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.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the Buffyverse is the notion that when you ask big, the cost is big. There’s symmetry in a system of checks and balances like that. At the end of Season Seven we watch Willow ask big. Requests don’t get much bigger. She opens herself up to every potential slayer on the planet. She touches them. She channels the demonic force that makes a slayer into each of them. She says herself in Season Six that she has ‘become the magic.’ In the episode Grave Willow experiences a moment of pure empathy. We see that spooled down in Season Seven, but she is still connected to every living thing. She feels that connection. She’s certainly saner, but she’s not the same. I believe that that was what Tara was trying to warn her away from. She’s become something that’s no longer quite human. She’s more like human plus. The notion that ‘human plus’ creating that link would retain a lingering effect doesn’t seem that far off base to me.
The Willow I write here still feels every slayer. She hears their thoughts. And she hears the thoughts of others, but not so acutely. The only creatures she doesn’t share a connection with are demons. This certainly provides a valid reason for her disappearance. Imagine trying to cope with a facility full of hormonal young girls if you were inextricably linked to them.
Oh, and this Willow…she doesn’t damsel. She’s far too accident-prone for that.
Special thanks to Howard Russell for all of the lovely commas.
ARCHIVING: A master list of my fiction can be found here. Please do not archive or distribute without my permission.
FEEDBACK: valyssia[at]gmail.com


The Noose
By Valyssia

It’s always the same.

Like a chorus, my victims cry out to me. Every last one—all except one—someone I love. Their faces are twisted with anguish, darkened by rage, or worst of all, dull and thick with disappointment.

Heavy, hanging suspended on the edge of sleep, I linger here. There’s ritual in this place, conjured by memory and shame. Traveling from one to the next, I remember who I am and what I do.

You can’t hide from yourself. You can sorta cope, sometimes, maybe…but you can’t hide. 
Not really.

Eventually, it catches up…and you feel whatever you feel. Lucky me, I’m a master of guilt.

The last face I see is Kennedy’s. Unlike the others, she looks so peaceful.

But that’s only because she’s dead.

The look improved with time. Well, time and a little magic.

Yup, everything’s better with magic. A flick of the wrist, a few well chosen words, and ‘presto’…everyone hates me.

How could I joke about that?

‘I always tell that wrong.’

‘Wrong’ is right.

My head pounds. Whatever they did to me, I think the lab rats they tried it out on croaked. I scrunch my eyes. That just makes it worse.


Through the whoo-gah, whoo-gah, chugging noise in my head, one of them speaks. I think it’s the same one they used on Next Gen for main engineering. The sound, not the talking. The geekiness just figures.

And the talking…it’s like being plopped in the middle of the worst Disney film ever. Something about ‘ropes’ and ‘dopes’…

Whatever. Understanding isn’t strictly necessary. All I really need to know is that I’ve died and gone to pop culture hell. It’s the only reasonable explanation.

Smugness gives way to an overwhelming sense of disgust. Cutting through the haze, a voice rings in my mind. «I can’t believe I used to look—no, not ‘look up to’—I used to envy this bitch. She’s so pitiful.»

I groan.

I knew I should’ve stayed in bed today.

Yeah. I guess that’s Amy. She always was sort of…

But that’s the trouble…I’m not sure. I’m never really sure. When I first began to play with this, I thought it was just curious that people never sounded in their heads quite the way they sounded.

Now that I’m not playing, I think it just bites. It’s frustrating trying to pick who’s who from the din. The trouble is that we all have an image of how we sound and it’s never quite the same as what everyone else hears. The image wins out because the brain’s a screwy thing.

Anyway, I put it down to that. Sometimes just understanding can be helpful.

I crack my eyes. The overhead light’s so bright that it only takes about a tenth of a second before they reflexively close. And my brain…

I see spots for my trouble. Figures. My brain’s the screwiest one of all. It’s apt to go flooey any moment now.

My body feels distant, heavy and numb. It’s like she sedated me.

But I don’t think that’s all. I feel too weak for that. Hopelessly weak. There’s gotta be something else.

And there’s someone else. Wrath radiates from the corner of the room to my right and near my feet. The ‘someone else’ is keeping their distance. I’d really like to pin down who it is, but their voice is way too muddled to recognize.

Patience, all things in time…

It’s just…getting the ‘why’ might be easier if I could. But it’s not like people who are miffed at me are in short supply.

A tiny prickle gives me a hint as she—at least, it think that’s a ‘she’—considers, «I can’t believe he’s making me wait. This had better be worth it.»

She feels like a slayer.


I’m not sure.

That’d really narrow it down. It could be any one of them. It’s not like I made their lives all cotton candy and carnival rides.


Unless you count the ick-factor of sugary and greasy foods and spinny, Tilt-a-Whirl… Oh! Or that barrel thing! Wow! That thing's quadruple, quintessential badness. All the vertigo a body never needs mixed with enough centrifugal force for some serious all-around grossness. Anyway, then just maybe…

Stiffening, she shifts anxiously. «I’m waiting. That bitch is in the same room and I’m just standing around.»

I should open my eyes.

I really don’t wanna.

Between the drama and the five star accommodations, I can pretty much figure it out. The cold and hard against my back tells me I’m on a metal table, like in a laboratory. The heat from the light just adds to that image. It’s not exactly candlelight and roses. There’s this warm tingle around my wrists and ankles, probably magical restraints. Leechy magical restraints, considering the wooziness.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they don’t want to tickle me.

And odds are, whatever they plan to do, I probably deserve it.

«I should just put my fist through her face.» Umm…

Or not. How ’bout ‘not’?

«I wonder how much force it’d take.»

I wonder if you’ve ever considered anger management classes. I’m seeing a serious need.

«It’d increase exponentially based on the area impacted.»
Grrr! Okay, so…I’m awake.

«It’ll take more than one punch.»

I really should open my eyes.

«I’ll break my hand, but it’ll be worth it.» She positively seethes as she moves toward me. «Breaking my hand is nothing now.»

Yeah, she’s one of them.

«Screw this!» Her hand cracks across my cheek. My head snaps sideways. «I’m sick of her playing dead!» It stings. I cringe. «Between ‘being’ and ‘playing,’ I’m gonna have to come down firmly in favor of ‘being’.» My eyes pop open. I turn my head to look. All I see is shadow. She cranes over me, blocking the light.

