[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Part one of two

Episode Six: Détente

by Ehann
At This Point In My Life by Tracey Chapman

That I Would Be Good by Alanis Morrisette

Shout Outs: To Craig, who taught me everything I know about Witchcraft. To Adjrun and Aurelio for giving me such helpful feedback and comments while I was writing this. To Peggin, for helping me keep the DL world straight in my head. To Georgevna, for the brutal feedback which made this chapter so much better. To Cousinjean for including me in this project (I’m having a ball, CJ!) and to the rest of the DL staff, for giving me such a fine story to continue. Thanks, people!


*
The phone was ringing. Buffy groaned and rolled over onto her stomach. Her bed was nice and warm, and she was so tired. She turned her head and looked at her lover. Spike was asleep on his back with his arms behind his head. One of the few perks to not having circulation. Your limbs don’t get numb if you sleep in freaky positions.

Buffy sighed. This phone was not going to stop ringing. And it was…seven –o’clock!

She groped for the cordless on her nightstand and said, “Hello?”

“Yes, good morning, I trust you slept well?”

“Giles. Do you actually look at any of those pocket watches you wear, or are they like, for show?”

“I realize it’s early, but I’m going to be out of town for the day, so I wanted to let you know as soon as possible. I’ve already spoken to Xander- ”

“I’ll bet that went over well,” Buffy muttered.

“And he and Anya are going to go to the magic shop and start researching how Darla and Drusilla are planning to, to resurrect the Master.” “Wait a sec,” Buffy said more sharply than she intended. “Where are you going that’s so important it requires a personal Slayer rise and shine call?”

Silence.

“Giles?”

“Buffy, I’m afraid I have to leave now, or I’ll miss my appointment. Do be careful. Oh, and call Willow, would you?”

“Giles, don’t hang-”

Click. Dead air.

“Up.” She finished quietly. She heard rustling on the bed and turned. Spike had rolled to his side and was facing Buffy.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“You know, I don’t even know. Giles wants me to meet Xander and Anya at the shop to do research. He was all in mystery mode though. Didn’t say where he was going or why.” She frowned. “Or with who, for that matter.” Buffy stretched out beside her lover, squirming back until Spike was spooned against her. “Do you have any idea how annoying it is when you kill someone and they won’t stay dead?”

Spike grinned. “I’ve heard stories.” He pressed his lips against the tender nape of her neck, and inhaled deeply. She smelled like him now.

“I mean, I went through all the trouble to smash his bones into little bits…and that was after he’d already killed me.”

“Well, you know how it is when a person won’t stay dead.”

Buffy turned around so they were face to face. “And it’s his fault Kendra got killed. If she hadn’t been called…”

Spike wasn’t sure what to say. He was well aware of what he’d said after finding out that Dru had killed the Caribbean Slayer. Dru bagged a Slayer? Well, good for her. Though not from your perspective, I suppose. He closed his eyes and wondered if Buffy was thinking about that. He opened his mouth, with no idea of what he was going to say, but she cut him off before he started.

“And really, it’s the Master’s fault that the whole scene with Faith happened too. I mean, she should never have been called, either.”

“But she was,” Spike said softly. “And you can’t change that now.”

“No,” Buffy agreed. “It’s just that when she showed up, part of me was thinking…”

He stroked her hair. “Part of you was hoping there was finally an end to your Slayer days.”

“Yeah. I try not to think about it anymore, especially since she’s in prison but…every now and then I think ‘What If’.” She slipped her arms around him, and rested her head on his shoulder. “Although, I have to admit, at this moment? I wouldn’t change a thing.”

That deserved a kiss, Spike decided, and he followed thought with deed. He kissed her until need hummed through his body, and there was nothing else in the world, except this.

Buffy thought she might melt into her sheets. Just when she decided that she’d die if he stopped, he raised his head.

“What say you’re fashionably late this morning, love?” Spike asked.

She pulled his head back down to hers in answer.

***

Dawn was already awake when the phone rang. She had to be at school by eight, so her normal wake up time was seven. And she had to get up earlier now that Spike stayed over so much. It wasn’t that she minded, but it made it so much harder to get Buffy up and moving in the mornings. It also meant that Buffy was in the bathroom right when Dawn needed to be in there. Dawn’s eyes fell on her clock radio. Damn, it was seven- forty already.

