It was cold. That was the first thing Willow Rosenberg noticed disembarking the plane at London International Airport. She shivered. Spring in England was way colder than winter in Sunnydale. Giles wasn't kidding when he said to dress warmly. And that's pretty much all he's said to her since they left California. His attitude was at least as frosty as the chill air surrounding her.
Their touchdown time was 2 a.m, London time. That means it's 6 p.m, yesterday, back home. If she could even call it that anymore. A sharp wind blew and Willow shivered again. She pulled her coat tighter, observing Giles with a detached fascination. If this were any other day, she would've found it cute. Despite how angry or disappointed he might be with her; as a gentleman, he insisted he carry both their bags. But while he was lifting them, Giles let out a hiss of pain, before shrugging it off and getting underway. He's stuck to the ceiling, screaming in agony...
Willow flinched and shook the image from out of her head, guilt, remorse, and self-hatred building within her. She felt the need to say something to him. To... to apologize. But how could she even begin to apologize for what she's done. The words died in her throat. Besides, she honestly didn't think Giles would accept it. So instead, she trailed behind him in silent shame.
As they waited for their cab, Giles told her they needed to stay at his flat for a couple of days. Flat. They call it a flat in England. Willow once told Buffy "flat" was Giles for apartment... "Are we really gonna do this?" she asks disbelievingly, her face so heartbroken. Willow grins. "Come on! This is a huge deal for me! Six years as a side man, and now I get to be the Slayer." Her expression hardens. "A killer isn't a slayer. Being a slayer means something you can't conceive of." "Oh, Buffy. You really need every square inch of your ass kicked."
He snapped his fingers to regain her attention. The reason for the delay was that the Devonshire Coven weren't ready to receive them yet. They needed more time to prepare. Willow swallowed back tears. They were going to lock her up. The young woman nodded her understanding meekly. She deserved it.
The Watcher considered her for a moment, then said nothing else at all. Not at least until they arrived at his apartment complex. Then he started swearing.
The place was crawling with police! Not to mention at least two ambulances. The police were blocking off the front door to Giles' building. After they unloaded all their stuff and paid the cabbie, Giles ordered Willow to stay put while he went to find out what was going on.
She watched as two EMTs loaded a pair of corpses into the ambulances. One in each. Vaguely, she wondered if they were still called EMTs here. Her inner-Xander suggested they were called something silly, like "paddies", or something. She lashes out, and his head jerks to the side as if he's been hit. Three parallel cuts appear on his cheek, bloody as if scratched. He puts his hand up to them, looks at his fingers, then to her...
Giles came back and began speaking. A pair of homeless people were found dead in one of the apartments in his building. The police were saying they froze to death. Apparently, Spring seemed to have thawed them out enough so that everybody began to notice the smell.
So they waited. Soon, the police and the ambulances were gone and they were free to go in. Giles showed her to his room, saying that he'd stay on the couch. He asked her if she needed anything, she didn't, then shut the door.
Willow took in her surroundings. It was a nice room, with very nice furniture. Obviously there were a lot of books lying around. She read a few of the titles. Some of them were even magic books.
As if on cue, Giles opened the door, excused himself, collected the books, apologized terribly for the disturbance, then was gone.
She rolled her eyes. As if she'd actually open one right now. Sighing, the witch decided the only thing to do was try to sleep off her jet lag.
Willow dreams: The sun is shinning down on all their infinite tomorrows. She and Tara, together. They are playing with a little boy. He looks like his mommy, with blonde hair and blue eyes and the cutest little smile ever. The little boy is playing with a doggie. Willow goes to pet the doggie, but the doggie hides behind Tara in fear. Why is the doggie afraid of her? She goes to play with the boy, but the boy is crying. She wants to help the boy, but he does not want her to touch him. She is dirty. She is mean. She is wicked. Willow looks back to Tara to ask for help, but Tara is not there. Instead, there is the burned remains of a skinned puppy. Willow looks back to the boy to see if he's hurt, but he is not there. Instead, there is all of her friends, staring at her with condemning eyes. Buffy tells her she is going to pay for hurting the puppy. Giles tells her he is very ashamed of her. Dawn says she hates her. Oz says he is glad he left her. Anya says she should work with her. Cordelia says she always knew she was a skanky ho that killed people. Everybody looks at Cordelia. She shrugs and says it was obvious if you knew the signs. All of her friends hate her. All of her friends wish she would go away. But Xander hasn't said anything. What will Xander say? Everybody looks at Xander. He smiles at her. She smiles back, heart beating excitedly. Xander is her friend. Xander loves her. They will be best friends forever. He opens his mouth and says... "I wish you died instead of Jessie. He would never have become a murder."
