Disclaimer: I own neither Joss's wonderful creations, nor the classic works of J.R.R, alas...§▬§▬§O Rose, thou art sick
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy
- 'The Sick Rose' by William Blake§▬§▬§
It was a hot summer.
The air was heavy and wet, the fleeting relief of rain coming only at night, the rising sun evaporating the fresh-fallen liquid and adding to the oppressive humidity.
Willow sighed, fanning herself with her hand, and wished that Buffy were here. She had not seen her friend since that night at the hospital. No one had seen hide nor hair of the blonde Slayer since the defeat of Angelus and Acathla.
Giles was off searching for her again. This time the rumors that drew him were from a small town in Washington, Seahaven or something. A small, sad smile quirked the redhead's lips, Buffy was usually the one who had trouble with names. It was a trademark, one of those obnoxious-yet-endearing things that everyone missed.
Swinging her legs idly as she sat on the edge of a stone fence, Willow wondered what her summer would have been like if her spell hadn't gone wrong, if it had been Angel Buffy went to, and not Angelus, if the vampire could have been saved…
If, if, if, there was nothing she could do about it now. But oh, if there was, she would do anything
to fix this.
Soft rustling drew her attention and she eyed the dark cemetery before her apprehensively, fingering the balloon filled with Holy Water that sat beside her. A small cat wandered out of the dark, and Willow slowly relaxed, the vaguely sphere-shaped object dropping from her hand, letting her fingers unclench themselves from the rubbery material. Xander was the one who had thought up the Holy-Bombs, as he dubbed them, an ingenious idea. They were useful, but unwieldy, not something Buffy could ever take on patrol.
That is, if Buffy ever patrolled again…
These thoughts darkened Willow's already cloudy mood. She leapt lightly off the fence and headed for home, maybe a quick call to Oz would cheer her up… but he was in Las Angeles, touring with the Dingoes. Darn!
Grumbling to herself, the redhead let herself into the dark house. Her parents were in London, touring their latest collaboration, 'Sugar and Teen Depression.' Xander had been a real lifesaver during the research for THAT little piece of work. The jelly donuts at those late-night research parties had been the only thing that kept her from screaming.
Her room was white and clean but she grimaced, saddened by the still-empty fish tank. She missed Angel, he was always so nice. Not that she could share that with anyone. Giles was still hurting emotionally from the loss of Ms. Calendar, and he had only just been able to take out the stitches from Angelus's final 'hurrah.' And Xander… her bestest buddy since kindergarten had had it out for the vamp since day one. Her boyfriend Oz was too new to the gang to know Angel all that well, though admittedly he was a fantastic listener.
Where had she gone wrong with the spell? Xander and Oz had told her about the weird bit when her eyes had gone black and she'd begun speaking in a strange language, but she didn't remember any of it. All she could recall was a lingering feeling of darkness that she assumed was from her brush with the demon.
"Maybe if I could remember what I did wrong, I could…" She sighed unhappily, there was nothing she could do, Angelus and Angel were forever out of reach. On the other hand, "If I remember what went wrong, I can keep something like that from happening again!" Brightening considerably at this thought, Willow went to her closet and began to root through the small pile of magic books she had hidden there.
Flipping through to the index, she frowned in disappointment: there was no memory-revealing spell listed there. She was about to shut the book when something caught her eye.
"Rosemary, a garden and cooking herb commonly associated with memory," her eyes twinkled with excitement, "Perfect!"§▬§▬§
The herb was easy to find, her mother kept a nice garden in their backyard, for purely aesthetic value of course. Luckily for Willow, Sheila happened to like the way rosemary looked. The small bundle smelled faintly of mint, a homey scent that made her think of Xander and Jesse.
Back upstairs again, the redhead attempted to stifle a yawn, she should really try and get something done before she went to bed. Setting the herb down on her neat sheets, Willow bowed her head, sitting before the bundle Indian-style.
"Goddess hear my plea, open the veiled door, release my memory!"
Her eyes shut, the untrained Wicca could not see the shadow that passed over the moon. Sibilant whispers seemed to come from the corners of the room, but Willow could not hear them over the sound of her own breathing…
There are some things not meant to be disturbed, and on the Mouth of Hell, the barriers between worlds grows thin and stretched.Like butter scraped over too much bread.