She ran a brush through her hair and glared at herself in the mirror. It wasn’t fair. The monks couldn’t have made her blonde? Dawn snorted. Like she should be worrying about something so dumb when her boyfr-when Doug had come so close to getting killed. He hadn’t been to school since it happened. The last five times Dawn had called his house, the phone had rung and rung. She wasn’t sure if that was an improvement from the constant busy signal. He probably wants nothing to do with me anymore. Can’t blame him, right? All because I’m some stupid key. If I hadn’t gone to the Bronze….

Not liking her thoughts, she yanked the brush out of her hair. Ouch. She rubbed her scalp.

She left her room and knocked on Buffy’s door. “Buffy! I have school today, in case you forgot!” She could hear her sister and Spike murmuring softly. “I’m not gonna be late again. I’ll walk if I have to.”

“We’ll be out in a few minutes, Dawn.” Buffy called through the door.

“Yeah, right” she muttered. “Whatever.” She went back to her room and picked up her backpack. It felt heavy as she hoisted it over her shoulder. Dawn went downstairs and paced in front of the door for a few minutes. She looked at her watch. Willow had given her the Scooby Doo watch for her last birthday. Yeah, that would be the one that wasn’t real. Dawn thought sourly. Okay, forget Buffy. If I leave right now, and I run, I might make it to school on time.

She climbed halfway up the stairs and yelled, “Buffy!” Her call echoed through the empty hallway. “Fine. I should have known better.” She gripped the strap of her backpack with white knuckles and left, making sure to slam the door behind her.

***

“Did you hear something, love?” Spike asked.

Buffy smiled sleepily. “My senses are overloaded. I hear nothing.” She pressed her ear against Spike’s chest. “See? I don’t even hear a heartbeat.”

Spike could feel her smile against his skin. He wished they could stay like this forever. He squeezed his arms tighter around her. He had this feeling like he was forgetting something. “Well, looks like I’m in for the day.” He gestured at the window. Bright cracks of light spilled out about an inch by either side of the blinds. He yawned. “We slept in this morning.”

Buffy’s head shot up. “Oh, no.” Her hand scrabbled on the nightstand. She turned the clock around so that it was facing her. “Shit!” She leaped out of bed and began rummaging through the scattered clothes on the floor.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Spike sat up and tried to figure out what had sent the Slayer into such a frenzied state.

She struggled into her bra and glared at the vampire. “Dawn. That’s what. It’s eight-thirty, Spike. She’s supposed to be at school at eight.” She sat on the bed and roughly yanked on a pair of shorts. “God, I can’t believe I fell back to sleep.”

“Uh, Buffy-” She’d forgotten her knickers.

“Dawn!” Buffy shouted. “I’m sorry, I’m coming now. I’ll explain everything to the people at the school.”

She bolted down the stairs and stood at the bottom for a moment. She closed her eyes briefly and then opened them again. “Spike.” Her back was to him.

“Yeah, love?” He was halfway down the step, wearing only a pair of black jeans.

“She’s gone.” She turned her eyes to his.

***

“So Giles didn’t say where he was going, Xander? That leaves me in charge. I wonder what my first executive decision should be?” Anya stepped back from her place behind the cash register and looked around at the store appraisingly.

“Off the top of my head, I’m gonna say, don’t do any spells with Willow,” Xander said without looking up. He was sitting at the table, reading an old dusty book.

Anya’s eyes widened. “That was months ago and everything turned out all right, didn’t it?”

Xander looked up from his book. “That’s not what I meant. She’s been a little…I don’t know. Not acting like herself lately.” He gestured back toward the training room. “I mean, God, she’s been locked in there all morning. It’s almost noon. And the scary thing is, I haven’t heard a peep come out of there. At least, if there’s explosions and stuff we know she’s all right. Wait, uh… that didn’t come out right.”

Anya wandered over to stand next to her boyfriend. “You could always knock. I’ve seen you do it before. You’re a very competent knocker.” She smiled brightly at him.