Willow's eyes open and she begins to cry.
Yeah, sleeping was a really bad idea.
About half an hour later, Willow decided to try and eat something. Nothing heavy, just toast. She's pretty sure she can handle toast.
The clock on the microwave tells her it's now 5 a.m. She slept for two hours. Great. Willow opened the breadbasket and pulled out some potential toast. She glanced at the living room. Giles wasn't there. In fact, it looked like he hadn't been there at all.
What was going on? She set aside the bread and headed into the living room. The couch wasn't done up in any sheets. They were still on the coffee table next the books Giles took out of his room.
Willow checked the bathroom, the study, and the balcony, but there was no Giles. She's just about three seconds away from panicking when he comes through the front door. He sees what state she's in and offers apologies with a side of explanation.
Giles told her he could feel something supernatural about the deaths of the hobos and decided to investigate them.
Willow frowned and said she didn't feel anything of the sort. Of course, she acknowledged, her sense of magic was all out of whack. But wouldn't his have been too? After all, he used way, way, more mojo than he could handle safely. Even if it was all borrowed stuff.
Giles concedes that this might be true, and admits he only began to suspect otherworldly forces when the ghost of a homeless man walked through his wall and out the front door, smelling wretched and moaning piteously about the cold. He followed it as best he could, but when the phantasm passed through the door to another flat, and the owners refused to allow him entrance (Only crazies believe in ghosts!), Giles decided that he should find out all he could about the people that died.
He used his Council connections to get a copy of the police report. There are two definite victims. One Robert Langstrom and one Jessica Potter. Giles looked at photographs of the two corpses and neither of them resembled the ghost he saw.
Willow suggested that there might've been a third victim. Or maybe the ghost was unrelated, other than being a homeless person too.
Giles nodded. He too suspected something along the sort. The Council connections also enabled him to get detailed transcripts of the interviews the police took regarding the deaths. It seemed as though Langstrom and Potter were rarely seen out of each other's company. They were mainstays of the area, staying under the nearby bridge. Another local face was a man known only as Benny Smells.
A few weeks into Spring, a woman in the buildings across the street told police she saw Langstrom, Potter, and Benny Smells, trading drinks. She overheard them talking about finding someplace warmer, then headed towards Giles' apartments.
With this information, Giles investigated the flat the corpses were found in. There did appear to be evidence a third individual might have been there. Whether or not it was this Benny Smells person, is really pure conjecture.
During the day, he planned on going to a police sketch artist and describing to him the ghost, then bringing it about to people that knew Benny. If it does turn out to be him, exorcising this spirit should be much easier.
It was a good idea. Willow asked if there was anything she could do.
Giles stared at her for a long, long, minute. He shook his head no. It would be better, he decided, if she were to remain in the apartment for the duration of their stay.
Safer, Willow corrected in her head. Not better. What Giles really meant to say was he felt it would be safer if she stayed in because he still thinks she's dangerous.
He's probably right. She was being stupid! How can SHE help? She's just a no good, dirty, best friend beating, horrible-woman that threatens surrogate little sisters with unmaking! Dawn's eyes, so like Buffy's, widen in absolute fear when she realizes what Willow is talking about. "Willow... stop..." she pleads. The witch sneers mockingly. "Mom! Buffy! Tara! Waah! Come on," she says in exasperation. "Someone's gotta stop the carnage. It's time you went back to being a little energy ball." Dawn is backed against the wall, heart racing. Willow can feel that terror and revels in it, just a little, as her energy crackles throughout the room. When she speaks next, her voice echos with power. "No more tears, Dawnie."
Thank the Gods, Goddesses, anything even remotely resembling a deity, that Buffy arrived when she did! Because if she hadn't... she shuddered. Willow didn't even want to think about it.
