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Personal Demon

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Summary: Very AU-Willow meets Damon Salvatore on a disastrous night when she’s fifteen, and though he leaves her that same night, he makes sure that she never really forgets . . .

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > L.J. Smith > Vampire Diaries, TheEenaAngelFR1818,342151,12723 Nov 1023 Nov 10Yes
Title: Personal Demon
Author: Eena
Rating: R-ish
Disclaimer: Don’t own Vampire Diaries or Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Spoilers: Season 1 for Vampire Diaries, pre-show for BTVS.
Summary: AU-Willow meets Damon Salvatore on a disastrous night when she’s fifteen, and though he leaves her that same night, he makes sure that she never really forgets . . .
Notes: This is an AU story, in which there is no Buffy or Slayer, only two kids who get in over their heads. It is also only the first part of this story, to be continued at a later date.
Notes2: For cmm14513, who requested this at my Prompt Me! Post at my livejournal.

~0~

She’s not sure when it goes all wrong; when her entire world shatters and her brain (her admired, analytical brain) cannot make sense of anything her eyes are seeing.

She’s a good Jewish girl, as good as she can afford to be. The public school system isn’t the best place to be as good a Jewish girl as her father would like. But the truth of the matter is, bacon tastes great on a burger and there’s never been a better sight than Xander and Jesse doing the Snoopy Dance while watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. And she isn’t really that late past her curfew (not that there’s anyone at home to yell at her, and she’s negotiated a half-hour grace period for her check-in call this year). A good Jewish girl would have been home fifteen minutes ago; but tonight’s she’s opted to be a good friend first. And really, where had Jesse run off to? Xander said he lost track of him near the snacks and few questions later, all they know is Chris saw him leaving through the back door.

Maybe coming to Amy’s “The School Got Shut Down For Fumigation” party hadn’t been the best idea, but Xander and Jesse had begged her. Everyone is going to some party tonight in celebration of the impromptu long weekend (Principal Flutie nearly had a heart attack when he saw the swarms of termites appear in the middle of, well, all the school corridors. He demanded answers-no one said a thing. And so, the swim team gets away with another prank while Flutie threatened the student body with security cameras in very hallway).

The cheer squad, the jocks, and all other “social elite” are at Cordelia Chase’s house. Amy’s party was meant to be small, but Jason Wheeler’s parents came home early from their theatre night. Apparently when in a rage, Crazy Jay’s father can be crazier than Jay himself. Of course, rumour is that Jay’s dad came home to the sight of members of the drama club using his prized golf clubs as swords while they re-enacted some Shakespearean fight scene. A tendency to do such at parties is one of the main reasons why no one in the drama club gets invited to Cordelia’s parties; the other main reason being that Cordelia Chase in an uppity, elitist bitch-not that Willow would ever say that to her face (Willow has some sense of self-preservation). But Cordelia’s sway over high school politics does little to change Willow’s opinion of her. Willow’s the president of the “We Hate Cordelia Chase” Club for a reason.

Willow’s also not too keen on parties, for a very good reason. Being the responsible one in their little band of Musketeers usually means she’s in charge of getting her boys home. And being a licence-less fifteen year old makes her job harder. It’s been worse lately, as Jesse has taken to drinking more than the norm. He’s usually swaying and tripping on the way home, while also throwing up somewhere along the way at least once. When she brings this up to Xander, he just shrugs and says Jesse will straighten out. “He’s not used to the hard stuff,” is Xander’s excuse. Willow’s pretty sure that if Jesse can’t handle the hard stuff, than he shouldn’t be drinking it. Both Jesse and Xander dismiss this as “girl logic” and Jesse warns her that she is getting dangerously close to naggy.

But he keeps pulling stuff like this and Willow can’t help but nag. And worry, especially now that he’s taken off without warning. Xander tells her not to freak out so much and says there aren’t that many places in Sunnydale for Jesse to wander off to. He helps her put on her coat and then leads her out the back door, waving goodbye to Amy and promising Willow that they will find Jesse soon enough.

But an hour’s worth of travelling gets them nowhere. Jesse is not that the park, he’s not at the ice cream parlour, and no one has seen him at the Espresso Pump. They amble by the school, in the vain hope that Jesse is mucking about the courtyard or front lawn. He’s nowhere in sight and by now even Xander is worried. She suggests that maybe Jesse tried to go home, and the quickest way from Amy’s house is through the Restfield Cemetery. She hates the idea of going amongst the dead, but Jesse’s done it before. And now she’s worried that he tripped in a drunken haze and bashed his brains out against some tombstone. The very gory image of Jesse bleeding out, draped over several graves, is chased away by Xander’s stern look.

“Don’t get hysterical,” he warns her. “We’ll find him.”

And they do find him. But Xander was wrong in telling her not to get hysterical. If there’s ever been a time to get hysterical, it would be when they find Jesse in the cemetery.