“I’m probably just being paranoid. She’s probably practicing some new magic and needs quiet. It’s just…”

“What?”

“A feeling I’m getting. There’s something that’s not right, and I don’t know what it is.” He rubbed his eyes. He hadn’t done this much reading since high school. And the writing in these books…sometimes Xander wanted to bring a magnifying glass with him to the magic shop. No wonder all the English Watchers wore glasses. They’d had their eyes worn down from a very early age. Maybe it had something to do with all that tea…

“Did you hear me!”

Xander jumped. “Yes…no…what! Don’t do that!”

“Do what? I just asked why didn’t Giles tell someone where he could be reached. The man has a business to run. Not that I can’t run it expertly myself but-”

“He did tell someone, An. He told me. Bright and early this morning, as a matter of fact.”

“You! Why…why wouldn’t Giles tell me? I’m the one controlling his financial future.”

“All he said was that he had an appointment in L.A. this morning.” Xander yawned. “And then he was all ‘it’s Watcher business, and it has to do with the Slayer.’”

***

They were in the DeSoto because Spike insisted on driving. With the Slayer in her present state of mind, he didn’t want her operating any heavy machinery. Especially an SUV. He stole a glance at the woman in the passenger seat. Her knuckles were white around the small handbag she carried. Her lips were pressed tightly together, and strain showed around her eyes. She had aged in the months since her mother’ death, and even since the battle with Glory. Tiny lines showed on her face that weren’t there even a year ago. Spike had memorized every detail of Buffy’s face long ago. He knew. He momentarily suppressed a smile as he thought about the few gray hairs he’d noticed the other day. Noticed, and kept my mouth shut. He cleared his throat.

“She’s probably at school, Buffy. You know that.”

“What if she’s not?” Buffy said flatly. “What if she ran away?

“Dawn wouldn’t do that.”

“Why not? She has before.” Buffy snorted. “It’s practically a Summers’ tradition.”

“We’ll find her.”

“What if she was kidnapped? Again.” Buffy looked at him.

“We’ll find her,” he repeated.

“And when we do, I’m going to kill her.”

***

Willow’s breathing was even and deep. She was sitting cross-legged on the hardwood floor of the training room. Before she had begun her meditation, she had remembered to set up her ‘answering machine’. It was a simple glamour spell, really. It used her image to relay a quick message to anyone who tried to interrupt her. It was very important that this spell not be interrupted. Her sanity depended on it.

She was trying to get to the astral plane. That sounded all fancy, but it was really just an altered state of consciousness. Non -Wiccans wouldn’t know that the rhyming couplets and Latin words were not necessary to perform magic. The magic was in her, but it had to be accessed through the astral. And that required concentration. Oh, the simple spells could be done easily enough without too much trouble. Willow had gotten to the point that even throwing up the shield wasn’t as hard as it had been the first few times she’d tried it. That in itself scared her sometimes. The fact that magic came so naturally, so easily. This was different.

Since Tara had died, she’d felt so empty. Like there was a hole inside her where everything that made her into a person used to be. It was so bleak and dark inside that space that she just couldn’t talk about it to anyone. Buffy was so happy with Spike now. And Xander had a new life as a Watcher developing. Everyone was moving forward except her. And part of Willow didn’t want to move forward and leave Tara behind. She wanted to hold on to every moment of happiness that they had ever shared, no matter the price. And Willow had absolutely no hope that things were going to get better.

Her breathing became ragged. Concentrate, she told herself. But it was hard to keep her mind focused. She had started forgetting things. Like feeding Miss Kitty. Willow was pretty sure that she had starved her beloved cat into attacking Amy in her cage. That was the only way that Amy’s disappearance made any sense. It’s not like she could get out of her cage by herself.

Tara, she thought. If I can contact Tara I’ll be all right. But Willow had been trying to contact the dead witch since her passing, with little success. Except that one time in her dorm room. She had definitely made contact with something. It could have been Tara. The energy had been all around her, moving and almost seeping into her being. When Willow had come out of her meditation that day, she had felt…like a battery that had been recharged. But something else had happened that day, or was it soon after? Her mind was playing tricks again. She kept losing her grasp on time. Sometimes she would look at her watch only to find that hours had gone by, when it felt like the seconds between one breath and the next.

