll both regret?”
And so did this.
A little cavalry action wouldn’t go amiss right about now. My whole team’s down this hall. Where are all they?
I call out, “Alright, just don’t hurt her.” I’m out of options. It’s hard for me to believe that they overpowered Will. But ‘no cavalry’ too really stresses me out. This place should be crawling with slayers.
I step over the bed rail, holding the scythe out of view. As I move, I let it slide from my grasp. They don’t notice that I prop it against the corner of the bed frame. That much is good.
Raising my hands, I step into view next to the corner of my mattress and lock eyes with—
Well, no, not really. It’s just my luck.
The bitch from the video stands in my doorway. And she’s not lying. Or at least, I don’t think she is. The woman in her arms is slumped forward unconscious. It looks like Will. I’m not really sure when she had time to bleach her hair, but—
While her new look might be, uh…interesting—hell, it may even be cute—it takes a big fat second place to the gun pointed at her head.
That nasty, skanky slut! What’s her name? Will told me. Rilah? No, that’s not it.
Riah? Yeah, I think that’s right, but that so doesn’t matter.
Well, it may matter, but only to the guy engraving her headstone.
I cock my hip and ask, “Now what?”
“Don’t worry, Blondie, the fun’s just getting started,” the dead woman replies.
Okay, so…enough bullshit. Time to get real. What do I know?
Well, first thing, this is a rerun. And the last time she went all Doctor Mengele. Odds are, she wants to finish.
But I’m gonna kill her first.
There are a few other fun factoids working in my favor here. The first is that what’s-her-face will try to shoot me. She’ll forget about Will entirely. But it’ll take her a sec to get it together. Her wannabe gansta pose tells me she’s not very good with a gun. The rest is written all over her face. She hates me. That’ll make her even sloppier.
Fun factoid number two: the guy with the gimpy arm is to her right and looking really pissy. He hates me too. But his hand’s puffy. It doesn’t matter that his finger’s on the trigger, he’s gonna be Slow Draw McGraw.
Those two are blocking the others. They can’t shoot without hitting their own, so they probably won’t.
I actually have a chance. I might be crazy, but I take it. Giving Riah my best smile, I whisper, “You’re right.”
Her eyes narrow, but I don’t give her pea brain time to catch up. There’s maybe five feet between me and Mr. Gimpy. Using my mattress as a springboard, I make it evaporate before he can blink.
I spin him to face his boss as he fires. A bolt of electricity arcs from his rifle. It hits everything else but me.
She tries to turn and aim. It doesn’t go well for either of them. I hit the deck and…
He shoots her. She shoots him. It’s messy. Guns are just bad.
While I’m ducking, I sweep the bitch’s feet. She fumbles Will and I intercept.
My only real worry is her. I should be worried about the other five guys. But she got zapped in the crossfire.
As the others open fire, I slam the door. It doesn’t quite shut, but it gets me what I want. Enough cover to do something completely nuts.
I wish I had something better, but I’m fresh out of options. I heave Will over my shoulder, grab the scythe and sprint for the window. It’s our best bet. They’d be crazy to follow us.
I hold the scythe out. It breaks the window for me. The soldiers burst into my room as we hang in midair. I know that’s not it, but it feels that way. We’re just moving fast enough there’s a nice gradual arc at first.
And that’s totally rational. But what just happened catches up.
So much for rational. I hear my heart pounding.
Maybe I am crazy?
Cold and crazy.
The ground is covered with thick puffy white clouds. I can’t tell where it is.
I glance over my shoulder, hoping for something to grab hold of.
It’s useless. We went too far. There’s nothing.
No pretty glow.
I’m still falling.
Think, Buffy! If we land like this—
I throw Will.
My knees buckle. I crumple forward. My hip hits the ground, then my shoulder. I roll, tumble and stop.
I can’t breathe.
I gasp, desperate for air.
It’s cool. Fine. I’ll be fine. I just got the wind knocked out me for uh…about the millionth time. This is nothing. I just have to relax. Take shallow breaths.
Finally, I draw in a painful, but complete…and completely shaky breath.
Y’know it’s bad when it hurts to breathe. But then everything hurts, so why not my lungs? A groan slips out. I sound pitiful.
I flop over onto my back and peer blankly into nothing. A milky blue glow appears.
Am I seeing things?
Jagged lines cut through the poofy white like lightening. As they create a web over my head, my skin tingles. It’s pretty. A weird, grinding, buzzy sound accompanies the show.
I feel so light. It’s like I’m still falling. But I hurt too much for that. And there’s this wet, nasty stuff stuck to my back. Might be grass? Could be mud? Who cares?
It was such a nice day. The little bit of it I saw. I think, maybe…it rained? I heard rain in my dream. Now it’s so cold. I’m soaked and freezing. My shorts and a tee-shirt stick to me. I may as well be naked. My teeth chatter.
A second pulse of light ripples through the fog. Mesmerized by it, I stare. It’s so beautiful.
The buzzing noise grows louder.
The back of my neck prickles.
This is bad.
A lightning bolt touches down. It hits the scythe, just inches from my head.
I jerk away.
There’s no loud boom. Just sizzling and popping.
Rolling, I put some distance between myself and whatever that is.
Do you hear thunder when you’re this close?
I stare at scythe. Electricity crackles around it. It flows over my wet skin, all tingly.
Yeah, yeah, you would. If you were still conscious, it’d be instantaneous.
This isn’t that. It’s not that powerful.
Oh my god! It’s those stupid blasters! The crackling stops and I reach for the scythe. I half expect to get shocked, but I don’t. I snatch it up and flee.
I have to find Will. I think I threw her this way. But I can’t see anything. The fog’s just too thick. And I can’t stand up, not with them—not that it would do any good. I crawl through the wet grass, avoiding the lights as I search.
Finally, I stumble across her. It feels like pure dumb luck. A miracle. But the happiness doesn’t last. There’s something wrong. I know it.
I touch her. She should move. Or groan. Or something. There’s always something. I shake her, hoping…
I put my hand to her mouth. She’s not breathing! I search for a pulse. There isn’t one!
Damn it, Will! Don’t do this to me!
Tears cloud my eyes. Seeing wasn’t hard enough…
I tilt her head back, pitch her nose and breathe into her mouth. Two puffs, then I compress her chest.
Two sets and I check for a pulse.
No, she can’t be.
That’s just crazy. It’s wrong!
I guess they really were trying to kill me.
A snicker disguised as a snort slips out.
My head may reach critical mass any second now.
I giggle. I shouldn’t. I should be—
Tears roll down my cheeks. I wheeze.
My hands are shaking. I touch her cheek.
Her head lolls and falls to one side. Her mouth hangs open.
The giggles turn to hiccoughs. The hiccoughs turn to sobs.
Nothing’s really changed, but I feel strangely saner.
I slump forward. My cheek rests on her chest.
I’m shaking so hard I—
I hold her tight to make it stop.
She isn’t breathing. Her heart isn’t beating.
I’ve gotta get control. I’m useless like this!
It hasn’t been that long. I just need to—
The truth is, I have no idea how long it’s been.
That doesn’t matter! I can fix this. All I have to do is—
I pick myself up and press my lips to hers. They’re chilly and limp.
The impulse is insane. Way less sane than any of this. I can’t help it. Between breaths, I kiss her.