Giles is looking down at her. A puzzled expression on his face. She glanced around. When did she sit?
He asks her if she's feeling all right.
Willow represses the urge to reply sarcastically. She's just been through losing the love of her life, murdering people, almost doing the same to her friends, and trying to end the world. Now she's reliving it with fun, full on acid flashbacks in 3-D and technicolor!
Yeah, she's just freaking ducky.
Of course, she doesn't say any of this. She doesn't say anything. All she does is nod her head and be quiet.
Giles sighs, excuses himself, and announces he's off to find them some breakfast. When he returns, Willow is taunted by the smell of deliciousness. There are eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, and pancakes! Screw toast! She's gonna have big girl food. After all, the last time she'd eaten, really eaten, was with... was with Tara.
There was breakfast in bed, preceded by one of the best nights of her life. And when the food was gone, she had one of the best mornings of her life. It was quickly followed by the worst afternoon ever. Willow flinches. There's something wet on her face. ...what? Tara looks at her questioningly. "Your shirt...?" she asks, puzzled, before falling to the ground, the light fading from her beautiful eyes.
Willow swallows back bile and does her best not to throw up all over the damned place. She got up and ran back into Giles' room. Had she looked back at him, she would've seen his keen eyes watching her very carefully.
The grief stricken young woman collapsed on the bed, sobbing. How could she even consider bacon at a time like this? Her Tara is dead. DEAD! And she's wanting bacon? God! How disgusting is that? How disgusting is SHE?
The bile rises again and Willow, unable to contain it this time, dashes though the door, almost barreling Giles over, and into the bathroom at what appears to be Slayer speeds.
She vomits her empty stomach into the toilet. Someone pulls back her hair. Willow looks over her shoulder. Giles is staring at her with such profound concern. He wraps his arms around her and holds tight. Again, she is unable to contain herself. Willow sobs, and sobs, and sobs into his chest as they sit on the cold tile floor.
An hour passes on that floor. Willow's sobs have turned into sniffles. "I thought you hated me," she whispered eventually.
"I couldn't even if I tried," he said confidently. "Not that I would ever try."
Willow pulled back so she could see his face. "I'm sorry, Giles. I'm so sorry I hurt you. I didn't mean to! I just... it... everything hurt so bad, and..."
Giles smiled soothingly. "There is no need for that, Willow. I know how you feel. How you felt, even. Remember, I wasn't always the calm, dashing, incredibly level headed man you see before you. I had my growing pains as well."
"Yes. And while I know my ill behavior did not get as out of hand as yours, I was still directly responsible for a man's death." Giles gave her shoulder a squeeze. "I learned from that mistake. I had to. And I'm sure you have learned from yours."
Willow swallowed, almost to the point of tears again. "But what if I didn't? I thought I did before when I quit using magic, but..." she paused. "What if I mess up again? Next time Xander might not be around to stop me!"
"The answer to that is simple, Willow." She looked at him, desperately waiting for his next words. "Don't mess up."
He chuckled. "It's like quitting cigarettes. You simply don't smoke them, and you've quit. The same as when you stopped magic. You just didn't use it any longer."
"I don't think that's an option for me anymore, Giles. I think I absorbed too much power to not use it."
"I tend to agree with you," Giles said. "And in regards to that, we'll wait and see what the Coven has to say. But that's not what I was talking about."
"Learn from your mistakes, Willow! You did before. You can again."
Willow shook her head. "But I don't know how! Not WITH the magic!"
"And that, dear girl, is why we are heading to the Devonshire Coven. Now, why don't you retire to my room and get some rest," he suggested, helping Willow to her feet.
She shook her head. "I don't wanna sleep. Bad dreams. You don't suppose there's a dreamless sleep potion, like in Harry Potter?"
"If there is, I haven't come across one."
Willow grimaced in disappointment.
After another few of hours of restless sleep, Willow emerged once again from Giles' bedroom. She found the man deeply engrossed in research on the couch. She wandered over and sat down next to him.
Willow didn't say anything. She just began to rifle through the books on his cocktail table.