Isis, help me. I need to see her. Goddess, guide me on my path. Show me what I need to see.

Behind her closed eyes, Willow began to see lights. Purples, greens and blues, with the faintest pinprick of white. All the colors swirled and mingled. They moved like distinct entities, but parts of the same whole. The purple deepened into black, and the green lost its verdant glow and turned dark…sickly.

Willow couldn’t feel her body anymore. She had never been this deep in meditation. She began to reach out with her mind, seeking desperately to connect with…there! She had it! Black and green whipped around her mental image. Her body shuddered in the earth plane, but Willow was unaware of it. She would have been surprised to know that the black mist was quite visible to human eyes, and wrapped around her body.

***

Dawn was sitting in Spanish class when the door opened and a man in a suit appeared in the threshold. “Dawn Summers?”

Dawn wanted to sink into the floor. Instead she lifted her chin and said, “Yes?” The class was murmuring and whispering. Dawn looked around coldly.

“Come with me, please, Miss Summers.” He gestured to the hallway.

She slid her chair back and winced as it made a loud scraping noise against the floor. After the door had shut behind her she said, “What, am I in trouble or something?”

The man grimaced, “There’s someone here to see you.”

“Who? And why’d you make me leave class? That’s weird.”

“Miss Summers, let me assure you, I know less than you do. The principal asked me to escort you to the office. I wasn’t given the particulars.”

Dawn made a face. “Whatever. I have a test tomorrow, you know.”

He led her to the office that said, ‘Vice Principal’ on the door. He opened the door for her and closed it without entering.

“Oh,” Dawn said, surprised. “What are you doing here?”

Buffy did not look happy. “You didn’t think I’d show up? You think I wasn’t worried sick when I woke up to an empty house this morning?”

“It wasn’t empty, you were with Spike.” Dawn pointed out.

“Dawn.” Buffy said warningly.

“Well you were! And you didn’t care that I had to go to school. You don’t care about anything except yourself! I tried to wake you up, and you said you were gonna be out in a minute. I waited ten more and then I left.” She smirked. “After all, I didn’t want to be late for school.”

Buffy gathered what little patience she had left. “Dawn, what’s wrong with you? I slept through the snooze button. God, I almost lost you last week. Again. Spike told me that Drusilla was this close to serving you up as a ‘happy meal’. Then I wake up, and you’re…just gone. Do you have any idea what that did to me?”

“You don’t understand anything,” Dawn said. “I feel like I don’t have anything anymore. Mom is dead. All of my friends are dead. And the one person who I was getting close with… wants nothing to do with me.” Dawn stepped closer to her sister and whispered harshly, “And all these…monsters…keep trying to kill me. It’s just a matter of time before…” She had to stop because her throat was too tight. Before one of them succeeds, her mind finished.

Buffy felt all her anger drain out. Dawnie was hiding all this from her? “You have me. You’ll always have me, Dawn.”

Dawn opened her mouth, and then closed it. She shook her head. “I just can’t right now.” And she opened the office door and ran out, streaking by the man who had escorted her.

That went great, Buff. Any other problems you’d like to solve today? She sank into a chair, with her hands covering her face. How did things suddenly get so out of control? She might be the Slayer, but she wasn’t even twenty-one. “Mom,” she whispered. “I wish you were here.”

***

She ran out of the school without looking back. The only bad moment she had was when she saw Spike’s car. She could recognize those blacked out windows from a mile away. It’s daytime. He can’t come after me, even if he did see me. She didn’t want to push her luck though. If he had to, he’d face the light and come after her. He was parked down at the corner. Thinking quickly, Dawn twisted her hair up into a half ponytail. It made her hair look so much shorter. If Spike was looking for her, he’d be looking for long hair.

She walked quickly down the sidewalk, without looking back. She didn’t know where she was going. She just wanted to be away from here. After awhile, Dawn felt a sense of calmness come over her. She risked a glance behind; sure that Buffy was going to be standing right there. Nothing. Whew. She can move so fast when she wants to. Now, what was she supposed to do for the rest of the day? She was almost back to the row of shops that ran through town. There was the Magic Box all the way down at the end of the street. Definitely not going THERE, she thought. Dawn crossed the street. Maybe I’ll just keep on walking. I’ll know where I’m supposed to be when I get there.

