The Meet and Greet
~ The Meet and Greet ~ She was breathing too loud!
Willow forced her breathing to slow down, ignoring the panic building inside of her. They were here; she didn’t need to see them to know that. They had found her every other time she had hidden, and now was no exception.
Whatever they were, they were after her. This wasn’t some random attack like she had hoped. There was a difference between being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being in the right place at the right time.
She was definitely in the right place at the right time – at least from the demons hunting her perspective.
It was a trap, a set up. It had to be. She had been attacked right outside the magic shop, and the only person who knew she would be there was the witch who had the ingredients Willow needed for her spell to fight Glory.
Not only had she been attacked, but she had been attacked by demons that were impervious to magic. ALL magic. Offensive spells; such as energy balls, electricity… any spells meant to harm a person didn’t work on them. Neither did defensive spells; barriers, fog, illusions.
Every spell she threw at them, and put on herself, had failed.
At first she had thought it was bad luck, Karma even. After all, she had snuck out of the hotel after Angel had told her to stay put. He had wanted to go with her to the magic shop, but he had been called out on a case instead.
God, she was so stupid! She just had to be all ‘Ooo, I’m a witch, I can protect myself’ like. Why couldn’t she have waited that extra hour like Angel had wanted her to? She had been so excited that she finally had the last ingredients for the spell that she hadn’t been able to wait.
If she survived this, Angel was going to kill her.
But Willow was beginning to think she wouldn’t survive this. Her only weapon, a long blade she had concealed in her jacket, was now in, er, possession of the demon.
It was still inside the demon, sticking out of its chest.
Along with magic, it looked like it was impervious to traditional weapons too… Though, when she smacked one on the head, with a piece of discarded timber, it had slowed down a bit. Just enough for her to get away a second time and end up in here, hiding behind some crates in a warehouse.
Did she mention Angel was going to kill her for this?
Buffy too, most likely, oh god, and Tara! Tara probably wouldn’t talk to her for a month for doing something so incredibly stupid.
She had to get out of here.
Willow took a deep breath and slowly looked over the top of the box. Thank god! The coast was clear, or at least it looked clear. Knowing her luck, the demons were hiding behind boxes too, waiting for her to move.
Which meant that maybe she shouldn’t move. Maybe she should wait them out, see if they left when they couldn’t find her. No, that wouldn’t work; they had found her hiding in a car the last time. She didn’t have a choice.
Silently saying a little prayer to anyone listening, Willow rose so she was squatting. Taking another quick look, she ran, hunched over, behind the row of crates. Willow made it about four, maybe five, yards before she felt someone grab her.
Willow let out a scream just as a hand clamped over her mouth, muffling her cry of alarm. The other arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her against her attacker, effectively binding her arms.
Willow struggled as she was dragged behind some crates.
“It’s all right, Miss,” a voice hissed in her ear. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Human! He was human. Thank god! Wait a second… that wasn’t always a good thing either. Things could look human, but be something far worse. Hello, Glory!
“If you scream, they’ll find us,” he warned her. “Your friends are just behind that crate over there, another hundred yards and you would have had been in for a little reunion”
At his whispered words, Willow stopped struggling.
He was quiet for a while as if waiting for her renew her struggle, when she didn’t, he spoke. “Are you all right, Miss?” he asked, loosening his hold a little but not completely. “Nod or shake your head, don’t talk.”
“Good.” He removed his hand from her mouth. “It’s all right, Miss, you’re safe. I’m going to get you out of here.”
That would be good but… how? And who was he?
“Can you tell me how many there are all together?” he wanted to know. “I followed five in here.”
He followed them in? Willow was impressed. Most people saw demons for the first time and either ran like hell, or rationalized it. This man had actually followed them in… to save her.
“Six,” she whispered at a level that matched his. They were talking so quietly, she had to strain to hear. “They’re a little hard to kill,” she confessed, not sure how much he knew or had seen.
He released her and she turned to see who her rescuer was. He was an older man, gray hair…kind of cute. Not at all the Angel or Gunn type rescuer she had been imagining.
“You did good back there, at the car. Hitting it with plank of wood after you lost your knife was smart.”
He had been following her since then?
“It’s all right, Miss, I’ll get you out of here.”
He sounded so sure, but Willow wasn’t. He didn’t know what they were… or maybe he did, he didn’t seem all that terrified by the demons. “Willow.”
He looked at her, confused. “What?”
“My name’s Willow.”
He reached for her hand and gave it small squeeze. “Jack. Now, let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to you.” ~ * ~ * ~
Willow started at the shout, surprised to see Dawn standing in front of her with a plate of food and a worried expression.
“Willow? Are you all right?” Dawn asked, sitting down on the bed next to her. “You looked so serious, what were you thinking about?”
What was she… Willow frowned when she realized she couldn’t remember. She knew she had been lost in thought for a while, the pins and needles in her foot was a dead giveaway but, now that she was trying recall what had her so engrossed, she couldn’t remember.
