Disclaimer: Buffy, both the character and the setting, belong to Joss Whedon and the various corporate entities to which he leased his soul for seven years. Original characters are mine.
Author's Note: I started this story about a zillion years ago; it's basically the first fanfic I ever wrote. In the time since then I've worked on it, off and on (mostly 'off'), but haven't ever finished it. Now, however, I kind of want to, and so I'll start posting chapters here while I gather my Chi in preparation for that. Like I said, this is early, somewhat crude stuff, but I'm resisting the urge to rewrite it as I post. I still get emails from people who enjoy reading it, and who want me to finish it, so I guess it stands well enough 'as is'.
Willow turned a slow circle, studying the design carefully. She stood in the center of an intricate mystic symbol, a complex arrangement of lines and arcs roughly twenty feet across. She had laid out the pattern with small stones and bits of quartz, and it had taken her three days of painstaking work to get to this point.
Off to one side, Oz was perched on the low wall that enclosed the flat rooftop that Willow had claimed for her work area. He watched her, quiet contentment filling him. Her expression was so intent, her focus so total, that she seemed unaware that he was there. She flipped through several pages of the ancient book she held, chewing on her pen as she studied the diagrams she was trying to recreate. Oz smiled at the adorable sight. Moments later, he heard a faint sound. Leaning back a bit, he looked down at the ground three stories below. The yard behind his apartment building was dark, but he could make out a shape prowling near the back door. Frowning, he sniffed the air carefully, then relaxed. It was only the cat from across the street, wandering the neighborhood. He still wasn't sure if he enjoyed the hyperactive senses bestowed by the wolf curse. Most of the time he had to shut them out just so he could hear himself think. The human mind wasn't set up to devote ninety percent of its energy to analyzing sensory input. Still, it was.....interesting. And it did come in handy sometimes. Like now, for instance. From where he was sitting he couldn't see the street in front of the building, but unless he was mistaken, he and willow were about to have a visitor.
Willow sat the book down with a satisfied sigh. The circle looked good. Better than good, actually, but she didn't like to brag, even to herself. Oz was so sweet, letting her use the roof of his new building for her work. His was the only apartment on the top floor, and therefore the only one with access to the roof. A large, private space was essential to doing anything beyond the beginner-level spells she had been doing. And, she thought with a grimace, it was doubtful that her mother would be willing to let her use the garage to work in. Or maybe she would, and would then hang around while Willow tried to work, asking questions about her state of mind, and taking photos of the "Bizarre Rituals" to add to the case study she was doing, on a subject who just happened to be her daughter. Willow shuddered, turning her attention back to the project at hand. The design had taken a lot of time to create, but it should last indefinitely--unless someone came up here and kicked it apart. Plus, working outdoors came kind of naturally to the Wiccan style of magic she was learning. The only thing that would have made it better would be if she were building her circle in a forest clearing or meadow. The drawback to that was that in Sunnydale there were nasty critters and such roaming the countryside, especially after dark. Being on a nice, high rooftop made her feel a little safer. Besides, she could bring up some potted plants, maybe even a couple of miniature trees to give the space a more sylvan feel.
Crouching, she retrieved a spiral notebook and a plastic baggie filled with a mixture of fine sand and crushed crystal that she had prepared earlier. Catching sight of Oz sitting patiently and watching her from outside the circle, she flashed him a nervous smile. He nodded gravely back, his eyes expressing his confidence and devotion. Heartened, she checked to make sure she was standing in the exact center of her creation. Wetting her lips, she cleared her throat and took a deep breath. This was too much like being up on stage for her peace of mind, something she feared beyond all reason. Except that here, the audience wasn't students or teachers, it was the elements and energies of the world itself. She raised her notebook and began to read, her voice clear and firm.
"Melenkurian Abatha. Minas mill durok khaball...."
She was activating her circle, calling on the benevolent spirit forces and the neutral elemental ones to infuse her working with power. Once it was charged with their power, it would be a great aid to her studies. It would protect her from hostile magicks, and provide a strong foundation for any spells or working she attempted while inside it. Lesser spirit beings conjured from other planes could be safely contained within its boundaries while she communicated with them. If she could finish it properly, that is. She continued to chant, pausing for just a moment to flip to the next page of her written notes. The bag of glittering dust she held began to shine softly, which she supposed was a good thing. Keeping one eye on the words she was reading, she began to pace slowly, sprinkling the dust along each element of the diagram. With each recited phrase a bit of dust drifted down, to be attracted to the lines of pebbles, like iron filings to a magnet. One by one, the segments took on their own, stronger glow. Faintly, almost beyond the edge of hearing, a pure, crystalline tone sounded, slightly different for each piece of the pattern she activated.
Oz could hear it clearly, and sat rapt at the beauty of it. From where he sat, Willow seemed almost to be performing a slow, stately dance, moving around and across the rooftop in a sequence only she understood. "A dance that creates its own music" He mused. Off to one side, the small door leading downstairs opened silently, and a figure ducked through. Oz nodded to the shadowy form, which remained silent, and returned to watching Willow.
She completed her final circuit of the pattern, ending up back in the center. All of the segments were glowing and singing now, making for an unearthly chorus in the back of her head. She was down to the last handful of dust now, and the last few lines of chant. Her mouth was dry, her tongue kept trying to stumble, and her head was splitting from the effort of controlling the energies flowing through her.