Amy’s giggling fades, giving way to a warning. “We need her alive.” My new friend’s tizzy fit inspires a predictable amendment. “For now.”

Oh, please

Someone cue the dramatic score, all boring and weighty with wanna-be foreboding.

I’m over it. I should be terrified, but like Buffy, I’ve seen too much of this crap to really care. The backlight’s annoying. This is like some silly interrogation scene from a pulp detective story. I suppress a sigh and shut my eyes. If they really want to scare me, they’re gonna have to try harder.

But just when I get the least bit comfy, clattering above my head draws my attention.

«I could always flay the bitch…that’d be poetic.» No surprise. That wasn’t Amy. It was our mystery guest. It was also—

My attention fixes on a scalpel when it comes into view. It’s not a hard choice, what with the mention of flaying. My face appears to be the target. Flaying and faces…

’Kay, so…I really didn’t mean it. You can go back to that other sort of ‘trying’ anytime now. I swear I’ll be fine. If it’d make you happy, I’ll even play scared. It’ll be fun.

The scalpel nears my eye as Amy yammers in the background, “We stick to the plan, babe. First we beat her. Then we use her. Once she’s humiliated, you can kill her. I get the beef—trust me I do—but you need to be patient. We’ve got way more to gain from patience.”

The slayer fumes, “Plans are good…” twiddling the instrument between her fingers “…but they have this nasty habit of going sideways around Rosenberg. It’s like she and her wacky little band of super pals are charmed. I gotta say, the direct approach holds more appeal.”

Yeah…umm, how ’bout ‘no’?

Is ‘no’ a valid answer?

It’s not till Amy takes a step forward that I get exactly how large this woman is. She towers over the witch by a good six inches. Well, that’ll make her easy to spot in a crowd. I just wish I could see her face. She’s one seriously homicidal redhead. History lessons aside, I’ve got nothing.

After stating firmly, “We stick to the plan,” Amy tries to rub the other woman’s back to calm her. That just makes her madder. Her thoughts are consumed by—well, it’s a jumbley mess of ‘dead Willow’ scenarios in there.

Tentatively, I focus, leeching a little power. As it trickles away, the blade closes in, hovering above my eye. She puts the scalpel up long enough to put this icky, pinchy, clampy thing on my eyelids when I close them. Why I thought that’d help is beyond me, but—

Stupid thing sucks. I used to know what to call these things. An ocular speculum or something. Who knows?

And who really cares?

The slayer goes back to fidgeting with the scalpel, rolling the handle between her fingers while she tells me what I already know. “All of your power’s siphoned into those bonds. The stronger you get…” She lets out a humorless chuckle. “Try it. Go dark. I really wish you would.”

Reaching around the slayer, Amy takes her hand. The blade almost nicks my eye, but she pulls it away.

I blink. It might actually be time for me to get scared, or at least a little worried.

As the slayer turns to face Amy, I get my first real look. She’s pretty. They all are. I wonder where, in the mix of attributes that makes a good slayer, ‘pretty’ came in. It’s there though, nearly a universal truth of the line. Her eyes are cold, steely gray and…they’re weird, sorta empty. Something’s missing, a glint, some spark of life. Her dull eyes speak to something I should’ve felt before.

Amy carefully disarms the slayer, dropping the scalpel back onto the tray. I watch the exchange between them, gentle touches and significant looks. There’s a vibe to the whole thing that leaves me totally baffled.

Yeah. That’s it. That’s why she felt so weird. Sort of like a chocolate bunny, this slayer’s hollow. She’s missing the gooey filling the rest of us have. The closest thing I can figure is vamp, but she lacks the heebie jeebies that mark a vamp.

Well, maybe not ‘lacks,’ but it’s different.

Definitely wig-some…there’s genuine warmth between them. If Amy being gay isn’t enough of a stumper, affection from the soulless is. But it’s there. Can’t really question it.

Sensitivity training’s seriously on the to-do list. Big shocker, that’s not a requisite for chasing Amy.

The slayer reflects, «This is nice, cozy even, but enough screwing around,» before she turns to me and snarls, “What about you, Rosenberg? Are you bored now?”

Actually, yeah…I suppose popcorn and movies are out of the question?

«Such a heartwarming epitaph.»


Oh, no way! She’s not—

«I need to put this thing in her and get the hell out before I kill the stupid cunt.»


She looms over me for a sec, and then it’s back to torturing Willow. Avoiding the eyes might be nice, but no, they’re the target.

What’d she mean, ‘this thing’? This is seriously sounding worse by the moment.

«Accidents happen all the time.»

And worse…

«I’m feeling pretty clumsy.» The clampy thing to hold my right eye open pinches as she messes with it. It’s unpleasant, but—

«I wonder if the boss would lose it if I accidentally lobotomized the bitch?»

Not as unpleasant as that.

A worried Amy leans in to watch. «I should keep an eye on her. We need the princess in one piece if our plan’s gonna work.»

Her concern’s genuinely touching. She moves around the table to assist with whatever nightmare they have in mind.

And, predictably, the crazy soulless one goes for the pointy objects again.

So, what do we have so far? Uh…

Her hand closes in. Now might not be—

The scalpel cuts into the corner of my eye. I scream. Thoughts, all stormy and jumbled, rush through my head, both hers and mine. Stronger than the others, one harsh reflection breaks through. «We’re gonna take this real slow.»

The heel of her hand rests against my cheekbone. It’s two things a hand shouldn’t be: moist and chilly. Why I notice is anyone’s guess.

There’s a knock and a reluctant Amy disappears. As the door swings shut, a loud cracking sound resonates through the lab.

The next person to disappear is me.

I do, but I don’t.

I don’t get it. It makes no sense. I’m here, but not. At least not in the conventional sense…

Why does this always happen to me? ‘Poof,’ I end up somewhere weird. Or ‘poof,’ I’m here, but not really. If I wasn’t so damned grateful to have that thing out of my eye, I might just be a little put out.

Crackling bolts of electricity arc from the table to a big, creepy metal box. It feels icky and wrong, like Amy’s techno-magic just kinda puked all over the room. Instinctively, I recoil.

The flavor of the moment is ‘swarm of me.’ Like a bunch of bees, but different, less effectual, more ethereal. I swirl around the table, tumbling to the floor.