It works in fairytales. I love her, I kiss her, and she wakes up.
Tears drip from my nose and chin.
You can’t leave me. I won’t allow it!
Holding back, I pound on her chest. I remember Mom. I—
I was too—
There was a crack and—
I breathe for her and taste the salt on her mouth.
Not Will. She’s gonna come back. I’m gonna make her. She’s young and healthy. There’s no reason for this.
And I’m not gonna let her go. I refuse.
I hit her again. It’s a little too hard.
As I pull back, shaking so hard I can’t continue, she gasps. I touch her. Her stomach muscles tense. She’s trying to sit up.
Maybe? I dunno.
I touch her face. Her breath caresses my hand. It feels so good. I smile.
We need to go. The lights are still—
We have to go now.
I whisper, “I’m sorry,” as I grab the scythe and gently scoop her up.
The castle wall lights up. I scramble to my feet, still bent down, trying not to—
There are three men crushed into my window, firing into the fog. They haven’t seen us yet. I turn away. The tree line comes into view and I bolt. We’ll be safe there.
But when we reach the trees, I don’t stop. I weave between them, moving deeper into the darkness.
Something digs into my foot. But I’m so cold and numb, I barely feel it. It’s not until it gives out that I get how badly I’m hurt. I stumble, but somehow I stay upright. I don’t want to stop, but I have no choice.
As I drop to my knees, the fog rises up around us. It’s thinner here. Sort of wispy. For the first time I really get a look at Willow. This can’t be right. I blink, but nothing changes.
Alright, that does it! This day just can’t get any more fucked up! Satsu told me about this. I didn’t get it, so I didn’t listen. Stupid me.
This isn’t Willow. Or it is, but it isn’t. This isn’t the person I remember. It’s what Satsu described.
As I gape at Will, it hits me. The Guardian, she was like this. It was like she’d been touched by something. Something bigger. Something really old and powerful. It’s probably just Will’s hair that’s making me think that. She’s lots younger and, umm…a whole lot cuter.
That can’t be it.
She opens her eyes and it’s all I can do to not drop her. It’s not what I pictured at all. Satsu said light. It is, but only sort of. Really, it’s like there’s too much color. Her eyes glisten in the dark. And her skin…
She’s deathly pale, but her skin shimmers. And that’s not bleach. Her hair’s white, like snow. Not thin and wispy like she’s old, but—
I want to look away. I have to fight not to.
I get it.
But I blink again and it all goes away. It was an illusion.
Quite possibly a delusion.
My Willow lies in my arms. Red hair, hazel green eyes and freckles. Lots and lots of freckles.
I smile. She looks bad. But I’m so happy to have her back, I think she’s gorgeous.
She says, “We need to get to Ops.” Her voice is really frail. It worries me, but she’s absolutely right.
I lay her on the forest floor and sit down, folding my legs so I can see my foot. It’s a bloody mess.
Dammit! I sound like Spike. But it is. Maybe this is what he meant when he said that.
I swear, if anything went—
The problem’s glaringly obvious when I run my finger over the wound. I grasp the splinter with my nails and pull. It comes out okay. It’s not really that long, only about an inch.
Okay, that’s long. And it hurts like a sonuvabitch.
It’s good. I’ll be fine. Clean it out, wrap it up and add it to the ever-expanding list of things that need to heal.
I pick up the scythe, take her in my arms and stand. She’s right. The castle’s under attack. We should be in Ops.
After retracing my steps back to where we entered the forest, I skirt its edge, keeping the castle in view. At the north east corner, I sprint across the lawn. There’s a service entrance with two huge doors. We use it as a garage for the Jeeps. Dawn even stayed here for a while. She just barely fit. But it was the only place she was gonna fit.
I go to the console to the right of the doors. I have to kind of shift Will a little, but I manage to type in my access code. She doesn’t even stir. It worries me. I lift her up until I feel her breath on my neck. She’s fine, just passed out.
The display flickers and Molly appears. She looks worried. I guess I look like hell. That’d figure. She asks, “Are you okay?”
“No.” I’m not gonna lie to her. I’m anything but okay. “Sound the alarm. Intruder alert, third floor, north east wing, section Alpha.” I look down at Will. “Open the door. We’ll come to you.”
She replies, “Okay.” But her tone gives her away. She’s stunned.
The locks clunk and the doors slowly swing open. Turning to leave, I ask, “Have all the patrols checked in?”
“Patrol E hasn’t, not in the last thirty minutes. I woke up Patrol C and sent them to look into it.”
We can compare notes later. I’ve wasted enough time. “’Kay, we’ll be there in a few,” I reply and take off around the huge steel door. The alarm sounds as I ascend the stairs. I have to jostle Will again to get a hand free to open the inner door. Still nothing. She’s out cold. Shifting her weight, I sprint down the hall.
I round a corner. I think I know where I am. The stairs to the first floor should be just down this hall, off to the right. I hate it down here. Getting anywhere is like trying to find the cheese.
Actually, I was a little thrown when Molly said thirty minutes. I guess everything takes forever when you’re in hell. It’s good it hasn’t been that long. Maybe there’s still a chance to recover.
I reach what I think is the right intersection and find out I’m wrong. Crap. This is just what I needed. Lost in a labyrinth. That’d be a really embarrassing way to die. Especially for me.
’Kay, so…every intersection looks pretty much the same. But it’s gotta be around here somewhere. I follow my nose. It says left.
This place isn’t that much different than the Sunnydale sewers. I should feel right at home.
Not even remotely.
Nostalgia for sewers is where I draw the line. At least these creepy tunnels are slightly less inviting to vamps. Maybe it’s the upstairs neighbors that put them off?
At the next intersection, I glance right. A sigh of relief slips out. The stairs! Or just some stairs. Who cares where they go? Up’s all that matters. I run up them and lift Will a little so I can reach the lever to open the door.
My nose wrinkles. I step into what looks like the library. How’d I get here? A bookcase stands open like a door behind me. This is like something from Clue. ‘Miss Scarlet in the library with a candlestick.’ There’s even a book tilted out from the shelf. It seriously dings my cliché meter.
I shake my head and rush out the door. Yeah, this is right. I’m almost there, Ops is just down the hall.
When I reach the doors, Molly pushes one of them open and motions me inside. She set up a couple cots in the corner and Amber—I think that’s her name. Anyway, she’s worked on me before and she’s good. She stands by, waiting for her patients. I think they thought I’d be one of them. They’re gonna have to get over that.
I place Will on the first cot and make eye contact with Amber. “She was shot with a blaster. I got her heart going again, but—”
Amber looks at me like I might be nuts. News flash: I probably am. She asks, “You mean like Star Wars?”
I stammer, “Huh? Wha—?”
“A blaster?” she parrots back at me.
Oh. I get what her problem is now. She wasn’t around for—
I reply, “Think ‘Taser’ only worse.”
Amber nods. We’re on the same page…with that. Her expression says, ‘sit down, you’re next.’
I hate to disappoint her. I’d love nothing more than to stay with Will, but I can’t. I’ve wasted enough time. My team’s up there with those assholes.
I brush Will’s hair out of her face, pausing to caress her cheek. Her face is warmer. That’s a good sign.
I stand up, ignoring my foot. It’s unnecessary, but I mumble, “Take care of her.”