"Bad dreams?" Giles asked. She nodded. "Did you want to talk about them?" She shook her head, still riffling. He stared at her with concern for a moment then stood up. "Well if you're not going to cooperate with me, then I have no choice but to put you to work."
Willow looked up at him in confusion.
Giles began to walk around his living room. "Willow, I want you to use your computer... thing, and research any history of this apartment complex pertaining to the supernatural. Afterwards, I would like you to take this drawing," he held up a sketch of an older man in his 40s, "and show it around. See if this is indeed this Benny Smells. I'm afraid I didn't have time to get to it today."
She frowned. "That can't be his real name." Her eyes widened in horror. "But what if it is?"
Giles smiled at her expression before continuing in his best librarian voice. "Excellent question, Willow. Find out. Oh, and you might want to start with the drawing at apt 4c. Apparently he's already visited them. They too noticed a foul odor, and heard his lamentation of the cold. They say he tried to grab one of them, but they managed to get away before he could."
"Why was he doing that?"
"I don't know." He gathered his a few of his things and headed for his room. "Wake me when you have something."
"What? Wait!" Willow cried out, panicked and getting to her feet. "Where are you going?"
Giles turned around. "To bed. It's 7 p.m." Willow gaped at him. "You've been asleep for roughly 14 hours. And I've been awake for much, much, longer than that."
"But, I don't remember!" she protested.
"Why should you?"
"GUILT!" she practically screamed. "I'm supposed to be all guilty and sleep deprived! Y'know, with the tossing and turning?"
He chuckled. "Willow, you've used an absurd amount of magic in the past few days. Of course you're going to sleep. Your body needs that sleep to recover. Guilt and nightmares can only keep you awake for so long."
Willow sat down again. Now that she thought about it, she did feel all rested and refreshed. It wasn't right! She shouldn't feel any kinds of good!
Giles walked back to her. "Willow. There is a spirit that is terrorizing the people here. They need our help. YOUR help. Put aside your feelings and get to work," he ordered sternly.
She nodded meekly.
It was more than a few hours later. Her laptop (Xander made Giles bring it for her.) was of little use. She couldn't find any trace, outside of a few personal blogs of people saying how much they hated the guy, and more than an a few really awful porn sights, of anybody named Benny Smells.
She considered hacking into the local law enforcement's computer databases, but decide against it. Without knowing more about what kind of systems they were using, it was more than she could safely do on her little laptop. Without magic anyway. And as far as she was concerned, the situation didn't merit that level of effort.
Or that level of risk.
Willow glared at the drawing. "Why the heck couldn't you be some kinda local celebrity? Or maybe a well documented oddity? I'd have settled for that." She sighed. "Great. Now I'm talking to pictures." Whatever. It's only really a problem if they start talking back.
Stranger things HAVE happened, her inner- Xander pointed out. Willow peered at the drawing of Benny Smells from out the corner of her eye, waiting to see if his lips moved.
After about a minute, she rolled her eyes at her own ridiculousness. Clearly, she needed some air.
The young witch grabbed her coat and went outside for a walk. If Giles said anything, she could just tell him she was out investigating or something.
She'd walked for about twenty minutes and was heading back, when she saw a little girl walking alone, in her PJs , on the grounds of the complex. It was way, way, way, to late for a kid to be out. Especially all by herself.
Willow headed towards her. She called out before she reached the girl so as not to startle her. The poor thing was crying, and obviously very scared.
"What's your name, sweetie? Mine's Willow."
"Carrie Rutherford," the girl answered, chattering.
Willow took off her coat and draped it over Carrie Rutherford's shoulders.
She waited a moment for her to warm up a bit before asking about what happened.
Carrie told her a smelly man walked into her room through a wall. She shouted for her momma to get rid of him, but she didn't believe her. The smelly man walked into the living room, gave her momma hug, then left. That's when her momma fell down and wouldn't get up.
Willow held out her hand. "Well, why don't we go see if we can help her, okay?"
Carrie nodded, took the offered hand, and lead the nice lady with the funny accent to her momma.
The door to her apartment was open. Willow asked Carrie to wait outside for a minute while she went in and made sure it was safe. Carrie nodded. Willow walked into the living room and saw the body. And the witch was sure it was a body. Carrie's mom was blue. Blue, like she was found in sub-arctic waters, blue.