‘It feels weird’ is like the understatement of the century.

Oh, I remember this. Oops!

Well, the lady—and boy, do I ever use that term loosely—asked me to go dark. Let’s hear it for the power of suggestion.

She lays unconscious on the floor. I float around her like a cloud, hoping to get a better look. Not that I can exactly look. My eyes are kind of—well, they’re here somewhere in this mess. But I can feel. She’s gone, or mostly gone. Umm…almost dead.

Kenn’s face surfaces again from the haze. I wonder if this slayer wears that same soft, deceptively peaceful expression.

If I don’t help her, she’ll really die.

Good thought, but when Amy bursts through the door with half the military on her tail, I skedaddle, sucking up under the lower shelf of the table. As hiding places go, it’s not the most original, but—improvising here—it’s the best I’ve got on short notice.

I’m seriously lit, almost vibrating. As I consciously siphon off the charge into the buzzy, metal table, the mantra mollifies some of the noise.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

My mantra. It’s a little weird that I don’t even think about that now. It’s just something I automatically do.

She gets one look at the slayer and yells, “That fucking bitch!” And then she goes ballistic searching for me and ranting both inside and out.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

Curses and guttural threats almost drown out my cutesy little nursery rhythm. It’s hard not to listen, almost surreal.

Focusing, I push her aside. If I pay attention to her tirade, I might miss something important.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

I really hate people.

With any luck, I’ll be able to cloak myself in the lightshow without getting zapped…and stay sane. Staying sane would be nice. If she finds me, I’ll scram. Until then, I need to hang out. Between Buffy and her amorous little nap, zombies invading the castle and other assorted badness, I’m beginning to think something’s up. It’d be nice to know what for once.

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

And my first clue was? Other subtle hints…

Aluwyn has subtle down to an art form, a highly cryptic, utterly perplexing, art form. The memo I got said, ‘go see your friends.’ The rest was way too vague to be sensey.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

The more sensey it gets, the more I want to bail. I hear Tahiti’s nice this time of year.

No Tahiti for me. No, away I went to find Buffy puddling toward total meltdown. Ignoring that was challenging in new and un-fun ways. But it’s not like she hasn’t given me lots of practice.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

I’m really not sure what to do about that besides what I did. Making her think is about my only recourse. Otherwise…

And now, here I am being one with the furniture after psycho slayer tries to stab my eye out.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

I should’ve known better. Tahiti would’ve been nice.

I don’t need anyone harping at me about the big picture. The picture, big or small, I get it. The Mona-Lisa-sized image that is Buffy Summers. In the grand scheme, she looks small—sort of insignificant—but she isn’t. And she has a better smile.

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

The thing is—what they don’t get—if Buffy doesn’t want help, there’s nothing I can do. She gives stubborn people a new pinnacle of excellence and perfection to aspire to.

They don’t even want to hear that part. All I get is, ‘fix it.’

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

If I make it out of here in one piece, fixing that is gonna be fun. It’s a totally double-edged sword. I miss her so much, but when I’m around her, all I want to do is leave. Leaving really isn’t an option now. I wish it was, but she needs—

One of the soldiers demands, “I thought you said that the witch would be contained. What happened?” Judging from tone of voice and age, it’s a pretty safe bet that he’s the leader.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

Amy replies, “Well, I thought she would be.” Her voice is thick with stress. It takes a few moments, but she folds. His mood tells me there’s a glare involved, ’cause she really didn’t answer the question. “It looks to me like she used Riah to overload the system. A power spike might give her a little bit of time. Not much.”

‘Riah?’ The Hebrew word for bitter. I try to giggle. Thankfully, I’m a little too insubstantial for that. I’ll eat my hat—the one I’m not wearing because I’m too insubstantial for that too—if that’s her real name. That’s just too fitting to be real.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

A flurry of activity accompanies the leader’s grumble. “Little or not, it was obviously enough. I want this mess cleaned up…” he motions to indicate Riah “…and the witch located pronto.” As two of his men move in to deal with the ‘mess,’ he continues, “You led me to believe this would be easy. Should I start doubting your word, Ms. Madison?”

Sounding a lot more certain, she responds, “No.” But a nervous tic totally gives her away. She clears her throat and slathers on more false confidence. “Look, she’s here. I just have to find her.”

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

She starts to pace, anxiously probing for me as she remarks, “It’s just really hard to judge with her. Besides, I don’t get why you’re so upset. Keep your eyes on the prize, General. There’s no way Buffy won’t come for her.”

This is the oldest game in the book, using me to get at Buffy. It’s predictable and lame. I need to bail. It’s a gamble, but I’ll give them five more minutes. I really want to know what’s up.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

Yeah. And I’m not a total masochist.

The leader commands, “Seal off the area,” sounding grumpy and mean. I think it’s a natural state for him. He seems pretty comfy with it.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

The majority of the men exit the room. It’s a major good. Crowded doesn’t even begin…

As the noise dies down to a dull roar, my interest sets on Riah. The medics poke at her. It’s frustrating. They’re clueless.

I wonder who she really is. All the arrows point to something I’d rather not believe. It’s just too weird, even for me. There has to be a better answer.

Whoever she is they seriously need to help her, or she’s gonna be no one.

But if I’m right, she already is.

Stop wigging over me and do your job, Amy. I know you get it. You weren’t a total loser. Every once in a while you showed a glimmer of actual talent.

I’m not sure who’s worse, the soulless slayer with the weird crushy attachment, or the soulful witch who’s so obsessed with hurting me that she’s willing to let her lover die.

It’s a sad, sad situation.

While she’s screwing around, the military gorillas wheel her honey out on a gurney.

It’s probably foolish, but I hope she lives.

My attention shifts back to more pressing matters when Amy makes a lap around the table. I don’t need to hear, «I don’t get it. She’s right here,» to know that she senses me.

And right on cue, the knuckle-draggers move in behind her, turning the room into a disaster.

I shadow the flipping furniture and tumbling medical equipment a little too literally.

What is it with fighty people and the throwing things?

I’m not cleaning this one up.

No way, no how.

Eventually, I follow the chaos into a dark, quiet corner without getting squished or crispified.