Molly moves to stop me. She takes one look at my face and backs down.
I grab a headset off of Xander’s desk and head for the door. “Look, anything you need to say…” I put the headset on “…say it here. I’m going back. Have Patrol C meet me on the stairs.” I shove the door open.
As I sprint down the hall toward the main lobby, Molly says over the headset, “Be careful.”
“You know it,” I reply. She knows better. They all do.
No surprise. The main hall’s empty. I turn, push through the door and run up the stairs. At the top of the third flight, I bust through the door. It’s not my fault they weren’t quick enough. They can catch up.
Truth is, I really don’t want them around. I just said that to get Molly off my back. I’m serious about Riah. I want her dead. It’d be nice not to give the girls any legitimate reasons to fear me.
But that’s not really a problem now. I’m pretty sure they’re gone. The hallway’s dead quiet. Way quieter than usual. It’s creepy, like a morgue.
I go straight to my room. It’s a total wreck, but no one’s here. They even took Mr. Gimpy with them and I’m pretty sure he was dead. I shake my head.
I guess, technically, that’d make me a murderer. My intentions were about as premeditated as it gets. But is it really murder if you’re protecting your family?
Does that matter? I can contemplate ethics later.
As I cross the hall, three young girls run toward me. ‘Patrol C,’ I presume. They look like they’re twelve. When they reach me, I smile and say, “Stick together. Start opening doors. Yell if you find anything.”
They won’t. We’re the only ones here.
They chime, “Yes, ma’am,” a little too ‘Stepford’ for comfort and head back the way they came. They make it to the door across from the stairs before I turn away. It’s probably pointless to tell them that’s a closet. They’ll figure it out.
I poke my nose into Leigh’s room. She’s on the floor unconscious. “We’re gonna need medics up here too.” I stoop over her and feel for a pulse. She’s fine.
“I’m sending someone,” Molly replies.
I head for Satsu’s room next. It worries me that she was tied up. When I open the door, she freaks. I put my hands up and say, “It’s just me. Remember?”
She nods, still looking pretty distraught.
Ro’s on the floor. I check for a pulse. Same story. She’s out cold.
How in the hell did these assholes knock my entire team out without—?
But does it really matter? Fact is, they did. They just waltzed in here, took out Will and eight trained slayers like they were nothing. I got lucky. That’s the only reason Will and me aren’t in numbered cages.
I poke my nose out the door. One of the girls notices me and I motion her over. “Patrol E?” I ask.
“Yeah, they’re here in the first room on the right,” she replies.
Make that ‘eleven slayers.’
I shake my head and say, “Okay, thanks. Just wait for the medics. I’ll be in here.” There’s not much left to do. Just be glad that no one else was hurt.
When the girl nods, I shut the door. Facing Satsu, I ask, “What happened?”
“There were men,” she says as I limp over to her bedside. “They forced the door open and shot Ro with this weird rifle that fired bolts of electricity.” That’s exactly what I expected her to say.
“Buffy,” Molly says over my headset. I gesture to it, so Satsu gets what’s going on. “Willow’s awake. She’d like you to pack a bag.” There’s a pause. I hear Will’s voice in the background, but I can’t make out what she says. Finally, Molly speaks again, “She wants you to bring Satsu with you when you come downstairs.”
“I don’t know. She says she has a job for her.”
I don’t like it. Satsu’s a loose cannon until she stops tripping. What kind of a job could Will possibly have for her? But there’s no real sense arguing over the headset. It can wait.
“Okay…well, I guess you’re coming with me,” I say with shrug and lay the scythe down to untie the ropes. Once Satsu’s free, she sits up and rubs her wrists.
Picking up the scythe, I turn to leave, offering on my way out, “I’m gonna go get dressed. You should do the same.”
Her bed creaks. I anticipate an attack, but all she does is reply, “Okay.”
I should give her a little more credit. Seeing things is awful, but once you get that you are, your reactions can be controlled. If anything, it might make her a little slower. She’ll want to be sure. That’s not much reason to worry.
The hallway’s empty, but there’s movement and voices coming from Leigh’s room. It’s just the girls.
I duck into my room and look around again. They were probably looking for the scythe. Or maybe they just tossed it out of meanness. My clothes are all over the place. I have to watch where I step. There’s lots of broken glass and everything else. As I pick my way through, Molly says, “Don’t pack the whole room.” She giggles. “That was Willow. Not me.”
In what, a dumpster? I laugh and open my closet door. Don’t know what I expected, but it’s a disaster just like the rest. “Alright, but ask if half’s okay,” I reply.
I picture myself rolling a couple of trashcans downstairs and announcing ‘I’m packed.’ No surprise. My daydream Will doesn’t look anymore impressed than the real one would.
Molly relays my message verbatim. “I think you should take the eye roll as a negative. Might be best to pack light,” she informs me, like I needed the help. But the eye roll’s a good sign. Will’s doing better.
After taking one of the few pairs of jeans still hanging in my closet, I work my way back across my room, grabbing the first pair of panties and bra I see. They don’t match, but anything’s better than what I have on.
I ask, “Any idea where we’re going?” as I turn to tiptoe my way to the bathroom.
“She won’t say.”
That’s probably best. “Tell her I hope it’s Disneyland. I still haven’t been.”
I make it halfway there and locate a shirt before she replies, “She wants to know how you guessed.”
“Just lucky sometimes,” I mumble. ‘Sometimes’ like ‘never.’ It’s nice of Molly to try, but my head’s not even—
I shove the dirty laundry away from the bathroom door so I can close it. It’s a complete disaster in here too. I strip and just add what I’m wearing to the heap. Getting cleaned up is pointless. I couldn’t do that here anyway. I just dress, ignoring the bloody footprints I’m leaving on my clothes. There are more clothes. An excuse to shop will be good. Like I ever needed one before.
When I exit the bathroom, Satsu’s sifting through the rubble. She’s dressed for fight, but for some unfathomable reason she’s decided to help me pack. She brought some other woman with her I don’t recognize. A medic judging by her bag.
Gesturing to the free end of the couch, Satsu says, “Sit. I’ll handle this. Someone needs to deal with that foot. You’re making a mess.” She looks up from folding one of my shirts and grins.
“Yeah, it’s totally tragic,” I snark and hobble to the couch. I’m not gonna refuse the help. At least she’s wearing shoes. Boots actually. I don’t get why she’s in drop gear, but whatever. Gift horses…
I flop back onto the couch and put my foot up on the unbroken end of my coffee table. The medic comes over. I close my eyes and try to relax so she can do her job. My grip on the scythe tightens the moment she touches me. This is gonna be one of those.
After several minutes of the medic digging around inside my foot and me gnawing at the inside of my cheeks, Satsu asks, “What was the deal with that jerk in the leather jacket?”
It’s good to hear her voice. Something to take my mind off the butchery might be nice. But I have no clue what she means. ‘Jerk’ is usually a male thing. The only one in leather was Riah.
“You mean the woman?” I mutter through clenched teeth. This just sucks. I open my eyes and glare at the medic. “Look, either give me something or just stop.”
Satsu lets the medic go first. “I really can’t. Not if you want to walk tonight.”
Hanging my head, I shake it and roll my eyes. Good story, but I think Edward Scissorhands might do a better job than this girl. She sucks. I grumble, “Whatever. Make it fast.” Remind me to fire her later.