The woman's eyes were frozen in terror. Willow knelt down and closed them for her.
"Is my momma all right?" Carrie asked when Willow came out.
"No, sweetie. She isn't. I'm sorry."
Carrie's face crumpled and Willow hugged her.
"Is... is she with Jesus now?" she asked. "Momma always said that when we die, we go to live with Jesus in Heaven. Momma said it was nice there."
Willow pulled back and smiled for the girl. "Well your momma was right. My friend Buffy says the same thing. So don't be too sad, okay? You'll see her again when you go to.. go to Jesus." Willow's eyes began to tear up. She stood so Carrie wouldn't see, and led her back to Giles' place. "Until then though, your mom's gonna watch over you now, okay?"
"Are you crying too?"
"Because I lost someone I love too."
"Did they go to Heaven with my momma?"
Willow smiled. If anybody deserves Paradise, it's Tara. "Yeah, she did."
"Then don't be sad, okay? Heaven's really nice. My momma said so."
And Willow let out a sound that was a cross between a laugh and a sob.
After she let herself into the apartment, Willow got Carrie situated on the couch. And once that was done, she went to wake Giles up.
"G'way, I don' wanna go racing," he mumbled stupidly, then rolled over and let out a snore.
Willow sighed and decided to resort to drastic measures. The kind Xander taught. She reached over to Giles' nose and pinched it shut.
Giles' eyes flew open an Willow stepped back. He choked out a gasping cough before glaring at his charge.
She quailed under his gaze.
"Uh... I need help?"
The police had come and taken Carrie into their custody, with assurances that she'll receive the best care possible, and to take her mother's body away. The official report stated that she died from hypothermia due to unknown causes.
Willow was impressed. The Sunnydale PD would've blamed it on a freak air conditioner accident or something. God forbid they ever say something was an unknown. Everything in her hometown had to be explained. Mayor McSleezysnakeguy made sure of it.
"Are you paying attention?" Giles asked, bringing her out of her digression.
"Then what did I just say?"
"You said that it was weird that a ghost could freeze somebody to death?"
Giles smirked. "A lucky guess." Willow blushed at being caught daydreaming. "Now. I want you to use your dread device and see if there are any prior deaths similar to Carrie's mother."
Willow frowned. "But wouldn't you know? I mean, you live here."
"I frequently travel, usually on Counsel business, and thus am not privy to all the goings on here at home." She nodded and opened her laptop. "In the meantime, I shall use my tried and true, utterly reliable books to see if a demon is responsible."
Time passed, and the research continued. Willow found no more unexplained deaths, due to hypothermia anyways, in Giles' apartment complex. She showed him one of the more recent deaths. Giles nodded.
"Yes, I remember that incident. A Thesulac demon had taken up residence. Very nasty. Fortunately for me, it was young. " He smiled. "The owner of these flats gave me a very reasonable discount afterwards."
Willow rolled her eyes. "Well, that's it then. I got nothing."
Giles looked a little smug. "Ah. So your precious computer failed you, did it?"
She frowned at him. "I'm going through some emotional trauma here. I really don't think you should be teasing me. Or making fun of my computer."
"Quite right, Willow. I'm sorry," Giles said contritely. "I'm sure your computer is very nice."
"Darn tootin' it is!"
"Yes, well. In that case, if you and your fantastic device could assist me?"
Willow looked a little smug. "Not a problem, Giles. Just lemme fire up Monsters, monsters, monsters dot com."
Giles looked like he was about to ask a question, then thought better of it. And so he went back to his books.
About thirty seconds later, Willow cried "Aha!" and presented her findings. Giles peered at the laptop screen. The entry stated that some people, upon dying, choose to remain in the area of their death as a Suchendergeist, or searching spirit.
Giles nodded. "Yes, I've heard of these. They tend to be exceptionally rare. In most cases, when a person dies, they becomes a rather standard haunting, only communicating through dreams or visual contact. Becoming a Suchendergeist takes a deep, deep longing. Or obsession." He polished his glasses. "The last recorded Suchendergeist was that of a murderous pedophile in 1942. The man took the lives of three little girls before he died, and 4 after."