As I come to rest against the floor, Amy all but yells, «Gotcha!» Or it feels that way. I’ll just be grateful if my brain doesn’t…

An energy ball hurls toward me. All it takes to avoid it is a little shift to my left. It hits wide, utterly missing its mark and scorching the wall. Junk goes flying everywhere.

…dribble out of my ears before this is over.

It’s kind of funny…in a completely pitiful sort of way.

You made a better rat. They aren’t big on betrayal, despite the bad rap. They kinda lack the skills, not to mention the stature for any real treachery. Cage-sized is pretty limiting.

«This’d be loads easier with Gomer, Sergeant Carter and the rest of the platoon out of the way.» Her thought quickly gives way to a comment, “General, if you don’t mind, this’d be simpler without the help.” «I can’t really take the chance of hitting one of them. It wouldn’t end well.»

“Very well, but I expect her located and quarantined within the hour,” the general snaps. The clicking of booted feet sound around the room, followed closely by the best click of all, the click of a latch against a striker plate when the door shuts. It’s a beautiful click. Most of the mindless chatter and ickiness leaves with that one little click.

Ah…it’s just us girls.

And boy, do we have some catching up to do.

I’m thinking it’s a ‘Cheese-Its and Stewart Little’ kind of night.

With them gone, Amy just opens up. “What’s the matter? Is the big bad witch frightened?” she grumbles under her breath. Glowing little globs of energy fly every which way. They crash and bounce, making more of a mess.

Someone’s a wee bit peevish.

That’s such a fun word.

«Where is she?»

And so underused.

Hiding in the rubble, I skirt the edge of the room. This room’s not that big. She’s bound to eventually hit herself. That’d be funny. Too bad I can’t afford to wait.


A crackly mass of ouchy badness flies my way. A near miss, a little singe and more broken glass…

Try again.

And she does.

I get bored with the hide and seek. It can be fun, but—

I streak around the room. Flashes and crashes follow me. I think she’s catching on.

«Stupid bitch!»

Maybe not.

I’m a little disappointed. The smart call would be one big boom. Something that’d make my ethereal ears bleed. But she squanders all of her energy conjuring as fast as she can, sending a hail of zappy little projectiles vaguely my way. It’s sad. None of them would do much more than sting even if I wasn’t—

It’s like trying to hit a fly with a baseball. Possible, but mostly…well, the room’s a goner. We’re to the ‘big cloud of dust, crushed furniture and broken walls’ phase of the deconstruction.

She’s been asking for this all night. Playing Tinkerbell from Hell, I launch at her ankles.

I twist and whirl, maneuvering myself past the assault. A few minor jolts later, I strafe around her once, feet to head, and materialize behind her. Grabbing her shoulder, I give her a spin as I take all the power I need.

She’s clueless and catching up.

I’m not really a violent person. I like to leave the fisticuffs to those better qualified, but she’s on my last nerve. When she turns into me, I just deck her. The punch is…it’s lots more violent than I planned. It connects under her chin. She lifts off her feet and goes crashing into the fizzling metal box. As I shake my throbbing hand, sparks fly.

That hurt!

I don’t see how Buffy does it.

The words aren’t strictly necessary, but for her benefit, I say the spell, “Goddess Hecate, work thy will. Before thee let the unclean thing crawl.”

Her empty clothes float to the floor. It takes a sec but, one of her boots rocks back and forth. I smile when my pet emerges from it. I missed Amy the Rat.

I walk over and scoop her up, giving her a gentle stroke between the ears with my index finger as I look around. We still need to get out of here. With her like this, it’s gonna be a whole lot more complicated.

First things first, I need a bag. I pick my way around the rubble and open one of the lockers near the door. In the second locker, I come across a basic field medic kit. The contents hit the floor before I place Amy inside and sling the stylish, military issue olive drab bag over my shoulder. It’ll work.

The room’s such a wreck it’s hard to tell what was where. I spend a few moments trying to find the tray of medical instruments Riah used on me. They planned to put something inside me. It’d be nice to know what.

Besides, souvenirs—never bad. Well, unless they’re—

Yeah, this one’s probably gonna be bad.

Reaching out to detect anything magical is pretty much pointless, what with that huge, leaky battery in the room. It kinda feels like the Wiccan version of Chernobyl in here. How Amy managed to detect me at all—well, it just further proves that she has help. Like I need more proof.

My eye just sucks! I wipe the lower lid and—no surprise—pull back a bloody finger. It’s all twitchy and weird. It focuses fine, but movement’s a problem.

It’s annoying.

I use the surplus of magical potential to my advantage. I’m gonna need all the help I can get. Absently, I build my defenses and jumpstart the healing process while I dig, turning the upside-down, upside-down. Finally, I locate the tray. There’s a few things near it, but nothing worth noticing.

It has to be in this room. Thing is, I’m not even sure what I’m looking for. I just hope I’ll know it when I see it.

There’s actually a list of hopes.

I hope Buffy doesn’t come after me before I finish up. I really need to get moving!

I hope whatever I find isn’t dangerous—I mean immediately dangerous. I totally get that this isn’t cute, snuggly stuff. Nothing else here is, so…it’s gonna be something bad. If it doesn’t try to bite me or penetra…

Uh, yeah…

I cringe.

Between Buffy and Cordelia, I think we’ve seen enough tentacle rape scenarios for one lifetime. Moving on.

Right now, it’d just be nice to get us out of this Initiative-inspired Hell without—

Something catches my eye, I quirk an eyebrow and stare. It’s a rock. I was kidding about the ‘souvenirs’ thing. Seriously. This really doesn’t seem like the sort of place you’d find a spherical piece of moss agate. Military bases just aren’t that big with the tourist trade.

I locate a box of latex gloves, put one on, pick the little rock up and turn the glove inside out around it. The rock does nothing. It feels like nothing. It’s a rock. But I follow my hunch and tie the glove closed.

This has to be it. It’s just way too out of place. And if it isn’t, I get a souvenir. I drop the rock into one of the outside pockets of the bag. I’ll cherish it forever.

Well, I’m as ready as I get. After one last quick look around, I crack the door and peek out. There’s no one in the hallway, or no one I can see. The magical fallout in the room’s really messing with me. I still can’t feel anything. For someone who avoids people because she feels everything, this is truly bizarre, like walking around with blinders on.