When my eyes are closed again, Satsu answers, “That wasn’t a woman.”
Fumble fingers took the hint. The pain’s not half as bad. I can form a complete thought without—
She gouges. I wince. It’s all I can do not to kick her. She just had to prove me wrong.
Uh, yeah…so let’s take a chance. Maybe try a sentence. A short one. Probably incomplete. “Describe him.” Wondering where Satsu’s going with this is the only thing keeping me from strangling—
“Umm…about five-eight to five-ten, heavy build, but not really fat.” She crosses the room before saying more. “Well, maybe a little, but not grossly so.” It sounds like she’s adding stuff as it occurs to her. “Short dark hair, big nose, beady eyes.” She picks up a piece of clothing and shakes it out. “His nose might’ve been broken once.” Glass crunches under her boot. “Sideburns.” She returns to the couch and lays a pile of clothing down. Picking up the first item to fold, she reflects, “I don’t know. He was a pretty average guy.”
Sounds average. I’m drawing a blank. One thing’s for sure, Riah knew me and I’ve never seen her before in my life. But she was the only one in leather.
This is just weird. I need to talk to Will. I’m not sure it’s even possible.
When Satsu finishes folding and packing the pile, she goes back to the scavenger hunt. ‘Grateful’ begins to describe how I feel about her. Now this other girl’s on my last nerve.
“He kicked the door open and made a snide comment. Something like…” she changes her voice, mocking a cocky man “…‘Whoa, ladies, I’m not interrupting anything, am I?’…” I grin “…then he told us not to let him ‘disturb us,’ like we were doing anything except talking.” Her impression’s just too funny. It almost makes me forget that Leatherface is still trying to hollow out my foot. “When Ro moved, the soldier with him shot her. I expected him to shoot me too, but I guess he didn’t see the need.”
A few things bump and clatter. I almost turn around to see what Satsu’s up to, but the commotion ends and she goes on with her story before I get there. “Our imposter wasn’t a soldier. I’m sure of that. Why he was with them is anyone’s guess.” She returns carrying another stack of clothes. Working to stow them away for me, she says, “It wasn’t really what he said. It was how he said it and the looks he gave us.”
“Yeah, I know the type. He sounds like a real pig,” I mutter. The last person I dealt with like that was Caleb. But he’s kind of dead.
There was Warren. The description fits and the behavior definitely rings a bell. But same story…
I tilt my head and consider the facts. Technically, I’m dead. What Satsu sees is zombie me. If it was Warren, it’d track that she’d see the dead version too. I ask, “Was there anything else?” It almost feels like I’m making some headway. But getting my hopes up over this is just stupid. If I’m right, things are actually worse.
“Nothing much,” she replies, pausing to finish packing my bag. There are only a couple things left. “Well, when he entered my room, he didn’t have any skin.”
I was right. I hate being right!
I take a deep breath.
Alright, I’m over it. Like it or not, Riah’s Warren.
How’d that bastard survive? I watched Will kill him.
Yeah, and I was ready to kill him again tonight. I didn’t know how to feel about that then. And I’m really not sure how to feel about it now. ‘Conflicted’ pretty much covers it. She scared the hell out of me.
But whatever I felt, it was never about him. I won’t admit that. Will doesn’t need me to help her justify what she did. It was wrong, even if he was a total scumbag. I’d totally get it if he was a vamp, but he’s not. No reason at all. He’s just that evil.
Now he’s popping out of the woodwork wearing a slayer’s skin…with Amy, no less…and soldiers working with him…or worse, maybe for him?
This is bad.
I really need to talk to Will, but Satsu’s isn’t done. I should stop wigging and pay attention. “…thought I was just seeing things again, that the version with the skin was the real guy.”
She gives me an expectant look. I need to say something.
What should I say?
The truth works. “I think I know who it is.” I glance at my foot. Thank God, the butcher’s bandaging it.
I wipe the tears from my eyes. I really need to blow my nose. It can wait. “Do you always see zombie me?” I ask purely out of curiosity.
“What else do you see?”
“Uh, it’s hard to describe,” Satsu mumbles, headed for my closet. “I guess it’s fair to say that you and Willow have a lot in common.”
Sitting on her heel, she looks through my shoes. She takes out a pair of flip-flops and some tennis shoes. Returning to the couch, she passes me the sandals and sets my bag down. As she opens the outside pocket, I try a good old fashioned leading question. “That’s not really an answer. You sure there isn’t more?” Sometimes they actually work. Not often, but it’s worth a shot.
After packing my shoes, she grabs my bag and walks around the couch. “Look, Buffy, if you really want to know the truth about yourself, you know where to look. I’m not some sort of fortune cookie,” she says.
And sometimes they piss people off. She’s leaving. I turn in time to see her stop in the doorway.
She lingers just long enough to mumble, “I hope it works out for you.”
What the hell was that about?
I give up.
Her voice echoes from the hallway. “I’ll be in Ops.”
I burst through the doors to Ops and call out “Will,” sounding a little too excited. She turns to face me. The fact that she’s less than ten feet away makes me feel that much sillier.
The cots are gone. They were much farther away, right? In the corner or something?
‘Yes,’ and self-justification—no matter how pointless and lame—is still one of my few strong points.
Will and Amber and another two other witches sit on the floor in a circle. I dunno what Amber did, but Will looks a whole lot better.
I smile, but as usual, any relief I feel can’t last. I have to tell her. “That slayer—the one who kidnapped you—”
She says, “It’s Warren,” totally cutting me off…and stealing my thunder.
Why am I always the last to know?
At least, Molly looks amused. I live to entertain the people in Ops.
I have to ask, “Where’s Satsu? She said she’d be here.”
Will replies, “She’s with Dawn.”
“She’s what? Of all the—”
I was working up a solid rant, but she just cuts me off again like it’s nothing. “Buffy, if anyone can help, it’s Satsu.” The truly sad part…she doesn’t even raise her voice that much. “The cure made her immune to the curse.” When did she figure this out? “She’s going to take Dawn somewhere safe and work on getting what we need to treat Xander. It’s the best hope we have.”
Well, she’s right about one thing, getting Dawn out of here is good. They always come at me through my family. But there’s a glaring flaw in her brilliant plan. I have to ask, “What makes you think Satsu can get anything out of Dawn? She’s been…”
Will interjects, “I’m sorry, Buffy, but I really need to concentrate.”
I finish my thought, mumbling under my breath, “…a real pain in my ass,” as Will talks over me, stating the obvious, “We need to leave too.” It’s nice to feel loved.
She combs her fingers through her hair, probably searching for patience. Sure looks like it. “Honestly, I don’t know for sure that she can.” Why she tries to answer—? “All I’ve got are hunches, just like you. But I do know that if anyone’s going to get through to Dawn, it probably won’t be either of us.” She shrugs. “She likes Satsu. It’s a good plan. The best one we have. I was headed there when…”
I feel bad for interrupting. “What if Dawn pulls another disappearing act?” But it’s not like she’s still talking. She just kind of petered out and got all sullen. And it is my turn.
I need to know she’s thought this through.
Who am I kidding? All she does is think things through. What I’m really after is peace of mind. That’s what I need.