***

The cuffs were tight around her wrists and ankles. Should be used to it by now, Faith thought as she waited for her visitor. She was sitting in a wooden chair, craning her neck to see if she could catch a glimpse of anyone she recognized coming down the corridor. It would have been much easier without the bulletproof glass in front of her. All she had been told was that a visitor was coming. It couldn’t be Angel. He had just been there a few days ago, and while he did make the effort to see her at least every couple of weeks, it was too early for him to be back. Besides, she thought bleakly, it’s not like I have a lot of friends. She let her lids close over her dark eyes. Being in prison was like balancing on a tightrope and having other people try to knock you off at random intervals. Her strength had quickly made it known that she was no one’s business but her own. Some of the other inmates had thought her to be an easy mark, at first. Then, when Faith had started getting attacked, she fought back efficiently and effectively. All of her attackers had been able to walk… well, limp away from the fights. As time went by, they started to leave her alone, which was how Faith liked it. That’s what she told herself, anyway. A sharp rap at the window startled her and her eyes flew open. There in front of her was the last person Faith had ever expected to see.

Giles.

“Buffy? Is she-”

“She’s fine.” the Englishman replied. He reached into his coat pocket and brought out a small handkerchief. “I’ve been sent here by the Council of Watchers.” He paused and proceeded to clean his glasses. When he looked up he was surprised to see all color had drained out of Faith’s face.

“I’d rather die in here, than go with those bastards again. I’ll kill anyone who tries to force me-”

“By the power vested in me by the Council of Watchers, I hereby reinstate you to the title of Slayer, with all the rights and privileges thereto.”

“Huh?”

***

It was twelve forty five in the afternoon. Faith knew this, because she had looked at the round clock on the wall of the guard’s station before she walked out of the prison with Giles. She wanted to remember the exact moment her life changed again. She knew this was a turning point, she just didn’t know what she was going to turn into. Keys and door, she thought. For so long all the doors were locked, all my keys lost. Now, poof! All of the sudden it’s like I have a chance again. Giles cleared his throat and looked expectantly at her. Faith realized that she had been staring up at the top of the high fence that ran around the facility.

“This way, Faith”, he said. “My car’s over here.”

It was frightening how quickly life moved on the outside. She had forgotten that. Behind the barbed wire and walls, each minute passed like a lifetime. She was currently the passenger in Giles’ tiny red car. The top was down and the highway wind whipped through her long dark hair. Her face was scrubbed clean of any makeup, and her cheeks were pink from the sun for the first time in…a long time, she thought, and sighed.

She looked over at Giles. He was staring at the road, not looking at her. “Do you still hate me?” she asked.

“What?”

“Do you still hate me? I can accept that you got me out of jail free, without the card even. But I have to know what I’m walking into. I have to know if…things can ever be…just forget it. Forget I said anything.” Faith turned her face toward the window.

“Faith, hate is a very strong word. I don’t hate you, but …”

“The others do,” she finished. “Can’t say I blame them.” She was studying her nails with great concentration. The nails were bitten to the quick and they bled sometimes. The cuticles were pretty ragged. Maybe now that she was out, things could be different.

“I’m not the same as I used to be,” Faith stated quietly. “Angel…he made me see some things. Clearly, for the first time.” She swallowed. “Everything that happened with Buffy and me…most of it was my fault.”

Giles couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This behavior was a marked change from when he had known the girl. Then again, years had gone by, and she had been through some pretty traumatic experiences. It had a way of maturing a person. He had seen it in Buffy. “So you…regret siding with the Mayor and plotting to have thousands of people killed?” These were harsh questions, he knew, but Giles needed to know the answers. He desperately wanted to be able to count on Faith if the coming crisis was as bad as expected.

“When it was happening, it felt like the Mayor was the only person who gave a damn about me. It felt like he cared about me, just because I was me.” Her voice was very soft. “He treated me like you treat Buffy.” Faith lifted her eyes and looked at Giles. “Like a daughter.”