Creepy-crawly skin and all, I step out the door. Tiptoeing’s sorta pointless what with the buzzing. With any luck, once I clear the interference, I’ll be able to feel them.

But honestly, if it never came back, if I were just blind again, I really wouldn’t mind.

It’s a total trade off. I have insight most people would kill to have…until they had it. Naturally, I use it to my advantage. Considering the price I pay…I can’t feel too bad about it.

When I reach the end of the hall, it’s back—my price. There are five soldiers around the corner a little way down the intersecting hallway.

Aw…isn’t that sweet? One of them misses his wife. She’s pregnant and he’s out of leave time.

Pouting, I conjure one doozy of a concussion bolt. Their ears should still be ringing next week. Maybe they’ll let his wife visit while he recovers.

I toy with the ball of blue light in my palm. Once I toss this, every alarm in this place is gonna go off. It should crack the foundation.


This makes me really jittery. There’s nothing I can do. I’d rather face a legion of demons than one human with a gun. I can actually fight the first thing.

Okay, well…I could fight the second one too, but when there are lots of guns—?

Stopping a bullet is still one major trick, even when you have lots of tricks. With enough time, I can do it. But bunches? Not without some hardcore mojo and lots of help.

There are gonna be bunches.

All I can do is make my skin hard and shield myself to some degree. But the impact—?

I’ve got nothing. Or not enough. And I’m out of time.

I’ve done everything I can.

I could try to be sneaky.

Truly sneaky means I can’t take Amy. And I need her. I need to know what’s going on for once.

Sort of sneaky might get me past some of it, but that’d take more time. And time’s still the one thing I don’t have.

If I had all the time in the world, I’d create my own portal. It’s possible, but that takes at least an hour without help, usually more.

I could teleport, but not without knowing where the heck I am. It’s just too risky. I could snoop around and find out. That’d be smart. Astral project and leave my body behind undefended. Let’s not.

I have to get to the portal the mystics in Scotland are forming. I know they are. I know that Buffy will want to…

And I have to stop her, or help if she comes.

I’ve got no other choice.

Okay, I’ve talked myself into it. Now for the fun part.

I clench my left fist, digging my nails into my palm. I can’t break the skin, but it sure smarts.

On three…

One macaroni…

Two macaroni…

Three macaroni…

I take a step forward and turn to face the men. They notice me, but not before I lob a handful of hurt their way. As I dive back the way I came, their weapons level on me. Tumbling to a halt, I cover my ears and curl around Amy’s bag.

Automatic weapons fire is muffled by the sound of the explosion. The floor rumbles. Pieces of the ceiling rain over me. The lights flicker and go dim.

More rain accompanies the blaring buzz of the alarm going off. This time it’s actually water. I set off the sprinkler system.

Growing soggier by the moment, I jump to my feet and cast another really impressive, boomy spell. Making the central nervous system go all wonky isn’t the best choice around guns, but I can’t think of anything else that’ll work as well for crowd control.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

Soldiers pile into the hall. An overwhelming crush of excitement comes with them. There are so many, it’s hard for me to judge how many.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

I finish the spell and poke my head out just long enough to chuck it into the fray.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

As it does its boomy thing, I prepare another—something quicker—all flash and zap. Amy would be proud.

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

This time, I go. I have to. Time’s not something I have. Launching myself into the air, I shoot down the hall over the piles of writhing men.

The rat-tat-tat of weapons discharging makes me flinch.

I can’t help it. I’ll feel bad later. Right now…

It’s a really long hall, so I can just go.

Buffy would enjoy this.

I just hope I’m going the right way. That’s the only problem—well, not the only problem, just the biggest one right now.

I have no clue where I am. I could’ve gone straight, but you’d think they’d put the guards between me and the exit, so…this made sense.

Water pelts my face as I hurl forward, reaching out, looking for people and magical disturbances. I should be able to feel the portal forming now. But there’re lots of bizarre magically-charged technological gadgets all over this place to distract me. The sheer power’s kinda staggering.

This is way creepier than the Initiative. It’s like Initiative concentrate. New and improved, with more twisted gadgets, wacky friends and way crazier goals. The last bunch just wanted an army of human-cyber-demon hybrid guys, like something from Doom.

And who doesn’t?

I could totally go for one myself right now.

But that’s it—the huge difference. It’s the human technology that mucks this all up. What I’m looking for is something pure. Something earth magicy—not wigged, hybrid demon magic with techy tricks dumped on top for oomph.

Completely drenched and shivering, I reach the end of the hallway and touch down. Another T-intersection. So, left or right? I choose left, ducking into the alcove.

It’s a totally futile act, but I mop my face as I stare at the heavy steel door. There’s one on either side and they’re both locked. I have to find a way past, but I need to know which one first. This isn’t gonna be easy. There’s not exactly anyone left to ask. And having to open both would just suck.

I close my eyes and reach out, extending my senses.

There are only a couple of people behind me. I can almost hear their thoughts if I focus really hard. Whispers, mumbled words, like Charlie Brown’s teacher, only much, much softer.

I lay my palm against the door and listen. My stomach lurches. Dead ahead, about twenty meters past the door, the drone’s deafening. It’s a nightmare. My worst nightmare. It’s easy to figure that along with the nightmare…

A shiver creeps down my spine. There must be at least two-hundred soldiers out there.

It’s a trap.

Of course, my brain—it’s a traitor. Now that I’ve noticed them, the muffled roar fills my head.

I’m damned.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

Concentrating on the lock, I work to trick the door open. I have to. There’s no choice. More electronic gadgets—typical stuff—the right sequence of numbers entered into the keypad and a keycard slid through the little doohickey. I don’t have either and there’s no one around to borrow them from, so…

Sparks fly when I overload the circuit. The door’s permanently locked now. Well, sort of…

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

To them it is.

I seize the locking mechanism and slide it aside with an absent thought. It’s heavy, but that’s relative, as is the size of the door. It redefines ‘heavy.’ I need to channel more power to even budge it.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

Y’know, I really don’t get the military mindset. They locked thirty or so soldiers in here with me, a dangerous hostile. I wonder if they still call them ‘hostiles.’ Probably. But I’m not so much a demon. Or really even all that dangerous. I have a conscience, unlike—

But odds are, along with the goals, the definitions were ‘improved’ too. So ‘hostile’ I am.