She mumbles under her breath, “I just hope there’s time. I shouldn’t have slept.”
Yeah, and I don’t think that was a choice. She pretty much passed out. But I doubt she wants my opinion, so I keep my voice down too. “You were exhausted.”
She acts like she doesn’t hear me…which of course, was the point.
The thing I still don’t get is why she put Satsu before Xander. You’d think—
I’m not gonna ask. Her now-lifting gloom would probably become a permanent feature if I did. Besides, she still hasn’t gotten around to—
“She won’t.” She sounds so certain. I don’t see how, but I don’t butt in. “Not unless she feels threatened. That was defensive. She wigged and the gorgon part of her took over. She went where her instincts told her it was safe. That happened because of us.”
When she says us, I hear me. Dawn flipped out because of me.
Will shrugs again as if to say, ‘it’s no big.’ It is to me. Anyone else getting hurt over my baggage just won’t work for me. Especially when said ‘baggage’ is some ridiculous case of sibling rivalry that I don’t even understand. I can’t seem to say anything right around Dawn. I haven’t been able to for years.
But maybe my problem’s just people at large. Will’s as much of a mystery or worse. Why she grins, looking suddenly all too amused—?
I’m not. Not even in the least.
She says, “Besides, I told Satsu to knock her out if she gets upset.”
Oh, maybe that’s it? Will picked the one who could actually stand up to Dawn.
That’s as much of a ‘would’ as a ‘could.’ Xander would feel the same way I did. Hitting Dawn sucked.
And she’ll be on her best behavior around someone she barely knows. Around us she’s—
I don’t want to think ‘a bitch,’ but that’s the first thing that comes to mind. Sometimes, not always. She has her moments.
That actually makes total sense, especially if Will knew about the immunity.
Funny, it feels like she’s waiting for me to catch up. When I look her in the eye to let her know I’m there, she says, “Don’t worry. It’ll be fine.” Her expression turns sympathetic. “Dawn won’t leave if she’s having a good time. She won’t have any reason to. And if something does go wrong, we’ll know about it.”
Okay, one more question. “The gorgons: are they something we need to worry about?” The last thing I need is to add them to my list of problems. My list is fine without them.
She says through a laugh, “Uh, no…if we stay on our side of the fence, they should stay on theirs. But we need to try and keep the dog off their lawn from now on.”
I must look confused because she tries to help the slow kid out. “They have their own realm, sort of like the ‘world without shrimp’ only with shrimp and gorgons too. There’s lots of other nasty stuff there. It’s not a nice place, even for a quick visit. But you got that.”
Oh…’kay…so, I did. I picked up on the ‘demon dimension’ thing while we were there. It wasn’t that hard. What I want to know is what’s actually keeping them on ‘their side of the fence’?
I don’t bother to clarify. If Will felt that they were an issue, she’d tell me. So I guess we’re just not that interesting. That’s what’s keeping them off ‘our lawn.’
Why is it that I always have a hard time believing that demons don’t find us interesting? It’s almost insulting.
It’s also stupid. I wish they’d all lose interest. My life would get a whole lot easier.
Crossing the room, I take a seat in the circle next to her and lay the scythe across my lap. “Let’s get outta here,” I say, offering her my hand. “Take what you need.” I have no clue where we’re headed, but it really doesn’t matter. Not if the others are safe.
Molly walks over and passes me my backpack. As I hitch it over my shoulder, she says, “Have a nice vacation. Say hi to Mickey for me.”
“Will do,” I reply with a grin. The room goes blurry. I can’t hold my eyes open. I feel all tingly and warm. It’s so nice and comfy, I could go to sleep.
Gradually, the comfy fades and I open my eyes. I’m sitting alone on the floor in some strange living room. The place has a really homey feel, like Mom’s did, only different. It’s not at all what I expected. I’m not even sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this. I thought we were running off to somewhere remote, not moving to the suburbs.
A refrigerator opens in the next room and Will calls out, “Want something to drink?” She shouldn’t be waiting on me. Surely Amber told her to take it easy for a while.
“No, I’m fine,” I reply as I check out the room. The stuff here’s way more, umm…artsy than Mom’s was. That’s kind of a funny thing to think. Mom ran an art gallery. But I dunno, it’s just got a really different feel. Less classic, more modern. Airy and uncluttered. I like it.
Will passes through the dining room. I lose sight of her when she rounds the far end of a large glass table. But I can still hear her. She’s climbing a flight of stairs.
The real weirdness is the tree trunk that grows up through the floor between the living room and dining room. The house was built around it. I’ve never seen anything like it. I stand up to get a better look and see that it supports a second story loft. That’s just nifty. And it explains the high ceiling.
This is her place. It has to be. It didn’t occur to me that she’d actually have a home. I’m not sure what I thought, but now I just feel stupid. Like that’s new.
She turns on a faucet upstairs. The sound is amplified by the acoustics of the room.
Where are we? Rounding the sectional couch, I go to one of the bay windows at the far end of the living room and pull back the sheer curtains. There’s a large deck. But other than that all I see are tree limbs. We must be on the second story. I wonder what’s below. Maybe a garage? That’d make sense.
Retracing my steps, I pass through an archway next to her entertainment center and into the foyer. I set the scythe and my pack next to the front door and step outside.
It’s almost too much.
Butterflies of every imaginable color bask in pools of sunlight that shines through breaks in the leafy canopy. A breeze disturbs the tree limbs causing them scrape the edges of the deck as the sway. The breeze disturbs the butterflies too. They flutter around.
Except for the limbs, forest noises and bird song, it’s ungodly quiet here. Too quiet. The air’s crisp and clean. One thing’s for sure, we’re nowhere near a city.
A tingle runs down my spine. Something’s wrong. No clue what. This place is almost too ideal. There’s even a cedar hot tub built into the other end of the deck. What could possibly be wrong with that?
When I turn to go back inside, something bites my arm. I swat at it and a tiny voice cries out in pain.
I gasp and look around. My hand—there’s a fine violet powder on it. It looks like pollen. Whatever that was, I hurt it.
A flapping sound fills the air. Colors swirl at the edge of my vision. When I look up, that’s all I see. A flurry of brilliant color.
The air around me’s thick with butterflies. They weave around me, frantically flowing in and out. It’s beautiful, but I’m in trouble.
That was no butterfly. But it’s impossible to make out what they are. Fairies, nymphs, pixies…is there any difference?
My arm stings, first one spot, then another and another. So fast.
I don’t want to hurt them. But I don’t know what to do.
I swing, batting the air, trying to make it stop.
My arms, hands, neck and face burn.
The door’s here somewhere. Groping, I turn around, desperate to find it. But I find Will instead. I pull her close and she snaps, “Stop!”
Stunned, I release her, but she doesn’t let go of me.
My skin feels like it’s on fire. It’s like bad déjà vu. I tremble.
Wrapping my arms around her, I look into her eyes. She’s angry, but so…
She’s so beautiful.
My head swims from all the movement. I feel giddy. The burning fades, turning to tingling. She meets my gaze and growls, “I said stop and I meant it.” But she’s not talking to me.
As we stare into each other’s eyes, her expression softens. It’s clear, for the first time maybe, just how much she cares. She loves me.
The impulse terrifies me, but I have to listen. I’m so scared I’ll screw this up.