"That's awful!" Willow lamented. "What happened to him?"
"Does your website have any sort of history for the demons they describe?" Willow nodded and looked it up.
It told of at least a half a dozen different cases of Sechendergeist hauntings, including the one Giles mentioned. They said that they were banished, but not how it was done.
Giles smiled. "Well perhaps my books aren't quite so obsolete yet." He rummaged through his book pile until he found an especially old and dusty looking tome and opened it. "Ah, here it is. Tobin's Spirit Guide." He took out a pad of paper and a pencil, and began copying from the page he opened to. The page described a detailed ritual on how to expel various geists, and all the ingredients necessary to complete it.
"We'll need something from the site of death," he told her, getting his coat on.
"You mean like a belonging or something?"
Giles shook his head. "While that would most certainly help, it isn't entirely needed. Anything form the site should do. The theory is that the item will contain energies from the death. It's how we lock onto the specific entity."
"So do we think the site of death is that apartment the two bodies were found in?" Willow asked, getting her own coat on.
He nodded. "That does seem most likely."
Willow gave him a salute, then left.
The apartment was cold. With no tenants, that was to be expected. Of course, no tenants also meant no power.
And it stank to high heck too!
"Great," she muttered, flicking the light switch uselessly. "As if this place wasn't creepy enough." The witch sighed, pulled out a flashlight (They're called torches in England!), and headed in.
Willow shivered. Damn, it was really cold in here! Colder than it... should... be...
Behind her came the sound of heavy breathing.
Before her stood the apparition of a homeless man. His hands were trembling, and he was shivering violently.
He stumbled towards her.
Willow jumped back. "Wait! You're Benny Smells, aren't you?"
The Sechendergeist halted and glared at her.
"...Hhhhate... that... nnnnammmme..."
"I'm, I'm sorry. Whuh-what's your real name?"
He looked confused, like he's never been asked that before. "...Bennnnjamin... Clark..."
"What do you want, Mr. Clark?"
"I'm soooo cold," he said wretchedly. "And nuhhnobody caresssss. Hhhhuhhholld... mee..."
It was then that Willow understood.
"All right, Mr. Clark. I'll hold you." She reached out for him and pulled him close.
In her arms, Benjamin Clark smiled. "Nuhhhnot so cold now... Warm... Thank you..."
And then he faded away, like a bad smell.
All he wanted was for someone to be nice to him, Willow thinks to herself as she heads back to Giles. To care about him, and keep him warm.
But nobody would.
She was right that day on Kingman's Bluff. This world is cold, and heartless. Scared and full of pain.
But sometimes, just sometimes, we find someone. Someone who can look past all the heartlessness and suffering, and decide: I'm not afraid to care.
Xander was that someone for her. And now, she supposes, she was that someone for Mr. Clark.
Maybe... Maybe she doesn't deserve to be locked away forever? It's not up to her to decide, and if the Coven does want to do that, she won't argue. And maybe, she hopes, just maybe, it might be possible for her to live with herself.
But somehow, Willow doubts it. A bullet is floating in front of his chest, and he's strung up by the surrounding trees. "Wanna know what a bullet feels like, Warren? A real one?" Warren looks down at the bullet nervously, then back to her. "It's not like in the comics." His leg grows wet. "No," the terrified young man protests. "NO!" Willow ignores him. "I think you need to. Feel it." The bullet slowly starts pushing its way into Warren's chest. "Oh god! Stop it!" he begs. Willow doesn't hear him. She just focuses on the bullet, and tells him what it does. The begging doesn't stop. Not until she makes it.
This story was adapted from the same titled Hellblazer story, "Hold Me", written by Neil Gaiman and drawn by Dave McKean. I highly suggest you find it and read it. It's quite honestly one of the finest comics to have been written. I wrote this story, not to copy it, but to honor it. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all. And I hope anybody who's read the original does not feel as though I'm trying to rip Mr. Gaiman off. I hold him in the highest regard.
Also, portions of this story contains dialogue from the episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Villains," written by Marti Noxon, "Two to Go," written by Douglas Petrie, and "Grave," written by David Fury.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and all affiliated characters, were created, and is owned, by Joss Whedon.