After a few more minutes, she frowned, frustrated. "Well, that
didn't work," she muttered, stretching her legs out across the white sheets. Her mouth gaped wide in an enormous yawn, "Time for sleep, I guess…" Changing into her pajamas was the work of a moment, turning back to the bed she stopped and considered the rosemary.
"What to do with you…" she tapped her finger against her lips, "Maybe it takes a little longer to kick in." She slipped the herbs into a velvet satchel - one that had once held marbles - and placed the bag under her pillow before settling in for a good night's rest.§▬§▬§
She woke hours late. The sun was already high overhead, it was lunchtime already?
Brunch was a bagel and a small salad, using a little of the rosemary from last night for seasoning. It gave the veggies a nice spring-like taste.
Deciding that she really did NOT feel like braving the heat, the redhead decided to stay nice and cozy in the air conditioning of her home. Xander would probably call later, anyways.
Her clothing shifted as she stood, making a soft whispering sound, and suddenly she remembered…
Her dreams from last night.Huh,
Willow thought, Not exactly what I was shooting for, but it’s a good first try!
Dreams had always been scattered and vague for her, it was a pleasure to finally have something substantial to recall. She remembered wandering through a dark gray mist unable to find any landmarks but the soft whispers that drew her forward.Come…
Come… to me…
A frown furrowed her brow, what did that mean? Where were her parents when she… no, Willow hastily amended that thought before it could be fully voiced, she NEVER wanted her parents to analyze her dreams:
They might take away her sugar again!§▬§▬§
That night Willow dreamed again, a dark dream full of death and disturbing gore. She dreamed a battle waged between two great armies. One composed of monstrous creatures, things she didn't think even Buffy could take. The other full of beautiful shining figures and men.
The scary monsters seemed to be losing… until a figure appeared from deep within their ranks. He was tall and broad, obviously their leader, his armor was black and shining like tarnished silver. When Willow looked at him, he looked back.
Hazel eyes met silver-black with a gasp… and she woke up.
Wheezing for breath she lay on her bed for a minute, trying to gather herself, "What the heck was that?"§▬§▬§
"So you used some herbs."
"Are you SURE it was rosemary? Not something… else? I mean, your parents aren't exactly the hippie-ish type, but you never know, behind closed doors-"
"Xander! My parents do not smoke weed!" Willow giggled, twisting the phone cord through her fingers, "Besides, it's my house too, there are no 'closed doors.'"
"Well then maybe the stuff got Hellmouthified."
"Yeah… hey! Buffy's not the only one who's allowed to make up words!"
Willow was silent for a moment, "I miss her, Xan."
"So do I, Wills," he replied sadly, but the redhead caught an undercurrent of anger in his tone. She couldn't blame him for it, a part of her felt like the blonde had just abandoned them, left them to their Hellmouthy fate.
"Giles will find her."
Xander sighed, "I know Wills, but I don't think she wants
to be found."
Willow didn't reply, this was an ongoing debate between them: Xander insistent that Giles's searching was useless, while the redhead held tightly to the belief that Buffy could be convinced
"Been doin' any patrolling lately?"
"Nah, not much point, is there? I mean, Angie cleaned house before he tried to raise Acathla."
"Yeah," Willow yawned, "I need to go, get some sleep."
"Sleep? It's only eight o'clock!"
"I've been up since… well, since!"
"Wills, maybe you should talk to Giles…"
"I'm ok, I'm
ok. Besides, he's busy."
"Too busy for something potentially Hellmouthy weird?"
"No, but... this isn't Hellmouthy weird, just Willowy-weird. I'm fine, Xan, and if I'm NOT fine, it's nothing a good ol' bout of Snoopy-dancing won't fix."
"If you're sure…"
"I'm sure, night Xander."
"G'night, Wills. Sleep tight, don't let the vampires bite."
The dial tone sounded, signaling that Xander had gotten off the line. Willow stretched languidly, she hadn't been able to shake a feeling of bone-deep weariness. Her whole day had felt like one long fever-dream.