Leaning closer, I search her face, giving her time to withdraw. I close my eyes when our lips meet. She doesn’t resist. I gently caress her lips with my own.
It’s wonderful. So soft and warm. Delicate. She doesn’t push me away. My confidence builds.
Harder, greedy for more, I tease her lips with my tongue, hoping she’ll open up.
She shoves me away.
I stumble back.
Her face fills with disbelief. “What are you doing?” she asks.
Peels of shrill laughter fill the air.
I hang my head. I can’t look. I mumble, “I’m sorry. I—” I struggle to find an excuse. There isn’t one. I was wrong.
Tiny wings brush my skin. It seems like this should actually hurt. Not just emotionally. Not just embarrassment. But the stupid fairies leave me alone.
Will hangs her head. Shaking it, she snickers. But when she speaks, her actions and voice don’t match, “Y’know, this is just like you.” She’s angry. “I get that you’re confused. But you can’t just latch onto the first thing you see and expect it to make things better. It doesn’t work that way.”
That’s not what this is and she knows it. She’s the one who’s scared. Exasperated, I meet her eyes and fume, “That’s not even what this is about. I saw—”
She snaps, “You saw what?” cutting me off again.
I’m sick of this! She thinks—
A gust blows the fairies away. They tumble as the wind circles around her, swirling into vortex. She bows her head. “You only see what I want you to see.”
Wind is all I hear. Her lips move, but her voice—I don’t actually hear it. It echoes through my mind.
Her hand covers her face. She combs her fingers through her hair, slowly looking up. The skin below her hand turns pale. Fine veins darken and rise. In the wake of her hand, her hair turns black. She opens her eyes. I expect them to be black too, but they aren’t even there. Dark voids swirl in the spaces where they should be.
I blink and it all goes away. There’s a smile on her face. She looks exactly like she did in my picture. She asks, “Is this better?” But it’s clear that she’s mocking me.
I clamp my mouth shut and grit my teeth. You fucking bitch!
Her smile fades. She fades. As the color drains away, I shout, “If this is all I mean to you, then why?” Gradually she becomes the Willow I saw in the fog last night.
She thinks I’m impressed by this shit?
I’ve wanted to ask this for years. The wait’s over. It’s time. “Why do you always have to save me?” I’ve never understood that. “Why can’t you just let go? ’Cause I’ve been looking for a reason and I can’t find one. I have no idea why I’m still here.”
Her expression’s completely impassive. She’s the ice queen from some fairytale.
And I don’t give a shit. I’m gonna speak my mind. “I don’t get it. You don’t want me, but you can’t let me go. Make me understand why!”
She seethes, “If you just need some experiment,” growing madder by the second. “If you just have to have some sort of Sapphic conquest for your list, there’s this little Asian girl who’s—”
Totally stunned, I exclaim, “Oh, my God,” biting each word off like curse. So, that’s what that was about? ‘I hope it works out.’
Satsu’s in love with me. And from the sound of things, probably jealous of Will. Just what I need. More drama.
I take a sec to get my head together. That’s so messed up. But I don’t love Satsu. I mean, yeah, she’s cute. I could have a fling. But that’s not what I want.
Finally, I say, “That’s what you think this is about? I couldn’t care less about that. I mean, I’m curious, yeah…but you don’t know shit.” It’s my turn to play with my hair. I’m afraid I can’t put on some impressive show with mine. I sweep it out of my eyes. Making a fist, I pull just to feel the pain. It helps me focus. “If that’s what you think, you don’t know me at all.” I let me hair go. “I love you, Will.” My hand falls to my side.
She changes again. I’m not sure what to believe. She’s right. She only shows me what she wants me to see. This time it’s sorrow. She opens her mouth to speak and it’s so weird. All she says is, “I can’t.” The white hair and pale skin make her look like some Hollywood rendition of an elf or something. The sullen act doesn’t match.
She mumbles, “I’m so tired, Buffy.”
I almost don’t hear her. But it doesn’t—
Oh! My! God!
How’d she know?
My head spins. I reel to catch up.
That’s really it!
Shit! That’s what she’s been hiding!
That thing with Satsu’s weird. But maybe Will picked something up. Maybe she noticed something I didn’t. She never was good at that stuff, but maybe she learned something new.
You never know.
But that picture? There’s just no way. She couldn’t know about that unless—
«Unless I could read your mind?»
You listened to all that and you—?
«You think I wanted to? You think I didn’t try not to? You know what this is like.»
My knees feel weak. I sink onto the deck and pull my legs up to my chest. I can’t even bring myself to look at her. I stare at my feet instead.
Everything I thought was—
«I see the moon and the moon sees me.»
How could you possibly know how I felt and say that shit?
«The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.»
She slumps onto the deck facing me. I find the strength to look at her face. She just pisses me off. That’s a mask. It’s not who she really is.
Turn back! I’m sick of that face.
«Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.»
You say it doesn’t matter. That you show me the face you want me to see. Well, show me another.
«Goddess bless the—»
“Stop it!” I shout. “I don’t know what’s up with that stupid rhyme, but I’m sick of it! I’m sick of the games! And the bullshit! And the lies!”
Tears flow down her cheeks as she mumbles, “I’m tired.”
What do you mean you’re tired?
She whispers, “I’m tired of pretending. I’m tired of being what everyone needs me to be.”
Let me guess. You got in over your head and this is the price you paid?
She qualifies her statement, “What you need me to be,” like she can put this off on me.
You talk about me like I’m so predictable. One little taste of power and you’ve gotta have it all.
«You’re right. That’s exactly what happened.»
“What’d you do?” I ask, twitching with fury.
“I loved you.”
Three little words, that’s all she has to say for herself.
That’s all she needs to say to completely disarm me. I hate it when she does that!
But the four that follow are just too much. “I still love you.” They completely piss me off.
I shout, “Oh no! You don’t get to blame me for this.”
Crossing her ankles, she pulls her knees to her chest and stares at her feet. “I’m not. You asked,” she whispers.
I look at her feet too. I wonder where she got those sandals. They’re cute. She’d think I was nuts if I asked.
But I guess I just did. She doesn’t bother to answer.
I glance at her face. She’s changed again. Now she looks like she did sophomore year. She probably did that to make things easier on me. I really wish she wouldn’t.
She holds my gaze and asks, “Do you remember how this all started?”
I’m not sure which this she means, so I just shake my head.
She whispers, “It started when I ensouled Angel.”
I return my attention to her feet. They haven’t changed. It’s sad, but they might just be the one real thing about Willow. At least they’re pretty. She always has had pretty hands and feet. That’s really rare. She never talks about it. They just always are. With me, that’s a constant struggle. For her, it comes naturally.
She asks, “Do you know why I did that?”
And I state the simple truth, “Because you wanted me to be happy.” Like everything else that got turned all around, upside-down and backward.
“We went on. Every time there was a new problem, I tried to fix it. I did what I could. And when that wasn’t enough, I did more than I could. Do you understand what that is?”
I do. You were devoted to our cause. But we both know how Sunnydale was. We all had to do more than we could.
“But I could’ve walked away. Do you understand why I didn’t?”
I think so.