They’re just barely past the gates (seriously, the caretaker needs to replace the lock-it’s been broken since before Willow was born) when they hear shouts and screams. The screams belong to a girl, and they are loud and drawn out. The shouts peter out much quicker, but they are definitely male and most definitely from Jesse. Xander tells her to stay behind him and he takes off running. She follows on his heels, slipping and sliding in her sandals and unable to make longer strides because of her outfit (why had she let Amy convince her to wear this dress? She should have just stuck to her jeans, but no, Amy’s convinced that Oz guy liked her or something and she insisted Willow “make an effort”).

The scene she skitters across is almost too horrible for her to comprehend. At first, she only sees the bodies-one on the ground, absolutely still, another also on the ground and trying to crawl away, and two more standing, but with one dangling from the hand of the other. Things become clearer and she sees that Jesse is the unmoving body on the ground and Xander is the body hanging from the grip of another, taller man. The other body on the ground turns out to be some crying brunette girl covered in blood and with a long piece of wood jutting out of her stomach.

Willow screams and almost everyone jerks to stare her way. And that appears to the wake-up call they needed, because everything swings into high gear. The girl yanks out the wood, howling in pain, and Xander tries to swing a fist into his attacker’s face. The man is paying more attention to Willow than to Xander and Willow sees a flash of blue eyes and a wicked smirk before things go from bad to worse.

The man pulls Xander close and lunges for his throat. Xander starts screaming and Willow rushes forward to help. The man tosses Xander at her and they topple to ground near to where Jesse laid. Xander’s out cold and Willow has to shove him off of her. She gets up into a sitting position just in time to see the man grab the girl by the arm, rip the wood piece from her hands, and sink it into her chest. Willow screams again, and so does the girl. But then, the girl stops-her skin mottles and turns a bluish-grey colour. When the man lets her go, she falls to the ground lifelessly.

Willow honestly cannot make sense of a single thing. Her brain is racing, her heart is pounding, and the fear is just overriding all her senses. The man, if he could even be called such, turns to her and flashes a smile. His eyes, she could have sworn they were blue, but they’re actually black and red. There are black veins all over his face, standing out sharply against his pale skin. His mouth is covered in a dark red substance-she knows what it is, but she can’t make the last step to name it. It’s too impossible to be true.

But quick glance down shows her that both Jesse and Xander have nasty, gaping wounds in their necks. Xander is breathing laboriously and Jesse’s not breathing at all. The shock is wearing off to be replaced by hysteria and she just wants to cry. The man, or monster, starts sauntering closer. She can think of nothing to do other than to shift around so that both Jesse and Xander are a little bit behind her.

“Now that’s just precious,” the man speaks and Willow flinches, but she does not move. Her eyes are transfixed on his face, the fear rising when the man’s face clears and suddenly she’s looking at a handsome, blue-eyed stranger with blood dripping off his chin. A hand comes up and he wipes off the blood with the back of his jacket sleeve. His tongue comes out to get any remaining bloods and Willow feels like throwing up.

“You know, I can kill them and you with very little effort,” he says calmly. “But I can’t do that all at once. The one Leah had is already gone, but the taller one is still kicking. I might take just enough time to finish him off so that you could get to safety. What do you say? Try to run for it?”

“I’m not leaving them.” It takes her way too long to figure out that she’s the one saying those words. Her eyes widen at her own daring, but she doesn’t move from her spot in front of her boys. “Not for such a slim chance.”

“Better than no chance,” he counters.

She shakes her head, hands making fists in Xander’s shirt. “Not if I leave my friends to die.”

“Friend,” he corrects her smugly. “I already told you, that one’s dead.”

He’s pointing at Jesse and even though she knows he’s right, it still unsettles her. The tears finally come, but she still won’t move, won’t expose either of them to harm. “I’m not leaving my friends,” is said in a much weaker, hopeless tone of voice, but the resolve is the same.

“Look at you, all loyal and protective of your boyfriends,” he pauses and gazes at both Xander and Jesse contemplatively. “Are they brothers?”

She doesn’t know why that matters, but she shakes her head ‘no’. He sighs. “Oh well, that would have been way too perfect. But still, the similarities are close enough to make me nostalgic. And really, staking Leah has put me in a generous sort of mood. How about we make a deal?”

She’s not scared enough to consider it. “You killed Jesse,” she whimpers.

“Actually, that was Leah,” he rolls his eyes. “I didn’t give two shits about the guy either way. She’s the one that led him out here. She’s been leaving a trail of newbies in her wake-like they’d be enough to save her from me. Anyway, she was probably going to do the same for your boy, but I might have interrupted, causing her to forgo the whole blood exchange process. She just drained him, hoping it would be enough to help her get away. Fresh blood does give us an extra kick.”

She’s sobbing at this point, because he’s discussing Jesse’s death in such a matter-of-fact way, like Jesse isn’t important enough to consider on his own. It’s all strategy and a totally blasé attitude towards the murder of one of her best friends-it’s not right. He’s not right-and what he is might be enough to break her mind.