Nothing to worry about, she'd just get up from the couch, get herself a nice, warm cup of tea and take.. her… temperature…..
Her eyes fluttered closed, hand relaxing until the phone hit the floor with a soft thunk as she slipped gently into the world of dreams.§▬§▬§
She was deep in a stone fortress. The black rock shone like obsidian, twisted and tortured into unnatural shapes that were grotesque and beautiful all at once. It hurt the eye and heart to see them, like watching a lightning storm of acid rain.
She wandered from room to room, the silence so thick that her bare feet echoed against the floor as she slipped through the castle, searching for the source of the whispers that crowded at the edge of her conscious mind.
At last she came to a long hall, different from all the other rooms in that it had a splash of color in it. A bright red fire danced and flickered in a hearth sitting at the end of the room opposite the door Willow had used.
She paused for a moment to stare at the fireplace. It was made of the same glass-like material that decorated the rest of the castle, but this was no abstract work. The fireplace had been fashioned by a master craftsman to look like the gaping mouth of some great beast. The fire burned in it's mouth, the teeth that ringed the blaze made what should have been inviting warmth into a sort of warning. The orange and red light flickered off glass shaped to make scales. Though Willow tried she could not find a name in her mind to describe the creature, it was like nothing she'd ever seen before.
It was most definitely NOT something she would like to have the opportunity to see first-hand.
A chuckle sounded from behind her, and Willow jumped, startled. Spinning she looked up…
and up into the face of one of the tallest men she had ever seen. He was at least seven and a half feet tall! Long black hair was pulled into a loose queue at the nape of his neck, and fierce dark eyes inspected her with amusement.
Willow flushed to the roots of her hair, he was beautiful… and frightening.
"No," he murmured, and his voice was like velvet, soft and soothing, "You would not want to meet one of my hounds."
The redhead blanked for a moment before realizing she must have spoken her comment about the fireplace creature aloud. "Oh," she felt the blush rising to heretofore unheard-of heights, "Your hounds?"
He smiled, revealing very white, even teeth, "Yes, they guard my lands, they are fearsome creatures."
She gestured behind her, "Is that fireplace to scale?" At his nod her eyes widened, "Then I believe you."
His lips twitched as if she had just said something very amusing. "Come," he held out an arm for her, "I have been wanting to show you my home."
"You - you have?" Willow asked uncertainly, this was a very strange
dream, but she knew it for a dream. She frowned, she wasn't supposed
to be sleeping yet, there was something she was supposed to be doing, because she-
"I have," he smiled at her, a slow secretive expression and despite herself she returned the gesture. Though her grin was far more open than his.
Taking his hand, she inquired, "What did you want to show me?"
His grin widened, and Willow was struck with the knowledge that there was something a little too… sharp about his teeth.
"Everything, my dear. Everything."§▬§▬§
Willow woke feeling even more tired than she had been when she went to sleep. She sent a fleeting glance towards the clock before returning to it with shock evident in her eyes.6:35 P.M.
it read. She had slept for 22 hours straight.
She felt alarm bubbling up inside of her, but something seemed to push it back. She shrugged off the knowledge that normal people just did not
sleep entire days away, and tried to remember what it was exactly that she had meant to do before she went to bed, er, couch
Oh yes, that was right: eat and take her temperature.
Rising slowly, Willow reluctantly made herself a sandwich and a glass of milk. She just wasn't all that hungry really, after all, she'd already eaten with…
She frowned, but that was in her dream. It didn't count as actual food
. But it felt like it counted, she felt as if she'd eaten a full meal, no, a feast
Glancing down at her ham-on-rye she wrinkled her nose, tossing it in the trash she felt the need to apologize, "Sorry, you're just not as tasty as the roast duck I had earlier."
Next on the agenda… she was supposed to take her temperature. The thermometer was easy to find, sitting between the aspirin and the emergency medical kit her she had bought after her first brush with yellow-eyed death.
She stuck it under her tongue and waited. A few minutes later it beeped reluctantly, she pulled it out with a sigh of relief: 96.2 degrees.
Willow frowned, "Well, at least I don't have a fever."