“Oz understood,” she whispers, taking my hand and extending my arm. It’s covered in little red welts. She looks them over as she goes on, “He knew that I loved him dearly. But he also understood that I love you too. He had to share me.” She stands up and helps me to my feet. Opening the door, she leads me inside. We walk through the other archway into the dining room and up the spiral stairs as she reflects, “But he thought it was different. He didn’t really know how I felt. He got the devotion, but there was other stuff—”
He couldn’t get his head around the idea of you as a lesbian. I know how that feels.
“Yeah, I kind of kept the naughty thoughts to myself,” she admits with a snicker.
With the trudging, me in front and her behind…I try to picture her picturing whatever she pictured. Did she—?
That's so not fair! You’ve been thinking naughty thoughts and I—
We reach the top of the stairs. She pushes past me, giving me a sidelong glance. Her expression’s just…
The picture gets worse. I mean, I didn’t get to—
Umm…I mean, there was naughty thought having and I wasn’t—
Oh, I don’t know what I mean.
Yeah…that foot—the one that has a timeshare in my mouth—it needed a vacation.
This must be her study. I think she has more books than I’ve ever seen. It’s intimidating. The mountain almost takes my mind off, umm…
“Then there was Tara. Oz finally got the picture when he figured that out.” I’m not quite sure why she continues to talk out loud. She obviously doesn’t need to.
Now I, on the other hand, should really take a vow of silence. Not that it would help. My brain should be quarantined. I may just need to face it. I’m not safe around telepaths. If I can’t be stupid in my own head, where can I be stupid?
Wait! Please don’t answer that.
Thankfully, she ignores me. She’s probably used to it.
We walk without incident through her bedroom and into the bathroom. She gestures to a stool. I sit down and she turns away to go through the medicine cabinet. “The day I came to tell you about her, I wasn’t in love with her,” she says. “Love’s like that. It takes time, y’know? It starts with all those warm, fuzzy little feelings and then it just grows.”
Taking out a jar, she sits at my feet. “It was you,” she says, meeting my eyes. “And you didn’t even notice me.” Avoiding her is pretty impossible here, but I give it my best shot. “I needed you to notice.” She removes the lid, setting the jar aside. But she holds onto the lid in her hand, gripping it loosely in her palm while she speaks. “I don’t know what I thought.” I stare at it, mostly because I can’t face her. “Maybe part of me hoped that I’d admit to having a thing for another girl, you’d say you had a thing too and we’d go get Mexican.” She sets the lid down. “It was naïve. Like something from a stupid romantic comedy. I just missed you so much.”
Turning, she opens a drawer and reaches inside, pulling out a pair of scissors. She takes my right hand, cuts the bandage away and sets the scissors down.
I couldn’t be happier to see something go. That bandage was filthy. Underneath it, there’s a layer of delicate new skin where the wounds were. It’s pink and raw. She touches it and it tingles. I have to stop myself to keep from pulling away.
“I was hurting and Tara saw me. She understood.” She moves to my wrist and dabs a little ointment on one of my lumps. “I told you how I felt. And you wigged. You couldn’t understand. So, I went to Tara and I’ll never regret that decision.” There are lots of lumps. I look like I was attacked by a swarm of hungry mosquitoes. She keeps going, putting a little ointment on each of them. “You were so busy chasing normalcy, you barely even saw me. But what I had to offer you was anything but normal. At least to us, at that point.”
As she turns my wrist over in her hands, I whisper, “I’m so sorry.” But she should know that. I thought about this earlier. I wonder what else I thought about. It can’t be good. I bow my head as my face flushes hot. It’s okay. My spots are way more interesting than the rest of me, even if there are only a few. She treats the ones on my inner arm and releases my wrist.
Taking my left wrist, she whispers, “I didn’t. Not any more than I could help. That’s what the nursery rhyme’s about. I repeat it so I don’t hear. It’s the only thing I’ve found that helps.”
I focus on our hands. I want to at least to put her at ease. Glancing up to meet her gaze, I say, “I remember how that was. I get why you wouldn’t want anyone to know.” But the truth slips out. “Even you treated me differently. It hurt.” And I’m not sure that helped.
She nods and goes back to working on my arm. I don’t see why. I really want a bath. It’s just gonna wash off.
“It soaks in really quickly,” she says, pointing at the first spot she did. I touch it and my skin’s dry. “I want you to spend at least an hour a day in the hot tub. It’ll help. I’ll get you a suit when we’re done.”
I smile and say, “Well, that’s a lot to ask, but I think I can manage. That is, if your little friends will let me.”
“I’ll talk to them. It’ll be fine. They know you, or at least they know your name. They just didn’t understand who you were,” she says and moves on to my feet.
I slip off my sandals. Picking up the scissors, she starts to cut the bandage away, but stops when I slowly lift my foot. I just want to help her out. I think it’ll be easier if I cross my legs.
Going back to cutting, she says, “You asked me how this happened. Really our relationships have almost nothing to do with that.”
She puts the scissors down and carefully peels back the gauze. Lifting and turning my foot, she looks at the bottom. Her expression pretty much tells me that she’s as happy with Bloody Mary’s work as I was.
She sighs and moves on to the lumps on the top of my feet. “Things really started to fall apart right before you died. I was doing way more than I should have. Everyone kept trying to warn me, especially Tara. But I wouldn’t listen. I didn’t think I had much of a choice, considering…” She finishes my feet and moves on to my neck. “You were right, y’know? I do abuse power. I always have. I’m an addict. Actually, I’m the worst kind of addict. The kind that can never be clean again.”
I look up and she dabs some of the ointment on my nose. My nose too? I wrinkle it and she says, “’Fraid so.” She takes my chin in her hand and works on my face. That’s just evil.
She grins and I ask, “How do you deal with that?”
“I try to make sure my motives are pure before I do anything. There’s not much else I can do. Magic’s a part of me now,” she replies and turns to leave. “I’ll get you a suit. Stay put.” A few moments later, she leans in the door and places a blue bikini on the counter. “There’s a robe on the door if you want it. I’ll meet you downstairs.”
I change as quickly as I can and put on her robe. After folding my clothes and putting them on the hamper, I exit the bathroom. Maybe I’m just being weird, but mixing my clothes in with hers seems rude. I find my way downstairs. There are huge holes in her story and I’m anxious to hear the rest.
She meets me at the door wearing a robe. As she leads me outside, her story resumes, “When you died, part of me died too. My entire world fell apart. I was willing to do anything to get you back. There was no price too high. I was so selfish, but I didn’t see that until it was too late.”
Walking around the hot tub, she whispers, “And I got you back. But the price I paid…” trailing off as she slips into the water. Once she’s settled, she finishes her thought. “I lost you first. But when I lost myself, Tara finally gave up and I lost her too. We were trying to get that back when—”
I’m glad that she falls flat. She doesn’t really need to explain. I was there.
I lower myself into the water as she says, “I know that.” She stalls, waiting for me to settle in…and watching me just a little too closely. “I don’t need to tell you most of this. But what I do need you to see is that this was a progression. It didn’t just happen overnight. It literally took years. Each time I stepped over the line, I moved further away from who I was.”
I ask, “And closer to…?” leaving her to fill in the blank.
“What I am now,” she replies. Her answer’s blunt, quick and cryptic. It doesn’t really tell me a damned thing. I think she’s trying to say ‘less human.’ I have trouble imagining that. She’s still one of the most human people I know.