“This isn’t possible,” she cries pitifully. He sighs and then, in a blink of the eye, he’s in front of her. And she means in the blink of an eye. She blinks and suddenly he goes from ten feet away to less than two inches away. She gasps and automatically rears backwards. But he grasps her chin roughly in his hand and uses his other to grab her by the arm and force her down. Her breathing becomes even more erratic and the panic is so intense that it takes awhile for her to think properly again.

“Don’t do that,” he warns her, voice low and much more predatory than before. “I hate it when people start blubbering. It bores me-you don’t want to bore me.”

Survival instincts kick in and Willow swallows any more panicked ramblings. She tries her best to focus, to find a way to get out of this with Xander alive. “You want to make a deal?”

He grins wide, the moonlight glinting off white teeth, and she shudders. “I do want to make a deal. You see, I’m kind of hungry still. Now, I could finish off my first meal-“ he pauses and looks pointedly at Xander. Willow immediately starts shaking her head and it makes him laugh. “Or, I could top it off with a little from you.”

He’s lying; she can tell from the twinkle in his eyes. He’s not hungry, not in the least. This is a game for him, one that he’s enjoying. He wants to see what she does, if she will offer up herself in exchange for Xander. And it’s not an automatic response. She does pause, because his teeth are frighteningly bright and she remembers Xander’s screams from before. She’s scared, almost out of her mind with it, and she knows there’s very little option in this deal.

“Okay.”

He laughs. “No defining the rules? No making sure there aren’t any loopholes?”

“I couldn’t stop you if there were.”

The smile is replaced with a contemplative look. “Then why agree at all?”

“Because it’s probably better not to poke the vampire with a stick.”

The word passes through her lips, and it’s still surreal. He’s back to laughing, like she’s the funniest person he’s ever met and she tightens her hold on Xander’s shirt. “I like you! You’re so cute-and not as stupid as most kids your age. You might be fun to have around for awhile, but . . .” he trails off and casts a look over his shoulder at Leah, “I think it would be best if I stopped turning teenagers. Besides, you’re still a little too jailbaity for people to look the other way. You’re what? Sixteen, Seventeen?”

“Fifteen,” she sniffles.

He makes a face. “Ew. I don’t need an immortal fifteen year old to deal with. It’s all too Claudia for me. I think we’ll let you ripen for a bit. But for now . . .”

Now he looks hungry, and the way he’s gazing her at neck makes Willow want to hunch down and cover any visible stretch of skin. But Xander’s sort of wheezing by now and she doesn’t have the luxury of wasting time. She’s crying again, but she closes her eyes and turns her head to the side, tilting her chin slightly upwards to bare her neck properly.

His hands suddenly grip her by the hips and Willow lets loose a frightened shriek when she feels herself become airborne. He drops her none-too-gently on something hard and cold-a tombstone, she realizes. Xander’s out of reach now and the panic is starting to flare up again. She’s close to hyperventilating when she opens her eyes and sees him smirking at her.

“I said I was going to feed off you,” he tells her, his tone one of supreme self-satisfaction. “But I didn’t say from where.” He gives her a look over. “So cute, and virginal. I like it. Let’s keep it that way.”

His hands start wandering over her body before finally coming to a stop. Her eyes widen and her cheeks redden with shame. He enjoys her response, gives her a teasing little peck on the lips that make her want to retch. She can still taste Xander’s blood on his mouth.

He winks and then those black veins come back. Willow squeezes her eyes shut and lets loose a sharp cry when his teeth pierce her flesh.

And then, like a good Jewish girl, Willow prays.

~0~

When he’s done, he picks up Xander and beckons her to follow. He drops them off at Willow’s house, pouring a few drops of his blood into Xander’s mouth before throwing him on the couch. Xander recovers almost instantaneously and after they share a very long look, her friend goes back to sleep.

She follows him to the door, stumbling from the loss of blood and the emotional strain of it all. He asks for a kiss at the door and she gives it robotically. He laughs again, says he’ll take care of Jesse, and gives her a long, hard look. She immediately forgets what he tells her to forget and nods when he promises to come back to check on her.

In the morning, Xander wakes all better and she’s in the armchair across from him. The events of the last night come back in pieces and they’re both in a panic. It takes almost a full day before they come to any sort of understanding about what happened.

That afternoon, Jesse McNally is reported missing by his mother. Willow and Xander, helpless and heartbroken, join the search efforts and try to make it seem like there is hope. Willow finds herself a very capable liar when she needs to be, and the thought makes her throw up into her toilet at night.

Six months later, the search for Jesse is called off. A body is found, three towns over, and his mother goes to collect his remains. It rains the day of his funeral, buckets of water falling on grieving family members and confused classmates. Cordelia Chase is there, and Willow wants to claw her eyes out when the cheerleader offers condolences to the McNallys. Xander stops her, but just barely. That night, Willow has a nightmare about white fangs, black and red eyes, and haunting laughter from a faceless monster.