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

Actually, I’m not a hostile. I’m bait. But they might reconsider their position on that, especially when I get done.

And all I have to do for the promotion is break out of a fortified military installation and take out a company of heavily armed soldiers along the way. No sweat.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

Yeah, this is gonna inhale sharply.

Finally, with lots of stress and effort, the door retracts far enough into the wall for me to slip through. The one good: at least the sprinklers aren’t on in here. But there are plenty of other negatives to make up for the one minor positive.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

There’s another door between me and them. I walk down the short stretch of hall and get to work.

Once the door sizzles and sparks, I channel the power to not only move it, but conjure another crowd crusher. Working on both things simultaneously keeps me from dwelling. And that is another plus.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

I time everything right. As the door creaks, sliding aside, I chuck the glowing blue orb through the gap and take cover.

A loud clap breaks the silence. Weapons go off and screams fill the air.

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

My eyes flutter. I scrunch them closed for just a sec to steel my resolve against the pain. Then I slip through the doorway and straight into hell.

As my cranial barometer spikes, someone grabs my ankle. It freaks me out. His body trembles uselessly, but somehow he holds on like a vice. I panic, kicking him away as I take to the air.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

The room is cavernous. Some sort of huge loading dock with a big clear tube in the middle, like a Habitrail, but bigger for bigger rats.

What’d they do, sublet this place from Dr. No?

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

It figures, the military has all the latest toys. There are tanks and helicopters and Humvees. It’s almost like they’re planning a war. Of course, that’s what armies do. It’s scary. Their job description reads: we destroy stuff and kill people. Scarier still, they try to pitch that as a good thing and somehow they get away with that.

I could probably get out through the elevator shaft, but that’s not what I need. I need to be at the exact point the Scotland witches are focused on. If I’m not, Buffy could come through at any moment and all this…

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

Swooping around, I draw random patterns in the air. The thumping in my head matches my changes in direction and elevation. It makes me woozy, but I have no choice. If I stay put, I’m a goner. The chaos builds. I ignore it—all of it—and cast another spell.

The blast only took out about a quarter of the soldiers. The remaining three-quarters have nothing to do except try to kill me. 

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

And they do.

Flashes of light erupt below me when they take aim and fire. The smell of gunpowder permeates the air along with a deafening roar. I clutch Amy to my stomach with my free hand. If she gets hit, this’ll all be for nothing.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

As I search for the portal, I lob quickly conjured energy bolts. They aren’t as strong, but they do what I need them to. The men that are hit are taken out of the fight.

The first time I get shot, I feel it. It’s just my left upper arm, but still the pain isn’t something I can compare. It spins me around, out of control. I struggle to stay in the air.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

Thankfully, none of it lasts long. My body gets overwhelmed and shuts down. The next one just feels like a wasp sting, it goes numb so quickly I barely flinch. I tumble, but it’s no big.

I wonder how long it’ll be before the rest of me shuts down.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

Not long.

That’s a comforting thought. But it’s true. At this rate…

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

What I want, or what I think I want, lies on the far side of the loading dock next to a pair of bay doors. It looks like a huge metal onion, but it’s not. If I’m right, it’s a cannon, or sort of…

I reach out and touch the controls, inspecting them as I zip around the room.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

If I were meaner spirited, I might line the soldiers up to shoot each other. I could.

I’m not. Just the thought makes me that much queasier.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

I take a page from their book. Being avoidy, I use the time to build power. When I have enough, I conjure a fireball and launch it at a pallet of crates. No telling what’s in them. But again, military…

The crates catch fire and the soldiers scatter. It takes a sec for the explosion to happen. It’s pretty impressive. Leave it to the military to have something just lying around that’ll make a bigger, better boom.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

I use the diversion to reach the cannon. There’s a faint shimmer in front of it. The Scotland witches are right on time.

The controls are simple enough. Selecting a location is pretty pointless. It’s already set to where I don’t want to go, but where I need to go. The rest is just charge and shoot. Already charged and shooting…

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

The portal forms.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

As I step in, I cast one final spell, carelessly chucking a ball of crackling blue light over my shoulder.

The blast when their funny portal cannon thingy blows up—it isn’t small. If I had fillings, they’d be missing.

Awash with blinding light and roaring sound, I go limp.

Something unseen seizes my ankles.

My body compresses.

I’m ripped forward—pulled almost to the point of snapping.

Squished, stretched and spat out.

This is like being shot through a soda straw…or I suppose…

Hurling through the air, I bounce and tumble to an abrupt halt, smashing into a stone wall.

There’s movement all over the room. Anxiety and panic crush in around me.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

It takes me a second to understand that I picked up a passenger on my way out. My first hint’s the stifled groan. It comes from somewhere between me, the wall and the floor.


Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

Silly slayer, she must’ve tried to catch me.

Not complaining, she probably saved my life. I block the others out, concentrating fully on her. She’s hurt, but not bad. Stiff and sore mostly. A few bumps and bruises. Way better than me. Breathing…

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

Trained apes with guns are just as much fun. That’s sorta what got me here. I inhale a shallow, trembling breath. It doesn’t hurt so much yet, but it will. The tight feeling across my chest tells me my ribs are cracked.

Weak and sluggish, Buffy shifts her legs, moving us both. Sharp pain cuts through my side, but I try to stay focused on her.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

«Y’know, it’s not very often that I get caught with my pants down.»

’Kay, catching up again…I want to giggle. If I could, it’d just hurt like hell. All I can manage is a weak grin. And even that’s painful.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

As she gently rolls me away, the same thing occurs to her. «I seriously need to rethink that last thought. Actually, I may need to completely swear off idioms. Embarrassing images aside, that was just plain wrong.»

Flat on my back on the cold stone floor, I really, really need to giggle now.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

Still nothing…

The discomfort’s cute. A little disturbing, but cute. «I hate my brain.»

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

She touches the side of my face. «Considering the circumstances…» Her fingertips trail down onto my neck. «…the massive fireball and the projectile Willow…» She locates my pulse and glances at her watch, counting and pondering. «…I’m just grateful they aren’t all laughing. ’Cause me with the catching, the tumbling and the kersplat…it had to look funny.»

Not that I’m the best judge, but I think it’s safe to say there’s not a single soul in this room who found that funny.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

«Portals aren’t supposed to do that, right?»