Well, that was eloquent. Good thing she helps me out. I need it. “It’s not about less or more humanity. There are just certain powers that people shouldn’t have.” That makes total sense.
The water smells really funny.
Leaning back, she closes her eyes and says, “It’s good for you. It’s a mineral bath, sort of like a hot spring.”
I wrinkle my nose and ask, “Is this like that tea?”
“Exactly like the tea. Only this is good for the outside, not so much the inside.”
I snicker, but she picks up like she never left off. “I saw something no human being was ever meant to see that spring. That was my fault. It was the end of a very long spiral.” When she falls silent, I wonder why I was smiling. Not just why, but how.
Her voice cracks when she says, “The only one who never lost faith was Xander…” tears leak from the corners of her eyes “…and I failed him when he needed me most. I was just so afraid that someone would find out what I am, I was willing to—”
I whisper, “It’s okay, Will.” Her eyes snap open and she glares at me. I backpedal, trying to make my meaning plain. “Well, not okay so much, but I understand. That’s a really tough decision.”
When she looks away, I feel like I’ve been pardoned. I close my eyes, try to clear my mind and just focus on the sound of her voice. “Remember when I returned from England? I tried to tell you then. Even after six months of struggling to learn control, I could barely function. You should’ve noticed. But even my Houdini act wasn’t obvious enough for you.”
I’m sorry. I was just trying to keep us alive.
Ignoring me entirely, she asks, “Do you remember what happened?”
I scoop up some water and splash my face before I respond, “I asked you for more.” It still smells funny. But it does the job. The breeze cools it, taking some of the heat from my face. I feel horrible. But there were no other options. I didn’t have a choice.
“I know you didn’t,” she whispers. That’s cold comfort, but I’ll take it. “That’s why I gave you everything I had…” the glamour drops “…but this is what I am now.”
Even in the sunlight, her eyes are hard to look at. I force myself. She’s still beautiful, but it’s a really different kind of beautiful. The sort of thing stupid people call ‘exotic’ because they have no idea what else to say. But she speaks and it’s still the same old Willow. “I touched something that day that changed me. I’ve been using glamours to hide what I am ever since.”
I think I get it now. Why she talks. She does it to feel normal.
I have to ask. “So, even right after—?” She seemed fine. Relieved even, just like the rest of us.
Closing her eyes, she replies, “I was relieved…” leaning back in the tub “…but there was more. I could hear all of you. It scared me. I thought I was losing my mind. But I played along and prayed it’d go away.”
I follow her example. The water feels good. I’m even getting used to the smell.
Her voice is soft and sluggish. “I cast the glamour and played the part before Kennedy even left the room. I’m glad I caught it. I saw my reflection in the scythe and knew…” She stops to swallow and I have to look. She’s crying. I feel like an ass, but there’s nothing I can do. Just listen. “I knew she wouldn’t leave if she thought something was wrong and you needed her. She was the only one who ever saw me like this. She assumed I changed back. And I never gave her a reason to think anything different.”
I don’t want to push, but I wonder what happened to Kennedy.
“The same thing that was happening with you. She was suspicious. I can’t be that close to someone and not—”
I open my big mouth and totally interrupt her, “But you said she died. Why would you say that?” Huge surprise, that doesn’t go over well.
The water sloshes when she sits up. I can’t bring myself to look. It’s obvious that she’s mad.
She takes a deep breath, slowly letting it go before she responds, “There are some things I’d like to keep to myself.”
I swallow, feeling every bone and muscle in my throat move around the lump. It’s not going anywhere. When I look up, the tears are gone. Her expression’s completely neutral.
She meets my eyes and says, “One day, maybe. I don’t even know why I said that. Everything was just so—”
I force a smile as much for myself as for her and whisper, “It’s okay. I get it.” I don’t want to give her sympathy. I know how that is. She wouldn’t want it. But I can show her some kindness. Maybe it’ll work out. I can help her now that I know.
“Don’t you see, Buffy?” she asks and looks away. “What kind of a relationship do you think—?” Her voice cracks. She stops to clear her throat. “We’d have no secrets. We can’t have a relationship like that.” She wipes her eyes. “You’re too late.”
She stops, but I hear the unspoken. There isn’t a person alive she can get close to.
The word makes my jaw drops. That’s right. I remember now. It’s like the mirror.
She giggles, looking truly amused.
“What?” I ask through a smile. Still infectious, dammit. She just told me we can’t be together and I’m grinning like an idiot. What’s worse, she couldn’t come up with a better reason. I must be driving her crazy. All those absent thoughts—it’s like hell. No wonder she kept knocking me out. I would’ve done the same thing back then if I could’ve.
Without the violence.
Thing is, now I know how she feels—
Her stare becomes a glare. “You’ll drop it,” she snaps. I look up, on the verge of tears and her expression loses its edge. She whispers, “Please, try to find someone that makes you happy. If you can’t do it for yourself, then do it for me. I need to know that you’re alright.”
I nod. But I can’t even think. I can’t—
“What was so funny?” I ask, praying we can change this. Maybe laugh again. It might be too much to ask. But I have to try.
She admits, “I actually tried to find a demon dimension I could be happy in.” Shaking her head, she rolls her eyes. “Pathetic, I know. The funny comes in when you use those words in the same sentence.”
I just can’t stand it. I look away. ‘Desperate’ isn’t anywhere close to ‘funny.’
She whispers, “I know.”
I stare into the tree limbs. The fairies are gone or hiding. We’re alone.
Her voice finds strength. There’s almost a trace of a smile in it when she says, “It’s really desperate when you consider how most of them feel about me. They see me as every bit the monster that I see them. I created an army to destroy them.”
Really alone. The rest of the picture comes into view. She’s—
She murmurs, “I’m damned, Buffy.” Her voice has this silky quality that makes my spine tingle. She laughs, but there’s nothing happy about it. “All I can do is watch.”
I turn to face her. Her expression’s cold. I’m not even sure what to say, but I try to keep her talking. Maybe it’ll help. “What do you mean?”
“Just what I said,” she replies. The wind blows her hair. She reaches up to sweep it back. “I can’t even take responsibility for what I’ve done.”
“So, you watch?”
She shuts her eyes, bearing down. The muscles around them twitch. As she lets a little of the tension go, a harsh scowl hardens her face. “I watch you,” she admits.
Her eyes flutter open. As she meets my gaze I remember the graveyard. That was just too creepy. I can’t imagine her ever making me feel that way. That can’t be it. But I have to ask, “That was you?”
“But I don’t remember,” I stammer, struggling to find a way to make myself plain. “There weren’t any times before that, umm…like that.”
Some of her sharpness gives way to worry. “There was something else,” she replies. “Someone else.” Her brow furrows. “I wasn’t alone.”
Oh, great! Well, that’s peachy. Just my luck, I find out that I really do have a guardian angel, but she’s just as clueless as I am.
She says, “I mean I wasn’t the only one watching. I tried to figure out who else was there, but they were a big old chicken. Every time I got close, they ran away.”
’Kay, so…no less creepy…but I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m a celebrity in the underworld. You have figure there’s gonna be paparazzi. It’s my turn to scowl.
Anxious to change topics, I ask, “So, how’d you end up here?”
She whispers, “There are only so many places you can run.”
Yeah, I hate my life.
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