At sixteen and a half, Xander drops out of school and starts working odd construction jobs here and there. At seventeen, Willow has accumulated enough course credits to qualify for early graduation. Her parents send her many brochures, from schools all over the globe. She throws them all out and applies for entry at Duke University. She’s accepted and offered a scholarship within a matter of weeks. Her parents are baffled but proud, and then baffled again when Willow tells them she will be enrolling in the anthropology department.

Of course, that pales in comparison to their reaction to finding out Xander is coming along with her.

“Willow, that Harris boy-“

“Xander,” she interrupts, her voice colder than usual. “You’ve known him for seventeen years, Mom. You can take the time to learn his name.”

Sheila Rosenberg’s eyes widen, in an almost comical fashion. Willow looks back calmly, remembering a time when she would have been petrified of talking to her mother like this. But things have changed, and she’s learned of scarier creatures than her parents. Her mother is either clueless to the changes in her daughter, or she doesn’t know how to respond to them. Willow watches her fumble for about thirty seconds before returning to the task of packing up her room. She’s leaving most of this behind-the pink frills, the stuffed animals, all the trinkets of her childhood.

The few things she does take are the ones that she can’t bear to be parted from: the teddy bear Xander won for her at the state fair when they were twelve, the books her parents have given to her over the years, the friendship bracelet Jesse made for her in fourth grade art class, and very little of her wardrobe. Sheila watches this selective packing with an obviously worried look, mouth opening now and then as she tries to find the words she needs to say.

“Are you two having sex?”

It comes out in one full breath, the words stringing together in an almost incoherent jumble. It makes her laugh, when she deciphers her mother’s meaning, and it’s not exactly a good laugh. It’s a sharp, bitter laugh that does little to disguise the tears and the frustration. “No Mom, we’re not.”

“Willow,” Sheila’s mouth is twisted into an unfamiliar frown. Her entire seventeen years as a mother has not prepared for her this-her perfect daughter changing into an unresponsive, surly teenager. Willow’s surprised the textbooks haven’t been brought out, that her father isn’t here psychoanalyzing her alongside Sheila.

“Willow, you’ve been different ever since that other boy-“

“Jesse, Mom!” Willow squeezes her eyes shut and clenches her fists to try and control her anger. They don’t listen; they’ve never listened. “His name was Jesse-don’t call him ‘that other boy’. God! What’s the matter with you?”

“The matter with me?” Sheila repeats, her eyebrows arched high. “I’m not the one who’s entering into her rebellious stage a tad bit late. Tell me, what is the sudden desire to attend only Duke? And this newfound love of anthropology? Is this a way of trying our patience? And taking the Harr-Xander, taking Xander with you when he’s not the slightest bit interested in education. And you expect me to believe that you’re not having relations-what are you trying to say by doing all this?”

How do you tell your rational, psychologist parents that the reason it seems like you’re running away is because you are running away? How do you bring up vampires and demons and magical mind control to people who would happily put you on medication so they wouldn’t have to listen to you? And how do you tell these parents that you’re running away because, despite their flaws, you do love them and you know that the monster from your nightmares is bound to return at some point?

Willow’s not sure how she can explain it, or if it can be explained. Not to people who haven’t seen what she has seen, who haven’t talked to a monster like she has. She can’t tell her mother that she’s running from a vampire who made her forget his face, so she’ll never have any chance of seeing him coming. She can’t explain that Xander’s very interested in education, but not the kind that can be found in classrooms and doled out by underpaid teachers.

She also can’t explain why she’s not having sex with Xander, or not having sex with anyone. She can’t find the words to express the feeling of dread and nausea that washes over her whenever a boy gets too close (and a few have tried). She can’t share her suspicions that the faceless vampire of her nightmares programmed her to avoid these overtures, that he liked her ‘virginal’ status and probably commanded her to keep it. And the very implications of that idea produce a fear that she can’t give words to, won’t give words to, in order to preserve the remaining shreds of her sanity.

“Willow!”

Willow blinks and looks up from her half-filled suitcase. “Mom, I’m going away to university in three days. Let’s not spend those days fighting. Call it rebellion, call it whatever-it’s what I want to do. And you should know me well enough to know that I don’t do things without a reason.”

“Why can’t you tell me that reason?” Sheila demands, her strained tone revealing a hint of panic. Her daughter is falling through her fingers and Sheila’s seen enough of this in her work to know what’s coming next.

“Because there are things you don’t need to know.”

Willow turns back to her suitcase, slamming it shut as firmly as she closes the door on her relationship with her parents. Sheila can do nothing other than stand by and despair.

~0~

North Carolina is beautiful, but Willow’s so stressed she can’t enjoy it. The drive from the airport, the passing scenery, the tour of campus-it’s all a blur. Xander is firmly in charge, taking her to sign in and collect her course schedule and materials. He guides her to their new apartment, pushes her to the showers while he unpacks.

For four days she stays in this fog, moving only when prompted by Xander. Four days in which she starts classes, Xander picks up a part-time job, and her parents call a record of ten times.