No, Buffy, they’re absolutely not supposed to do that. I should actually try to tell her that soon before she really wigs.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

«Wow! This is screwed up!»

Speaking of…

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

She pushes herself the rest of the way up, swings her legs around and kneels next to me. «There’s nothing funny here now.» I must look awful ’cause her angst level goes through the roof.

Her hand returns to the side of my face. She strokes my hair back. The touch is deceptively tender. Underneath, there’s a storm brewing. She’s really not impressed. “What the hell just happened?” she snaps.

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

The other witches are flat clueless. They could probably speculate, but that might be dangerous around a hacked-off Buffy. Maybe they’ve picked that up by now?

Hoping to put some of the unease to rest, I mumble, “It was me.”

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

Wow, I sound horrible. And go figure, I just make things worse.

Anxiety positively drips off her as she leans in and whispers, “We need to get you to a hospital, Will.”

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

My eyes snap open. It scares her. She almost jumps. Let’s get one thing perfectly clear, missy, no hospitals. I didn’t like them before and I like them even less now. I mouth the word ‘no.’ Neither of us wants to hear my voice again.

Her brow furrows thoughtfully as she scans my face, taking in my resolve. «Well, I guess that settles that. If she’s strong enough to get pissed at me for mentioning the h-word, she’ll live.»

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

Her concern comes to rest on the dried blood underneath my right eye. «Bloody tears really are just horror movie camp, right? I’ve never seen them. Not that I’m a total expert, but really—»

I let some of the tension go, forcing my expression to relax. My eyes drift closed. Holding them open is lots more effort than it’s worth.

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

«I don’t see much choice.» She climbs to her feet. «Or maybe this is just me being selfish as hell again.» Stooping, she carefully tries to lift me. «Honestly, it’s probably a little of both.»

Careful or not, it goes badly. All the numb and the shock drift away. Sharp pain slices through my shoulder, starting out dull and building as I rise. My clavicle’s broken. I let out a gasp in spite of myself. My face twists. It’s bad.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

I don’t want to scare her. She probably doesn’t know how right she is, but—

This is the only valid option. I’m not gonna last long around all of these people. The sick and the dying really would kill me. But I might just be able to stand her. She can help me. I clamp my jaw, trying to fight back the tears.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

She takes in my reaction, but continues to lift. Maybe she can tell that I’m fighting it? «There’s no point in discussion. This isn’t open to debate. If she’s not going to the hospital, then she’s coming with me. And we seriously need to bail. The only thing that’ll stop me is her. I have the feeling that if she wanted me to, even now, I wouldn’t have much choice.»

I’m just grateful she wants to.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

I’ve always loved this about her. She’s positively territorial about the people she cares for. It’s written all over her now, every gesture, every thought.

My right arm dangles, utterly useless. Holding me up with her thigh, she takes it and places it on my tummy. Once it’s stationary and I’m supported, things get better.

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

I don’t think either one of us got exactly how bad things were till she moved me. I know I didn’t. My arm was fine, or it worked when I stepped into the portal. I suppose the landing was worse than I thought.

The bag’s still hanging from my good shoulder. I’m surprised she doesn’t feel it, but I guess she’s as numb as I am. The fact that I’m making her wet and miserable hasn’t hit her yet either. Or at least she hasn’t complained.

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

I mumble, “The bag.” She looks, trying to figure out what the hell I’m talking about. It’s not like it’s small, but—

She gets it. The trouble is, it’s pinned between us. Xander steps in to help. She loosens her grip and he slips it away.

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

Poor Xander, his thoughts are all scattered. I wish there was something I could do.

There is. Making eye contact, I force a thin smile. It’s the best I have. I hope it doesn’t look too phony.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

His face is all soft with compassion. When he returns the smile, I say, “Quarantine her till I can—”

My voice is a little stronger. That actually sounded sort of like a command. One I couldn’t complete, but close enough.

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

They need to get how dangerous this is. I have no clue what Amy can do now. And that rock. It looks totally harmless. The harmless looking stuff’s usually the worst. Or it could just simply be a rock. No clue.

Yeah. In what reality do we ever get simple?

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

“Okay,” he replies and passes the bag off to the other witches. When he faces us again, his brow is furrowed. “Did you say ‘her’?” he asks.

Buffy meets his gaze and grins. «He’s right. Totally funny and confused, but right.»

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

Curious too, she peers down at me and I mumble, “Make sure they check the pockets too.” The look on my face frightens her. I’m trying to be firm, but—well, it must be the pain.

She gets it, thinking the same. I put on another weak smile. Maybe it’ll reassure her. Doubtful, but maybe…

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

«I need to get her out of here. Me holding her like this, it isn’t making anything better.»

As she slowly moves toward the stairs, I whisper, “Don’t touch anything.”

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

«That does it. I have to know.» She swings around. The witches have the bag open between them. They stare into it, appearing bemused. She walks over and looks down. I wish I had a camera ’cause her expression’s just priceless.


I see the moon and the moon sees me.

She giggles. The poor witches twitch when the ha-ha only lasts as long as the ha-ha lasts. She snaps volatile. Shooting a scalding glare at them, she commands, “I want that bitch…” she looks into the bag “…locked down. Twenty-four hour guard and the strongest suppression field you’ve got.”

«Yeah…that was rational. But it’s not like they don’t already think I’m nuts, so…»

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

The poor witches. What were their names?  Margaret and Jessica, I think. I should remember, but whatever. They aren’t exactly receptive. And I don’t blame them. Buffy’s been walking a pretty thin line. Wigging over a rat? That has to be a new pinnacle of weird for them.

I make eye contact with Margaret—I think—and whisper, “Please.” The nod she gives is all I need.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

Buffy, on the other hand, wants them to understand. She gives Xander a meaningful glance and turns away. «They need to know the sitch. The thing that did this is—well, one thing’s for sure, Will seriously gave the bitch what she deserved. There might just be a tiny bit of justice left in the world.»

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

«But usually only if we make it.» Starting for the stairs, she grumbles, “Thanks. It’s been a long night. We should all get some rest.”

Thank God!

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

She’s so careful, but each step still feels like an assault. I don’t care. Each one carries me a little farther from the racket. I’m glad to trade the pain for some peace.