Giles took a deep breath. He had had no idea that Faith had been envious of his relationship with Buffy. He had always assumed that she was jealous of Buffy. He had never imagined his attentions mattered at all to her. Wesley had been her Watcher…oh dear lord. Wesley had treated Faith like a trained animal, not like a person.

“I know I’ve done things. I can’t take them back, and I have to find some way to live with them.”

“Faith, you once said to Buffy that you didn’t care. I have to know, for everyone’s safety, is that still true?” Giles gripped the steering wheel tightly. He glanced at the girl to see that her head was lowered, the hair hanging down and hiding her face. She said something, but he couldn’t hear it. “What? What did you say?”

“God! I said I cared!” She glared at him. Then the corner of her lips quirked and for the first time, Giles could see a spark in her eyes. “I care, Giles. I said before, I was trying to find some way to live with what I’ve done. I meant it.”

Giles grinned. “You don’t know how happy it makes me to hear that.”

“So, what’s the deal? Are you gonna have two Slayers again? Buffy’ll love that.”

“Actually,” he began.

“Wait. I know Wesley was my Watcher before, but he’s in L.A. now, and he would never take me back as a Slayer. I’d rather have it be you anyway.”

“Faith,” Giles tried again.

She was chewing on the corner of her thumb. “Beside, you already know my, my past so that shouldn’t be an issue. Right?” she sounded hopeful.

“I’m not going to be your Watcher, Faith.”

Faith shook her head. “Well, who else would take a Slayer like me?”

“The council has assigned a new Watcher for you who will be doing the primary coordination of your activities and training. I will be your Watcher’s supervisor, so to speak.”

“A new Watcher? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

***

It was alive, Willow knew. She had opened her eyes and seen it all over her body. Her first instinct was to scream, but she was afraid of getting the stuff inside of her. It was bad enough that it was touching her skin like…like bugs. She couldn’t have been more disgusted than if spiders were crawling all over her. And the way it was making her feel! The thicker the mist became, and it was getting worse each second, the more rage built up inside of her. Willow tried to think of a spell to make this stuff go away, but she couldn’t. Someone help me, she thought. Okay, maybe if I can think of some good things.

Xander as a little boy, doing the snoopy dance. The first time she’d kissed Oz. Hanging out with Buffy at the Bronze. Tara. She was so beautiful. And it was like she never realized it. She was gentle and kind. She had been willing to sacrifice her happiness for me. She was going to let me have Oz again, if that’s what I wanted. She was so…happy.

Then it was like someone had changed the channel in her mind, and her thoughts twisted. Tara’s lifeless body. Buffy lying about Spike. Seeing Oz with that bitch. Rage. Power leaping into her, so strong it could fuse doors and windows shut. Anger. Hot fury rising up, wanting to explode, needing an outlet for destruction.

Willow felt the blackness swirl around her like a tornado’s force. This rage fed upon itself. The more she thought about it the stronger it got until she wanted to casually reach out with her magic and demolish anything in her path. She flicked her fingers outward and watched as the punching bag flew backwards, breaking the chain that held it suspended. It landed against the far wall, raising a cloud of dust.

She saw the room through a black haze. The energy was welling up in her again, seeking release. It was becoming painful, trying to hold it back. And it felt good to let it go. Oh, that was the most shameful part. It felt so good to just let her rage fly everywhere, without care for consequence. Her arm made a sweeping motion, and cracks started to appear in the walls. The ground was faintly rumbling. More, she wanted more. She still had so much rage, so much power…

The room around her was disappearing. It was fading out, and then coming back. Enough of Willow was left in the blackness, that she wondered, why exactly was that happening? That sliver of humanity was quickly fading. It was being replaced by…by what?

More energy was being called up through her. It was using her like a portal, channeling the energy and focusing it through Willow’s body. The next time the training room came back into view she gasped. There were chunks of the ceiling scattered all over the floor. Huge holes in the walls gaped at her. The windows were shattered and glass was everywhere. And that’s when she realized for the first time, exactly how much trouble she was in.