On the fourth day, Xander drives her to the most important appointment of their lives. She fidgets in the passenger seat, hands clenching in the skirt of her sundress. She feels shaky and naked, betting everything on a gamble she’s painfully unsure of. Xander says nothing, has said nothing the whole day, and his silence is so different from the boy she’s known her whole life. He parks the car in one of the university lots and cuts the engine. And then he waits.

“There’s no other way,” she tells him, voice breaking. “There’s no other way.”

He nods and takes her by the hand, giving it a comforting squeeze. She looks to him, to a boy that’s been pushed into manhood well before his time. There will never be nostalgia for the good old days of high school. He’ll never be able to think of Jesse fondly, never once remember a good friend without remembering the nightmare that came in the wake of Jesse’s death.

“Let’s go,” she says, but he’s the first to move. He walks around the car, opens her door, and gives her a helping hand out. She takes a deep breath and emerges from the car, glancing about her nervously.

Their walk into the building is quiet and tense. Xander still holds her hand, but it’s hard and no longer soothing. She guides them to the right office, having made the trek a few times in the previous four days, something like trial runs. She’s never made it the entire way until now and if she had been alone, she wouldn’t have made it. Xander has to tug her along the last few steps and push her to the office door. She licks dry lips and stares at the door in a bit of confusion. Xander raises the hand he’s holding, turning her hand until her knuckles are facing the door window. He makes her knock, a bit of a smile playing on his lips as he does so.

“Thanks,” she mutters, though she doesn’t feel as thankful as she should. That in itself is ludicrous since this has been her plan way from the start. A voice from within calls them in and Willow needs to take a deep breath before she is able to turn the knob.

Professor Fleming is seated behind a large desk, papers and books strewn around the top, a laptop open in front of her, a lamp off to the right corner, and a single picture frame close to her computer. The office is fairly large, with bookshelves, tables, and chairs, all covered with books, papers, and other office supplies. Xander takes in the chaos and lets out a low whistle.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” Professor Fleming looks up from her laptop and graces both of them with a smile. “Believe it or not, this is organized.”

“Looks like my kind of organization,” Xander laughs and Willow gives a tight smile, fingers itching to bring some order to the mess around her. Professor Fleming gives a quick giggle and waves them to the two chairs across from her desk.

“I’m a little confused,” the professor admits. “I was expecting one student, a Willow Rosenberg, but I have two students in front of me.”

“Actually, you still only have one student,” Xander waits until Willow’s standing in front of the desk before he moves back to the door, peeking out to make sure the hall is clear. Willow watches as Professor Fleming’s face goes from curious to confused to wary. Willow barely hides a smile when the professor’s fingers start edging towards her phone.

“We’re not here to hurt you,” Willow blurts out, trying her best to look reassuring. “We’re actually here to apply as your research assistants. I’ve been following your work for about six months, what little of it I could find, and you’re the whole reason why I enrolled at Duke.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear it, Willow,” Professor Fleming continues to look distrustful. “But I don’t usually accept undergraduates as research assistants, and rarely non-students whose name I still don’t know.”

“Xander Harris,” Willow offers, coming closer to the desk. “And I know this sounds crazy, and that we’re acting crazy, but I don’t think you’ll find anyone else as qualified to be your research assistants.”

“And why do you say that?”

“Well, for starters, we believe in it,” Xander says from the doorway, arms folded across his chest. “And not just the fake belief that will get us what we want. We really believe it.”

Professor Fleming leans back in her chair and gives them a hard look. “Did someone in the psychology department put you up to this? I’m very tired of their pranks.”

Willow feels her heart drop. She looks at Xander, tears threatening in her eyes. He just motions to the professor and nods. Willow turns back slowly, resolve crumbling every second under Professor Fleming’s harsh glare. Willow swallows nervously, and then her fingers edge down to the hem of her dress. She pivots so that her inner right thigh is in view of the professor and then she slowly moves the fabric upwards.

The professor lets out a curse and jumps back, legs hitting her desk. Professor Fleming winces painfully and stumbles out from behind her desk. She approaches fast, a greedy look in her eyes. She stops just a few feet shy of Willow, propriety returning to her thoughts and she looks up to give the redhead a questioning look. Willow nods and does her best not to make a face when the professor’s fingers skim over the bite mark on her thigh.

“That’s real,” Professor Fleming gasps, straightening and giving Willow an uneasy look. “And the canines, they-“

“Hurt a lot going in,” Willow steps back and drops her skirt. “I trust the psychology department doesn’t go to such extremes for their pranks.”

Professor Fleming retreats to behind her desk, hands fidgeting nervously and rearranging papers mindlessly. “Those could be from anyone,” is what she finally says.

“But they’re not,” Xander pipes up from the doorway. “You know what they are, we know what they are. But you know a lot more about these things than we do. And to better our chances of survival, we thought we’d come and ask for help.”

“I don’t understand-“

“He evil-eyed us,” Willow explains, gesturing to her covered leg. “I remember everything about that night, every detail-but I can’t remember his face. He did something to us, looked right into our eyes, and now we can’t remember a thing about his appearance. And then he-“

She falls short, teeth worrying her lip because this part is the scariest. “He promised he’d be back,” Xander finishes for her, his own voice gruffer as he explains. “So, this guy that nearly killed us promised to come back, and we can’t even see him coming. Not to mention, he has some pretty sick plans about what we’re all going to do when he does get back.”