"Here's where the wannabes stop, and the bad-ass Wicca keep going," was her thought as she cast the dust upwards and pronounced the final words. The lines of light surrounding her flared bright as the dust seemed to hang in the air. Her words and her will commanded the forces surrounding her, and the dust drew back to form a shimmering dome over the roof. With the final phrase Willow dropped the notebook and brought her hands together with a clap that rang out through the night and set off a car alarm a block away. With a final flare of silvery-blue light the dome overhead faded slowly from view.
Willow gave a sigh, then fell to her knees.
Oz had come to his feet at the ritual's finale, and when Willow fell he leapt forward, only to bounce off a wall of blue light that flared up as he tried to cross the edge of the pattern. He sprawled across the rooftop, more surprised than hurt, but he grimly came back to his feet and moved forward again--only to be jerked up short by a powerful grip on his shoulder.
"Oz. Stop." He looked back at Buffy, who had come up on the roof earlier. She gazed at him, her green eyes steady. She shook him gently, then turned him to face Willow.
"She's okay, Oz. See?"
He fought down the overpowering need to get to Willow's side, to hold her close, and looked. Sure enough, she did seem to be okay, just kneeling there with her hair spilling forward over her face, breathing deeply. The mystic barrier which had bounced him back had faded from view, but he could still feel the stinging tingle in his hands and feet from his encounter with it. He turned his head and gave Buffy a slow nod, and she reluctantly released him.
Moving forward slowly, his hand held before him, he approached the edge of the pattern. As his fingers neared the border, a plane of silver-blue shimmered into being to block his way. The hair on his arm slowly stood up, and he pulled his hand back. Crouching as close to her as he could, he called out softly.
"Willow? Willow, talk to me." An agonizing moment passed before she looked up, pushing her hair back over her shoulders. Oz felt a relief so great it was almost pain pass through him as she gave a shaky smile. She was pale, but otherwise seemed fine. She looked down at the designs she knelt on, touching the faintly glowing stones with a look of wonder.
"It worked...." Her voice was a hoarse whisper, nearly lost in the sound of the distant car alarm still going, the neighborhood dogs barking their unease at the ripple of magic that had washed over them. She struggled to her feet and rushed at Oz. He started to warn her about the barrier, but she went through it without harm, wrapping her arms around him and hugging him tight. He closed his eyes and hugged her back, breathing in the scent of her hair.
Buffy watched for a few seconds, then looked away, feeling uncomfortable with intruding on what should be private moment between her friends. With a sigh she turned toward the stairway down.
"Buffy!" She turned in time to meet Willow as the other girl grabbed her in a happy hug. Willow let her go, then gestured at the mystic pattern behind her, almost giddy with delight.
"Do you see?" Her voice was still rough, but managing to edge into the 'geeker joy' ranges, as Xander called it. "I finished it! It's done!"
Buffy managed a smile for her friend.
"It's awesome Will. I love it." She stared blankly at the glowing lines for a few seconds, then turned back.
"What is it again?"
Willow gave her a mock scowl as Oz slipped an arm around her waist. He held up his other hand and flexed it, wincing slightly.
"Thanks." He said to Buffy. "For keeping me from frying myself. The second time."
Buffy shrugged as Willow took his hand in hers, looking for signs of injury.
"I TOLD you not to break the circle! I have to set it to pass you now that its complete." She gripped his hand gently between her own. "You could have been really hurt."
Oz gave her that look of total devotion that he had, tracing the line of her face and chin with his free hand.
"I was worried." He kissed her gently. Willow made a happy little sound, but pulled back abruptly to face Buffy again.
"But anyway, what are you doing way out here at," she checked her watch. "Two thirty in the morning?"
Buffy shrugged, pacing away from the couple to stand looking out from the edge of the roof.
"No big reason. Couldn't sleep. Decided to take the 'BuffyBod' out for a run."
Willow frowned. Buffy had been in one of her dark moods for weeks now, ever since graduation. And the way she'd started to talk about her body like it was some other person, or an annoyance..... She looked at the Slayer, dressed in running shoes, shorts and a loose top over a sports bra. This outfit, from a girl who could beat half a dozen vamps if she were wearing a formal gown and high-heels, well, it looked like she was expecting some serious action. The small shoulder bag of weaponry kind of hinted at her intentions, too. Instead of commenting on that, she instead tried something neutral.
"Still not sleeping much?"
Buffy shook her head, still staring out over Sunnydale.
"Nope. Two, maybe three hours a night, now, and sometimes not even that." She turned back to face them, twirling a stake through her fingers with the incredible speed and dexterity she took for granted. Willow wondered when she had taken the stake out of the bag, Oz wondered if he really heard the air whirring with the speed of the stake's twirling.
"With the Mayor out of the way there aren't any bad guys in town worth fighting." She sounded saddened by the loss of her most recent nemesis.
"And with Angel gone and Faith out of commission, I don't have any way to work off energy in other ways." Oz and Willow both mulled over the possible double meaning behind that comment.
Buffy slipped the stake back into the bag and turned towards the stairway down.
"Anyway, I'll get out of your way. A few laps around the town and I'll be ready for a nap. I hope." She waved at the couple standing backlit by the mystic design. "Good job on your magic thingie, Will. Later, Oz." She turned a dropped down the stairs four at a time, missing the good-byes Willow and Oz called after her.
The couple exchanged worried looks, but they both knew that Buffy would only share her problems when Buffy was ready. Illuminated by Willow's creation, they held each other.
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