A/N: Did you miss me? Well, I missed writing on this story, if it's any consolation. I was stuck for a while, between online classes and new story ideas playing tag with my muse. For those of you who liked Road to Redemption, I'm going to try to finish the 2nd chapter on that soon. I have a lot plotted in my head. As for this one, I'm gonna try to pump out around 3 more chapters during my 2-3 week holiday break. Which hasn't started yet... Anyway, hope you like! Reviews are my lifeblood! Thank you thank you for everyone that had reviewed so far!!!
“I don’t sing,” Gibbs whispered to Willow. While it was amusing to watch his daughter’s fierce friend sing “I’m Every Woman”, he didn’t think tonight was a time for whimsical warbling. “What about you?”
Willow laughed nervously. “No, I can’t. There’s too many…”
He glanced over at her when her pause stretched too long. “Too many what?” He glanced around the club, surveying his surroundings keenly out of habit. The sanctuary club, for he now knew that was what it was called, was decorated in a theme of burgundy and gold. Martiovo, the demonic host, had seated them in a semicircular booth near the stage when Faith had been the only one to volunteer to sing.
“People,” the redheaded teenager answered softly. “It’s one of my nightmares.” She shrugged. “Stage fright.”
Gibbs watched his daughter’s eyes reflect back a middle distance, an image he couldn’t have seen even if he wanted to, and it revealed age in her that hurt him to see. In an effort to quash the parental ache in his heart, he asked a question he was pretty sure he already knew the answer to in an effort to change the subject. “Do your parents know anything about this?”
Willow shook her head vehemently. Then, with a slight tilt of her head that made him think of Shannon momentarily, she shrugged her shoulders noncommittally. “There was something a few months ago. I told Mom some things.” She locked her eyes with his and Gibbs could see the significance there but he wasn’t sure what it was. Looking away, she continued. “She didn’t really hear me.”
He could hear the forced nonchalance in her voice, obviously hiding a pain that he didn’t want to visualize, and decided to change the subject back to the one thing that kept slapping him in the face. “Well, okay.” He made it clear in his tone that he knew she wasn’t telling him something and was satisfied when she smiled slightly. “How long have you been…?” He trailed off uncertainly, not sure how to word his question.
Willow reached out and splayed her fingers over the table, rotating her head to look at him sideways. “Down the rabbit hole?” She laughed hollowly at the inquisitive look on his face, somehow knowing that he understood her reference. “That’s what it feels like, right? Like you’ve fallen into this new world and nothing makes sense and everything’s upside-down and backwards?”
Gibbs inclined his head slightly. “I guess so, yeah.”
“That’s what it was like for me, too,” she replied. “I remember denying it into the ground, at least in my own head. I mean, really? Vampires? Now, it’s just a fact of life. Like breathing or eating.”
Gibbs watched as she sighed and visibly tried to exert control over herself. He badly wanted to ask her normal questions, like what college she had decided on or if she had a boyfriend. But he felt awkward enough without forcing her into a façade of meaningless chatter. “Are you better?”
She smiled, a bright and genuine uplifting of her lips. It was then that he began to feel okay about this distant father-daughter thing. Not only that, but he even felt good about this discovery of the supernatural. Because, really, if she was as deep in the “rabbit hole” as she seemed and still managed to be bright and innocent, it gave him hope. “Yeah, I’m good. It’s been a weird week, I guess.”
He offered her a smile of his own, trying to send warmth and comfort in her direction. It seemed like she needed it. “How weird?”
For a moment, she looked confused and he would never know that she was dissecting the two very different people that now resided within her. “Well, probably not the weirdest ever but—” She stopped when she was interrupted by the sound of her ringing cell phones. With an apologetic glance at the demon host, who was sitting just a few booths away with Faith, she quickly answered the phone. “Hello?”