«I’ve never seen her like this before.» Refusing to take her eyes off me, she registers every jolt. «The dungeon might not have been the best choice. Sixty steps, each one of them bad.»

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

It’s kind of strange, she’s actually counting. Fifteen steps per flight. A distraction…

The other slayers on her team carefully slip past us one at a time. As they each cast a sympathetic glance, she returns a smile. But her expression is strained and thin. She wants to reassure them, but she’s not sure herself.

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

When they’re out of earshot, she murmurs, “Take what you need.” «We’ve been here before. It wasn’t this bad, but we both get it. She’s not gonna get better any time soon without help.»

Thank you.

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

I have trouble starting. It scares me, especially after what just happened. It’d be so easy to…

But finally, I manage to very gently do what she asks. A tear trickles down my cheek. I won’t do this without permission. And even with permission, I can’t help feeling guilty. Kennedy sorta broke me—

She senses the pull and smiles. «That’s it. It’s okay, Will.»

It’s a defensive thing now. Doing this to someone I care for is just…

«You’re fine. I’m not even sure where I’d be without—»

I see the moon and the moon sees me.

I’m grateful for the pain. Maybe it’ll hide—

My face it—

She snickers, but there’s no mirth in it. It’s a soft, ugly, cynical sound. «That’s not true. I know exactly where I’d be without you.»

The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see.

I need her to stop, but I can’t—

I don’t—

There’s nothing I can do.

«Thing is, I never told you…»

Goddess bless the moon and Goddess bless me.

«We were all so busy looking at how bad things were—» she makes that same cold sound «—and making them worse. It was hard. All I could see was what you took from me.»

She doesn’t stop. And I can’t drown her out. I’m in no shape to run. And fighting—?

I might be able to teleport. I’m not sure where I’d end up, but—

Goddess bless the somebody I'd like to see.

I don’t care. I can’t take this. As I prepare to use her… 

«I totally missed it.»

…to run away, she—

«I’m so sorry.»


«I should say that sometime. I should tell you how sorry I am. Not now, but—»

Tears stream down my cheeks. I need to stop. She won’t—

«Later, I promise. I’ll tell you how much—»

She won’t understand.

«What you did was selfish. It was the most selfish, reckless, foolish, stupid thing anyone’s ever done for me.»

I can’t stop. All I can do is hope that she’ll think it’s—

«You risked everything. I know you did. You couldn’t have done that if you didn’t love me. And somehow I missed that.»

A smile warms my face.

«I don’t know how. I guess I was just too busy feeling sorry for myself.»

And now I just look conflicted. That’s nice.

«Anyway, I need to tell you I understand now.»

No, you don’t.

«It’s pretty obvious you still do, even if you are…»

Finally, I do the sensible thing. As I use her gift to bind my shoulder, the questions surface. At first I just feel them. She’s curious.

«I don’t know what’s wrong. I just wish you’d say something. I need to at least know where that bitch took you.»

I’ll get around to answering, but I need to…I’m in too much pain to deal with this right now. She makes me uneasy, but I can’t block this any more than I can block anything else she thinks.

«What the hell did she do? I had to get out of that room if for no other reason than the overwhelming desire to splat a rat. She’d look so much better under my boot.»

As I bite my lip to keep from snapping ‘no,’ a chill runs down my spine. Not you. I won’t allow it. If that time ever comes, I’ll stop you.

«How’d you get away? I was all set to make with the big rescue and…»

And I’m so glad you didn’t.

«What’s the deal with all the soldiers? This is seriously smelling like that shit from Freshman year. The whole military vibe wigs me out. After Riley, I practically twitch over olive drab as it is. Not that it ever was a good color by any stretch, but it got worse.»

Things eventually get easier. With my shoulder immobilized, the pain isn’t nearly so bad. And once the questions pass by unanswered, she settles down, just vacantly focusing on moving. We actually make it up half a flight of stairs in relative calm.

But Xander comes up behind us as she starts up the third flight of stairs. She’s kind of impatient and overprotective. I feel her tense when she senses him.

Not bothering to slow, she gives him a sidelong glance and asks, “Are we all on the same page now?”

«Yeah, but aren’t you forgetting something?» He keeps that to himself, replying with a curt nod instead. She’s in no mood.

When she notices that he’s holding the scythe, her face flushes just a little. It’s kind of cute.

«I totally spaced…»


Yeah, you might need that.

“Thanks,” she mumbles. «At least one of us is doing our job.»

In all fairness…it’s not like there’s been a shortage of stress. I guess I should be flattered.  

“No problem,” he whispers, but his attention’s fixed on me. He’s worried and afraid to say anything. I could ask him for a first aid kit, but I have a feeling that’ll come, even if it is sort of pointless now.

«I could be on fire and he wouldn’t notice,» she reflects. There’s no jealously in it. It’s just a statement of fact.

After several moments of silent trudging, he asks, “Anything?”

She shakes her head, considering, «He’s as curious as I am. I get that. I wish I had something, but there’s nothing new to report.»

We reach the top of the third flight of stairs and turn the corner. «Just one more and it’ll be over. The wincing isn’t so much now, but it still wigs me out. It was stupid of me to move her like this. I need to get that shoulder bound. Leave it to me to get all protecty and forget that there’s other stuff. It’s just—»

She freezes when I struggle to get my pinned left arm loose. I want to hold on, but it’s trapped against her tummy.

«I’m sorry. I needed to get you out of there. I kept thinking another freaking portal would…»

Xander sees what’s going on and steps in and helps me free my arm. I wrap it around her waist. Slowly trailing my hand up her back, I caress her. It’s good communication. The best kind, really. I don’t have to keep track of what she thought and what she actually said. Remembering is hard.

I can’t—if I slip up, it’ll be bad. I just can’t. I’m so sorry.

I remember. I remember how I felt—the way we treated you. And I don’t want that. I just couldn’t bear it.

When I hook my hand over her shoulder, she starts up the last flight of stairs. It’s like this huge weight lifts from her—from them, really; Xander’s calmer too. All with that one little gesture.

Opening my eyes, I study her as she moves. So strong. She notices me and looks down, meeting my gaze. And so vulnerable.

I just—I did what you asked. I tried to do everything you asked of me.

Continue to Part 3: Blue

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