She yawned, and scratched at her hair idly, she hadn't showered in at least two days. There, that was next on the list of Things To Do. Passing the answering machine on the way up the stairs she was surprised to see that she had eight messages.
She debated the merits of delaying her shower, at last pushing the button.
"Hello? Hello? Willow, this is Giles. Xander has informed me that you have been having some rather odd dreams of late…" A long burst of static followed, Willow frowned, it sounded almost like music, and she could have sworn that she recognized it from one of her dreams… When Giles's voice picked up again, she could not help but feel as if she'd missed something vitally important, "… by Thursday at the latest, alright? Call Xander if you have any more trouble. Goodbye."
"Willow? It's your mother. The tour has been extended another week. Your father and I are wiring you three hundred dollars, remember to pay the electric bill on the first of the month. Goodbye."
"Wills? C'mon, Wills it's ten in the morning, I know you're not asleep. Maybe you're out in the garden getting more of those 'herbs!' Anyways, call me back as soon as you get this message, ok?"
"Wills? It's eleven o'clock, just calling to make sure you aren't dead, call me back, bestest bud o'mine…"
Four more messages from Xander followed, an increasing tone of worry in each and every one. Willow shook her head irritably, why was he getting so worked up? She could take care of herself!
She called his house quickly, waiting through three rings before she could leave a message, "Xander? I'm fine! Sheesh, for somebody so upset about a few missed phone calls, YOU'RE not exactly easy to get in touch with! I'll talk to you later, oh and could you tell me why…" She trailed off frowning as she tried to remember what she had been about to ask Xander, something about an explanation? Or no, wasn't it something to do with Giles?
Oh well. "Bye, Xan, love you," she muttered vaguely to finish the message. If she wasn't so darn tired
she could concentrate more, she was sure of it.
Her shower was long and sleepy, she felt as if every movement was being made inn a bathtub of cool molasses. Three times she had to stick her face under the hot water to rinse soap out of her eyes, because three times her head had begun to loll forward as she fought the losing battle with sleep.
"So… tired…" she yawned, looking forward to cool sheets and a long rest. Her lips quirked, it was funny how a few good dreams changed your whole perspective on a simple little thing like sleep.
One towel swathed through her hair, another wrapped tightly around her body, Willow dropped onto her bed and into her oh-so-intriguing dreams.§▬§▬§
He was right there, waiting for her.
"Lady Willow," he bowed, offering his arm again, she took it smiling softly as he led her through one of the many passages that turned his home into a dark maze.
"Lord…" She frowned, then smiled up at him a touch playfully, "You know, you've never actually told me your name."
He was silent for a minute, "You may call me Sauron."
She nodded solemnly, no explanation needed to impart the honor she was being given with this knowledge. "Where are we going?"
"I thought that you might want a small repast before I show you the library…" At her sharp squeal of excitement he smirked, "… Or perhaps we should forget the meal?"
"No, no, food is good, I forgot to eat before coming here."
He led her into a long hall, similar to the one where she had first encountered him. Gentlemanly, he pulled out the chair to the right of the head of the table for her before settling himself into his customary seat.
As soon as they were seated the food appeared. No servers, no waiting, it was just there, steaming and delicious.
Willow's mouth watered. Watching as Sauron served her roast beef and stewed vegetables caramelized in their own juices. Certain little things that he did were so very old-fashioned, yet on him she found them to be endearing. Serving her food, pulling out chairs for her… a girl could get used to this!
She savored her first bite with eyes closed as she hummed in gastronomic pleasure.
She did not see the gleam of hunger and triumph in his gaze.
She did not see those dark eyes flare red-orange-gold for just the barest of moments.
When Willow at last looked up, Sauron was as engaged with his meal as she had been with her own but a moment before.
"Does it please you?"
"Oh, yes, very much!"
"Good," he smiled brightly at her, "Do you like it here?"
She nodded, "Yes."
He glanced around at the black stone that surrounded them. Even the fire flickering in the grate could lend no warmth to the cold, stark walls of his castle. His dark eyes flicked back to study her. This girl, this mortal child had drawn his attention with her foolish forays into magic, and kept it with her innocence.
Corruption had always been his favorite game.§▬§▬§