Willow tries to keep her face stoic, but from the way Professor Fleming looks at her, she knows she has failed. Willow shifts from one foot to the other, desperately wanting to go home and pull on a pair of pants (she hates skirts-can’t stand the thought of others seeing it). “We’re not here as a joke, we’re not here as a job interview-we just really need your help.”

The professor sighs and takes her seat again. “Sit down,” she instructs Xander. “And start from the beginning.”

They do as requested. She tells them they start in the morning, 7AM-exceptions only for classes.

~0~

Alaric Saltzman is a wonderfully accepting man who wears his disbelief with a disarming smile and good-natured shrugs. Willow finds him a great conversationalist, a terrific husband, and outrageously gorgeous (he’s a history nerd-she loves that he’s a history nerd). Isobel often jokingly reminds her that Alaric is spoken for, something that never fails to make Willow blush.

But at least she’s not as bad as Xander’s man-crush.

Alaric is the kind of teacher that every student prays to get. He’s thoughtful, understanding, fun, and makes the school day less monotonous. He also is genuinely friendly and immediately takes a shine to Xander. It also helps that he thinks that Willow and Xander are a couple, struggling to make it together in the post-high school period of their lives. Isobel smirks and says Alaric’s projecting, remembering the beginnings of their relationship and likening it to the one he supposed Willow and Xander shared.

Neither Willow nor Xander correct Alaric in his assumptions; they’ve quickly figured out that it’s less likely to raise questions about their situation that neither one really wants to answer. It also gives Willow a handy excuse for turning down dates and while Xander is forced to do the same, he assures her that he doesn’t really mind. Willow’s not sure if she believes him, but she’s not strong enough to fight him on it. She doesn’t really like the idea of sharing Xander with someone else. It’s incredibly selfish, she knows, but it’s the only real way she feels safe.

The four of them spend countless evenings together, making dinner, eating take-out, and watching movies. Xander and Alaric have their “guy time”-hours separate from the girls in which they attend sporting events, talk shop about cars and bikes and other guy things, and Alaric even takes Xander fishing once. Xander, Willow thinks, honestly believes that the sun rises and sets on Alaric Saltzman’s shoulders. She’s not inclined to disagree and sometimes it’s so carefree that they both forget the nightmare on the horizon.

Isobel is a wealth of knowledge on vampires. Her research does tend to focus on some town near her hometown, some place called Mystic Falls. Isobel swears the place is riddled with vampires, pulls out old civil war pictures that depict supposed vampires. Katherine Pierce, the Salvatores, Pearl, Frederick, Henry, Founders’ Council-these terms are thrown around Isobel’s office with ease and deliberation. It’s a finely constructed web, one that Isobel has been piecing together since she was a teenager. She shows Willow Mystic Falls on a map, talks of vampire lore, witch burnings, and ghost sightings. “It all leads back to Mystic Falls,” Isobel insists. “I just haven’t figured out what ‘it’ is.”

There are documents, photographs, family trees, books, and old diaries that need reading and cataloguing. Willow spends most of her days lost in the world of 1864, trying to trace the appearance of the vampire coven all the way to its ultimate demise. The list of possible vampires grows and grows-how could there be so many in such a tiny place? What could be the reason for it?

Xander does less research than he does projects. He repairs broken furniture, installs new shelves, and then throws himself into weapons construction. Willow and Isobel watch with wide eyes as he somehow orders crossbows online and spends hours taking them apart and studying them. Willow’s stumped to see the level of ingenuity that her friend displays in creating these tools: “You failed woodshop, Xander. How could you fail woodshop?”

He shrugs, mentions not going to class ever, and then turns back to his weapon designs. He wants to make a smaller model, one that can be easily hidden on the body, or in a lady’s purse (Willow, he instructs, needs to buy a larger purse). The crossbow takes up much of his time, as does the fashioning of matching stakes. When he’s finally done, he ‘borrows’ a skeleton from the biology department, puts a sweater on the model, and demonstrates his creation for the ladies. The crossbow is small and dainty, almost cute, but is deathly accurate and does actually hide nicely underneath a person’s jacket. Willow’s awed and slightly afraid; Isobel can only clap and beam with pride.

It’s worse when he gets his hands on the vervain. They start taking the herb the second they learn of its powers and Isobel keeps them readily supplied. Xander starts pestering Willow on how to make an extract of the flower and she teaches him in between classes and charting out Mystic Falls 1864 (she’s only up to February after months of work). Once he masters this, the tranquilizer darts start arriving.

“He’s very thorough,” Isobel offers.

“He’s obsessed,” Willow replies sourly, but she can’t bring him to stop. It’s the most productive he’s been since Jesse died and in reality, she wants some sort of defence against the thing that haunted her dreams.