It looked like not remembering things was the theme of the day. She guessed that the aftereffects of what had been done to her were still happening.
Losing a few minutes of thought, however, wasn’t as bad as losing fifteen years.
Willow would have been lying if she said she wasn’t freaked about all of this. From the moment she strolled into the lobby of the Hyperion (after what she thought had been a good night’s sleep) her life had been turned upside down. She had endured every spell, every test both Angel and Wesley had come up to determine if she was who she said she was.
Of course, all the spells confirmed what she already knew but that didn’t change the fact that she was seriously wigged.
She had been gone for fifteen years… she had missed everything.
No doubt her friends had moved on with their lives, married, had children, lived
, and here she was exactly the same.
Like she had been frozen in time.
“Willow?” Dawn called her name again, this time looking panicked. “Willow? Are you all right?”
Willow mentally shook herself and plastered on a fake smile. “I’m fine.” Why wouldn’t she be? “I was just thinking… about stuff.”
Dawn wasn’t placated by her words. “You look kind of freaked.”
Freaked… that was the other theme for the day. “Yeah, well, things are kind of freaky, you know?”
“Yeah, I know,” the brunette gave her a sad smile.
“So, what were you saying while I was off with the fairies?” Willow asked, changing the subject oh so subtly.
“Gunn brought up some dinner, it’s Chinese. Are you hungry?”
To be honest, the thought of eating made her nauseous. Her stomach had so many butterflies in it that she could probably open up a butterfly farm. Even thought it was evening, and she had been back over twelve hours, she was still far from coming to terms with everything.
It was all so strange.
She just couldn’t get used to it, especially seeing Dawn. God, she was all grown up! No longer the fourteen year old that Willow remembered, but a twenty-nine year old doctor in her first year of residency at LA Memorial Hospital.
And if that
wasn’t enough to wig her big time, nothing was.
So, could she eat food? Not right now. “No, I’m not…” She sighed in defeat. “I don’t think I could eat even if I wanted to.”
“But you should,” Dawn argued gently. “It might make you feel better.”
“No, Dawnie…” Willow eyes filled with tears. “Dawnie. You’re not my little Dawnie anymore. You’re older than me now.”
Dawn put the plate of food on the floor and moved closer to her. “I’m still your little Dawnie,” she vowed. “It doesn’t matter that I’m older and, um, taller than you. I’ll always be your Dawnie.”
Willow let out a half sob, half laugh.
“That didn’t come out as reassuring as it sounded in my head. See! I’m still the Dawn you remember. I still mess up!”
She didn’t resist when Dawn pulled her into a hug. “It’s going to be all right, Willow, I promise.” Dawn gently stroked her hair. “Buffy will find out what happened to you, she’ll fix this. It’s what she does.”
Willow pulled away. “Buffy, does she know I’m back?” Did she know that Willow was now fifteen years younger than she was? Did Tara know?
Her friend nodded. “Angel called her. She’s on her way, so are Xander and Anya. They’re catching the first flight they can.”
Flight? “Sunnydale is only two hours away.”
“Oh… Angel didn’t tell you?” Dawn bit her lip.
If Angel had his way, she wouldn’t know anything. She had asked him, hounded him even, for details about her friends but he had been reluctant to tell her anything (even after they knew it was really her). According to Cordy, he didn’t want her overwhelmed with information. Obviously Angel forgot to have the same talk with Dawn. Which was a good thing as far, as she was concerned, because Willow wanted to be overwhelmed. She wanted to know the truth, what her friends were doing and where they were. Willow desperately wanted information, as much as she could get. That way, she would be able to assess…
“Buffy, Spike, Xander, and Anya don’t live in Sunnydale anymore.”
They didn’t? Buffy was the Slayer, she wouldn’t leave Sunnydale unguarded. Yeah, she sometimes complained about her destiny, but she wouldn’t turn her back on Sunnydale. It went against everything Buffy was.
The information, Dawn had inadvertently let slip, hit Willow harder than she thought it would and her eyes filled with tears once again. “Dawnie… What happened while I was away? Four days ago, we… I remember teleporting Glory out of the hospital and now you’re here in LA, a doctor, and working with Angel part time. I want to know everything that happened.” She wanted to know everything, most of all about Tara.
“Dawnie, please… I’m going to find out sooner or later. I already know some stuff. It’s obvious that you got away from Glory because you’re here and Buffy’s alive. How did you do it?”
“The Knights of Hack and Slash, they’re the ones who killed Glory. Thanks to Spike.”
“After you went missing, Buffy kind of freaked. I think it hit home that none of us were safe, she couldn’t protect us so we left Sunnydale. Glory didn’t know who or what the key was yet, and Buffy figured that if she got me away from Glory, Glory would never be able to use me. We hid in LA for a while and tried to find you, but after Mom…” Dawn’s eyes filled with tears. “Well, to cut a long story short, we received word that Glory was widening her search. Tara stayed in LA, under Angel’s protection, the rest of us, except Spike who was in Sunnydale, ran.”