***

Xander was sore from sitting all morning. And that funky feeling was getting worse. He felt like there was something nibbling at the edges of his mind. Anya was quietly poring over reference books at the table. She had hung up a sign in the shop window this morning that read: CLOSED FOR INVENTORY. Although she had grumbled about the loss of profit for the day the whole time she’d made the sign. Buffy still hadn’t shown up. She’d called and said that she was on her way, though.

“I’ll be right back,” he told his girlfriend. Anya nodded, but didn’t look up.

He stepped around her chair and headed for the back of the store where the restrooms were. He paused outside the training room. He looked around and then pressed his ear to the door. Nothing. Well, there was no reason he couldn’t check on Willow. She was his best friend. He had every right to be concerned. He raised his hand but before he knocked, he heard a crash. “Will! You all right in there?”

There was something seriously wrong. He made a fist and pounded on the door. “Willow!” he shouted. “Open this door. Right now!” He could hear things sliding across the floor in there, and it sounded like a wrecking ball was going crazy behind the door. But it was when the building started to shake that Xander got really nervous. He could hear the sound of glass shattering. It sounded so loud that he instinctively ducked, before he realized, Duh, the door’s there.

“Xander, what’s going on in there?” Anya was standing there holding onto the corner for support. The rumbling was getting louder.

“Get back,” he said. “If this is a real earthquake then you need to be under a table or something. Go! Get under the table in the front.”

“What about you?” she shouted. The din from inside the training room was getting worse.

“I’ll be fine, just GO!”

The ex-demon ran back to the front of the store and quickly huddled under the round table.

“Willow!” he shouted again. He looked around for something to use as a battering ram on the door. He wondered if he could get to the register, where Giles hung all the shop keys, without getting killed. Screw it he thought. Going anyway. Xander made his way as carefully as he could, which meant, not very. He tripped over a chair, which was suddenly thrown in front of him. Finally, he got the key ring from its hook.

“Anya, which one for the training room?” She quickly picked out the correct one. It was oddly shiny, he noticed. Then he was back in front of the door. He fumbled with the key for an eternity before somehow fitting it into the keyhole.

The door was jerked opened from the inside before he even turned the key. “I can not be disturbed,” Willow said flatly. She seemed to be about a foot taller than normal.

The ground was still shaking as Xander stared at his friend. This wasn’t Willow he realized. She was mostly blocking out the doorway, so there was no way to get in. I’ll have to charge her, he thought. “Oof!” he exclaimed as her arm shot into his chest. He hadn’t even made his move yet.

He tried to recover his footing but Not-Willow was advancing toward him. She gripped his throat in a crushing grip. Xander clawed at the hands at his neck, but it was no use. The glamour was magically stronger than he was. He couldn’t breathe. Time slowed down and Xander thought about how funny it was that he was going to die with his friends not twenty feet away. The world started to go dark. Seconds before he passed out he saw a cloudy shape behind the glamour. White hands touched either side of Not-Willow’s face. And then the glamour was gone. Xander gasped for breath as the world started to come back into focus. The white smoke swirled around him once and then vanished.

And then he remembered. Willow. Oh, God, no… He got to his feet and squinted into the training room. Debris was everywhere. Plaster and sheetrock hung in tatters and the hardwood was barely visible under a thick layer of dust. He knew where Willow was supposed to be because there was a blob of black and green mist in the middle of the room. But Willow was nowhere to be seen.

***

There was nothing but the black, now. It didn’t seem real that this could be happening. She could still feel the rage swirling all about her, although it seemed like it had distanced itself from her. She sensed it, but it wasn’t an emotion that she was currently experiencing. Willow’s terror was pretty much blotting out everything else. Except the sound of her breathing. She could still hear that. It was roaring in her ears. Breathe in. Out. She could feel her lungs rise and expand with each inhalation.

Suddenly, she was seeing herself from outside her body. She watched as time slowed down. The black tendrils of mist had stopped writhing, and were motionless in midair. A wide shaft of sunlight hung in the room where the windows had been broken. The individual motes of dust were hanging in the sunbeam, like the pause button had been pushed on reality. Breathe in. Out.