Alaric, bless his heart, only nods and offers to help Xander with his projects. Many of their get-togethers end with Isobel and Willow watching Grey’s Anatomy while Xander and Alaric argued over blueprints and measurements. The two of them are determined to create -some sort of wrist holster with a spring activated release-it’s all very James Bond-y.

“This is kind of fun,” Alaric laughs from the kitchen one night, elbow deep in tiny wooden stakes. It’s actually more life-or-death, but no one knows how to explain it to him. Isobel smiles and says to leave him be.

“Besides, if you tried lifting your skirt for him, he’s probably freak out and then spend months trying to save your relationship with Xander.”

It’s easier to laugh during these days. These days are not so heavy. It almost feels normal. She almost feels safe.

She should have known it wouldn’t last.

~0~

There are no words to describe that late-night call from Alaric. Xander is barely able to piece together enough of the story to explain it to her. Her blood runs cold when “Isobel”, “attack”, and “vampire” are tossed together in a flood of words she doesn’t have time to digest because Xander is already tossing her coat at her.

The drive to the university campus is characterized by silent tears and loud curses. Alaric is at home, dealing with the police. Xander is leading her to Isobel’s office to find an answer, to search out a reason for all this. Alaric says it looked like one of the men in the pictures Isobel keeps, a dark-haired man in a leather jacket. None of the men in the pictures wear leather jackets, but she can gather all the photos while Xander gathers the weapons and the vervain. But Alaric’s story is just short of making sense.

“How could it feed off her when she’s been drinking vervain every day?”

Xander shrugs and drives faster. Willow bites her lips and tries hard to stop the flow of tears. It feels just like it did five years ago, on the night that Jesse was taken. She doesn’t want to lose another friend to these things, but she can’t figure out how any of this happened in the first place.

“He would need an invitation. Who gave him the invitation?”

Xander wordlessly pulls into a parking spot and undoes his seatbelt. “Let’s go, Willow.”

It’s all too familiar; it’s Sunnydale all over again. She can see it in the stiffness of his shoulders, the stony look on his face. It’s failure, again, the death of a friend, again. It’s just too much déjà vu and Willow feels like her head will explode from the weight of the whys and the hows.

They walk past the security guard, both waving the passes that Isobel had given them. The guard nods once, entirely too used to seeing these two running in and out at odd hours. It’s never this urgent, though; it’s never with this much foreboding. They practically sprint up to the office, the keys in her hands jangling loudly as she tries to steady her grip. It feels like forever before the door gets opened, before they’re spilling into the darkened room with barely constrained need. Willow slaps on the lights, Xander closes the door, and they both move to their regular spots.

“That certainly didn’t take too long.”

The voice, an unfamiliar voice, makes Willow stop right in her tracks. Xander, she hears him curse and the fumbling that indicates he’s looking for some sort of weapon. But then there’s this dull thud and suddenly Xander’s not making noise anymore. Her hands go to her pocket, to the vervain dart Xander insists she always carry with her, and she then slowly turns around.

“Uh-uh, hand out of the pocket, slowly.”

The command comes from directly behind her. His breath tickles the back of her ear. She can’t feel any heat from his body, but senses his solidness without ever making contact. She drops the dart from her grasp, slowly pulls out her hand, and shows it, open-palmed, to him.

“Still such a good girl; I’m glad to see that some things stay the same.”

There’s a soft brush of lips against the side of her neck. Her heart seizes violently in her chest. It can’t be-it can’t be!

“It’s okay,” he whispers into her ear. “It’s okay to remember now.”

Hands grip her shoulders and turn her around. She sees the blue eyes first (how could she forget those eyes?) and the smug smirk second. He’s still obscenely gorgeous, too gorgeous to just be walking around on the streets with everyday, normal people. His jet black hair is shorter than the last time and it stands in stark contrast to the paleness of his skin (how could she have forgotten this?). She recognizes him, not just from her past but from Isobel’s photos as well. He’s the older Salvatore brother from 1864, Damon-the one who was in the civil war. He looks kinder in his photo, but she supposes that’s because he was still human then.

“Well, well, look at you. All grown up and looking as scrumptious as the day I met you,” blue eyes travel up and down her form. She shivers and tries to crouch in on herself. He makes a tsking noise and pulls on her coat. “Take it off.”

It comes off before she can even blink. The coat’s pooling at her feet and Willow frowns at the quickness of her response. What about the vervain? She’s been drinking so much vervain every day since Isobel told them about the herb. Had Isobel been wrong about vervain? Does it have no effect on these things?

“This is all so ironic, I can’t even begin to explain,” he says with a small laugh, eyes never quite leaving her face. A hand comes up, cups her cheek, and his thumb wipes away the errant tear that escapes her. “I am flattered that you’ve been thinking about me so much. But the truth is I forgot all about you, and him, a few years ago. Got a little busy-there’s this big project I’m trying to complete; you must know how that feels. University students are always busy, aren’t they?”

She has nothing to say, but the tears run freer now. She looks past his shoulder, trying to spot Xander. She’s surprised to find him sitting upright by one of the tables. She’s even more surprised to see who’s standing in front of him.