Willow blinked in confusion. “You ran?”
“We split up and went all over the world. It was the only way. Glory went nuts trying to find me. We didn’t know this at the time, but Glory had to use ‘the Key’ at a specific time and place – that’s how we ended up winning. As it got closer to the time, Glory morphed into Ben more often, giving us –”
Wait a second! “Glory morphed into Ben?”
She nodded. “Glory and Ben shared the same body and Spike witnessed a morph. Whenever Glory melded into Ben, the person who witnessed it immediately forgot, but because Spike wasn’t human it didn’t work on him. After he saw it, he approached the Knights who had stayed in Sunnydale to try to fight Glory and find me. Spike convinced them to kill Ben.”
“And that was it? Apocalypse over?”
Dawn grinned. “Yep. When Spike contacted us, we returned to California and started looking for you.”
“Willow, we never gave up on you. We looked for you as long as we could but things got crazy for a while. We couldn’t look for you and fight at the same time, so we put Angel on permanent retainer. Xander, Buffy, Anya, Giles, Tara… we all refused to believe you were dead. We never gave up hope that you’d come back.”
A tear slid down her face. “I know.” She didn’t know how she knew, she just knew. Willow took a deep breath. “So, what did you guys do when you stopped looking for me, why didn’t Buffy stay in Sunnydale?” And Tara, what about Tara?
“She was needed somewhere else,” Dawn replied cryptically.
“Another Hellmouth?” Willow couldn’t see any other reason for Buffy being somewhere else.
“Something like that.”
Something like that? Why was Dawn being so vague? Willow was getting the impression she was hiding something.
Dawn went on before Willow could ask. “The council asked Buffy to move to… the new hotspot and she did. I think she needed the move,” Dawn confessed. “She took your disappearance badly. She blamed herself.”
“It’s wasn’t her fault.” Not that Willow had any idea whose fault it was. She didn’t even know what happened.
“I know but no one could convince Buffy that, not even Giles.”
“So who looked after the Hellmouth?” Willow’s eyes widened in excitement. “You didn’t close it did you?”
A dark look crossed Dawn’s face. “Another Slayer is there.”
Another Slayer? “Faith?”
She shook her head. “Faith died during… When things got crazy, and the Council asked Buffy to move, they organized for Faith to be released from prison. She worked with Angel to keep the Hellmouth as safe as possible. She didn’t make it.”
“Another Slayer, Kennedy, was called when she died. She and her watcher have been in Sunnydale ever since.”
Wow. Willow didn’t know what to say. It was almost too much.
“Spike, Xander, and Anya followed Buffy and I moved here… and that’s it.”
That’s it? No. It wasn’t. Dawn had been a little too vague about what Buffy was doing, what happened when things ‘got crazy’, and then there was Tara. “What…” Willow’s heart pounded as she asked the next question. “What about Tara? You didn’t mention her.” Oh god! It was bad! Dawn had that
look on her face! The look someone got when they had to tell you bad news. “Tara’s alive isn’t she?”
“Yes!” Dawn grabbed her hand. “She’s alive, she’s okay and she knows you’re back. Angel called her too, she’s on her way. Tara… she’s living in England.”
“When we were looking for you, Giles enlisted the help of a coven in England. They sent someone over here to help us find you.” Dawn wasn’t making eye contact. “The witch stayed here for two years. The witch and Tara were, um, close and when things went crazy, Tara went to England.”
Tara went to England with the witch. Dawn didn’t need to spell it out, her face said it all.
Willow braced herself, waiting for the words to sink in and the inevitable overwhelming pain to overcome her. Tara was the love of her life. Losing her was nothing short of devastating, but…
The pain never came.
She closed her eyes and continued to wait. No tears came. There was no pain. No devastation. No mourning the loss of the woman she would have spent her life with if given the opportunity.
In its place, she felt… relief?
And as the realisation hit her, Willow suddenly found it hard to breathe. Dawn was next to her in an instant, apologising to her profusely, thinking that the knowledge of Tara loving another was the reason behind her panic attack.
Willow didn’t have the heart to tell her losing Tara wasn’t the cause of the fear she was choking on.
No, it was the knowledge that whatever had happened to her in the fifteen years she was missing was life altering enough to dissolve her feelings for Tara.
Author's Note concerning pairings: - there are minor fic spoilers in this author's note so don't read if you don't want to be spoiled
I just wanted to clarify people's questions concerning pairings in this fic. This fic is mainly
a friendship fic between Jack and Willow. While I can not say that there will not be any romantic emotions/scenes between Jack and Willow in this fic, I can say that the foundation of Willow and Jack's relationship will always
There will also be pairings between other characters. I never considered the relationships of minor characters in this fic important -- which is why I didn't bother mentioning it prior to this -- but it has been pointed out to me that others do. The known pairings at this point are Xander/Anya and Sam/Daniel. I do stress that this fic is not