Tara was here, Willow knew. She could feel the essence of her dead lover all around her. She could smell her. The peach scent of her hair. The combination of rose and lavender oil. Willow’s eyes drifted shut, and in this moment that stretched out endlessly she could feel Tara’s spirit join with hers. It was the same thing that happened every time the two witches had joined hands to do magic. Their thoughts, their focus, were one.

We think the same thoughts, Tara’s spirit whispered. Strength poured into Willow, but this time there was no rage, no anger, no hate. There was only this quiet determination, and peace.

Before time started on its course again, Willow sensed something. Something that Tara’s spirit did not want to share. The nature of the link allowed no secrets, though. There was no more hiding from harsh realities. This was her own fault. In her grief, Willow had pulled her dark emotions up to the surface in order to make it through each day. In the same way she had once attracted the attention of a vengeance demon, she now attracted this vortex of hate and fury. Willow had essentially been feeding its life force, and it was now almost as strong as the two witches combined. I did this. What have I done? she thought in despair. She prayed quickly: Goddess, hear and bless the beasts and singing birds, and guard with tenderness small things that have no words. Isis, hear me. Lend me your strength. By the power of three times three, as I will it so shall it be. Blessed-

Then something happened. Her head snapped up, then down again. Her eyes glowed white for an instant and she felt like she’d been hit by lightning. There was a sizzling sound and the smell of burning hair. Light flashed, so bright it hurt her eyes, even though they were squeezed tightly shut.

When Willow opened her eyes again, there was a gentle white mist drifting around her like early morning fog. The last remnants of the black energy were dissipating as she watched. Her jaw dropped as she surveyed the damage to the training room. She could see the wood beams that were holding up the building. That wasn’t good. There was a huge chunk missing from the ceiling where Buffy’s training bag had hung. The bag itself was nowhere to be seen…oh, wait. Yes, it was still intact. Mostly.

“Will?” Xander’s voice sounded funny.

Willow turned around, and gasped when she saw her friend. His neck was swollen and purple, the telltale marks of strangulation clearly visible. “Xander…” This is my fault, too. “Xander,” she said. Her voice broke, and she started to cry. She covered her face with her hands.

Xander went and sat down next to her, drawing her into an embrace. She wrapped her arms tight around his back and buried her face in his shoulder. “Shhh. I’m here.” He said. “You’re all right.”

“I almost killed you,” she cried. “I’m a terrible person.”

“Not terrible, Will. Just…” Actually, he couldn’t think of a phrase that was much better than that. “Misguided?”

“She was here, Xander. She was with me.” Willow closed her eyes. “I felt her.”

“Um… she? What she?”

“Tara. Her spirit came to me. I was stuck in the dark. I couldn’t find the way out.” Tears steadily streamed down her face.

“I was coming for you,” Xander said. “I ran into a roadblock, but I was coming.” He felt the extra hard squeeze around his ribs and smiled a little. He looked up to see Anya in the doorway. He could see the worry in her eyes. He cocked his head in Willow’s direction and raised his eyebrows at his girlfriend.

Anya mouthed ‘Are you okay?’

Xander gave a slight nod. ‘You’? he motioned back.

She had understood his unspoken request. She looked pained as she noticed all the damage, but nodded and left quietly.

God, I love that girl, Xander thought.

Willow began to extricate herself from Xander’s arms. She wiped at her eyes and nose. “I have to tell you something.”

“What is it?”

“Something happened the day I locked you guys in here. I…Amy’s gone. At first I thought she just got out of her cage but…I think I did something to her. Oh, Xander. I think I killed her.” She continued, “I was so angry that day. It wasn’t just about Buffy and Spike. After I left here, I went back to my room and tried to meditate. I was trying to…to contact Tara.” She paused to check Xander’s reaction.

“I live on a hellmouth, Will. I’m not shocked yet.”

“Then, I got all filled up with hate, and this force just came out of me. I didn’t realize until later that Amy was even gone. I thought…I thought that Miss Kitty ate her.” Willow’s face crumpled again. “I didn’t mean to do it!”

Xander didn’t know what to say. He wanted to tell her that everything would be all right. But, as he looked around at the state of the training room, he wasn’t so sure. “We’ll figure something out. We always do.”

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