“Isobel?”

Isobel turns slightly, giving Willow a strained smile. “Hello, Willow.”

Xander starts turning red, hands clenching into tight fists as he glares up at their friend. “We trusted you. We came to you for help!”

“And I did help!” Isobel insists, casting a desperate look towards Damon. He only rolls his eyes and steps around Willow, arms encircling her waist and bringing her back flush against his chest. Willow gasps and this time a fearful sob leaves her lips. “Don’t, Willow! Please, he won’t hurt you. He promised me that he wouldn’t hurt you-he’s just curious, after all these years . . .”

Isobel trails off weakly and Willow knows her own eyes are full of the same hate that Xander’s hold. “What about Rick?” she asks through gritted teeth.

A shadow glides over Isobel’s features and she can’t answer. Xander snorts and spits at her from his seat. “You’re a selfish, lying bitch!”

“I’m not! I just-I needed this!” Isobel looks near tears as she kneels down to lock eyes with Xander. “You don’t understand-this isn’t about you two. I’ve always wanted this-needed it more than you can understand. But my reasons aren’t going to be good enough for you. Just know, that you were my friends-I honestly care for you. Believe me, please! You have to believe me!”

Willow watches in terror as Xander’s face goes slack and the anger bleeds away to wonder. “I believe you,” he replies robotically.

“Don’t do that to him!”

“Tut, tut,” Damon rests his chin on her shoulder and she automatically goes still. “You need to let up a bit. Isobel, in truth, didn’t actually offer you up. I merely suggested it in return for giving her what she wanted. She kindly switched out your vervain for a less potent substitute and led me here-she was sure you two would come here first. And she wasn’t wrong.”

Willow’s eyes connect with Isobel and her lip curls up in disgust. “What do you want?” she asks him in the calmest voice she can muster. There’s still a bit of treble there, something is not overlooked by anyone in the room. “Another deal?”

“Nah, I hate being repetitive,” he releases her and suddenly he’s right in front of her. Blue eyes blaze with fire and Willow’s stuck burning in them. “Show me.”

Her fingers start undoing the button of her jeans without a need for clarification. The fly goes next and she shoves her jeans down to her knees, screaming inside the entire time. He smirks, hands on her hips and lifting her to a seat on the nearest table surface. Then he kneels and gets in close to look at the mark. He traces the outline of it with one of his fingers and before getting back to his feet, he presses a light kiss to the center of it.

“And you’ve kept the other part of our deal?” he asks when he’s back at eyelevel with her. She nods once, unable to do anything when he leans in close and kisses her thoroughly. He starts pushing at her, forcing her back onto the table top. His hands are skimming over the top of her panties and Willow wants to die right there and then.

His hand stops suddenly and Willow looks up to see Isobel standing next to them, her face angry. “You promised you wouldn’t hurt them,” she reminds Damon icily.

“I’m not hurting her, am I Willow?” he smirks at her and she shakes her head because he wants her to. Isobel’s nostrils flare a bit, the only indication of her anger. She tugs on Damon’s wrist wordlessly and he sighs, but gets up off Willow. “You know, I made her a promise years ago. I told her to keep it, because I want it all for myself. She’s a pretty twenty-year-old girl who’s never had a proper boyfriend because she’s been so dedicated to keeping her promise. I’m just trying to reward her for that dedication.”

“No,” Isobel glances down at Willow, who hasn’t moved once from the position he left her in. “Stop it, stop all of it now. You said they weren’t important enough to remember.”

“They’re not, but I’m starting to remember why I liked her so much,” Damon laughs and grabs Willow’s hand to pull her into a sitting position. “There’s seriously nothing as hot as a young little virgin with my mark so close to her . . . honeypot.”

“No,” Isobel repeats, her voice harder than before.

Damon’s head snaps her way and there’s real anger in his eyes. “What the fuck gave you the impression that you can order me around? That’s not how these relationships work.”

“Rick needs them,” Isobel sputters tearfully. “He needs them to deal with-It was all part of the deal. Don’t hurt her, please. She’s-she’s my friend.”

“A friend you sold out in less than a minute,” he retorts, but obligingly steps back from Willow. “Well, twenty is a good age, but maybe I’ll let her ripen just a bit more. Besides, Katherine might get a kick out of her boy there. We’ll see.”

“Katherine?” Isobel’s eyes take on a greedy glint that is quite frightening. “Katherine’s alive?”

Damon raises one finger to silence her. He points to Xander and gives Isobel a look. She sighs and obediently starts walking over to him. Damon turns back to Willow and gives her another smirk. “It’s really just the timing,” he explains to her, in an apologetic voice. “Katherine’s more important and she’s probably not going to want a lot of competition right now. But when she’s out, I know she’s going to want some sort of sport. You two carry on with this vampire hunting thing and you might be enough to entertain her for awhile. I’ll see you in a couple of years.”

Then he winks and Willow forgets he was ever there.

~The End~

The End

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