Gibbs watched her face rearrange itself into affectionate patience. “Xander, slow down. Tell me again.” His mind went on red alert when her expression fell slowly to terror and something that was almost fear but not quite. For a moment, he thought she might have inherited something from him, after all – that determined spirit. “This is bad, very bad.”
Xander stood in Giles’s office, one hand holding the receiver of the old rotary phone to his ear and the other making fidgety gestures, sometimes passing through his hair and sometimes tapping nervously on the desk. His voice as he spoke to Willow was very nervous, he could tell, and it had taken a couple tries to get her cell phone number right.
He was shaking! He was Xander, the big manly-man of Sunnydale, able to punch vampires’ fists with his face without a single thought! He really needed to calm down, as his friend on the other side of the country suggested.
He was also peering out into the library, watching Angel converse somberly with Giles. The former Watcher’s eyes were alight with some kind of understanding but the other one, Wesley of the fruity last name, looked highly unhappy but not ‘I knew it!’ unhappy, more like Willow’s disappointed resignation. Like Angel had started something that couldn’t be stopped, like an avalanche, and the very British Watcher was doomed to be stuck with the fallout. Though he wanted to smile at that, for he was not fond of blue-eyed Englishmen, he could already feel the Willow-voice in his head admonishing him for the thoughts before they even fully formed.
Hey! Why was Giles happy about what Angel was telling him anyway?
“Have you said something to G-Man lately or something? Because he’s looking awfully happy right now,” Xander mentioned as a side thought.
Willow sighed, the sound of it hollow as it translated through the phone line. “I told him that if he couldn’t support me, mainly with the magic, I would have to stop helping him.” The way she spoke, he could tell that she was barely keeping a large load of anger at bay. “I bet he thinks this explains everything.”
Xander smiled at her explanation. “Way to go, Wills!” he cheered softly. “What is the deal with you and Faith anyway? I thought you hated her.”
“I did, in a way. I mean, it was a jealous best friend thing and then suddenly, she’s evil. Except she wasn’t, not really. I’ve talked to him, Xander. The Mayor is pretty good at mind control and comfortable in his ability too.”
“Then how come you’re not evil?”
“I’ve got a shield, a shield he doesn’t know is there. That’s why Faith is around me a lot now, so that I can protect her from his compulsions. We made a deal.”
Xander frowned at the phone. She sounded kind of… proud of herself. “What kind of deal?” he asked carefully.
“That if I helped protect her from the Mayor’s magic, she would start apologizing to everyone. Everyone that she hurt. It’ll help her heal, I think.”
“So I get an apology?” he asked excitedly.
The redhead sighed but he could tell some of the anger was dissipating at his exuberance. That was why he was the funny one, because someone had to break the force of her anger. He had been at the wrong end of Willow’s wrath a few too many times as a child to let anyone else suffer. “Yes, Xander, I suppose you will.”
“So, I guess she’s there with you now, then?”
“Yeah, she is. Good thing, too.”
He could tell that Willow was about to continue in her vein but he would never know how she would continue because, right at that moment, Buffy walked into the library. Xander held his breath, hoping not to be noticed. Thankfully, she noticed the activity between the Watchers and her vampire cuddly and made a beeline for them.
“It just got worse.”
“Worse? How could it get— Ooh… Buffy?”
“Yeah.” Xander turned away and flattened his back against the wall, holding his free hand to his pounding chest. He didn’t want to witness what he knew was happening. “What’s worse is that she has all these crazy theories about you being possessed or something. While I admit – yeah, you’ve been acting a little strange for a couple days – you haven’t really been out of the range of normal.”
There was a small laugh, relief echoing in the sound. “Xander, you are my best friend ever.”
He relaxed slightly. “Thanks, Will. But…” He risked a glance out into the open area of the library, frowning when he caught sight of that familiar determined set to the Slayer’s face. “What are we going to do?”
She laughed again but there was sadism and intelligence in the sound this time. “I’ll change the flight plans. Just meet us at the airport tomorrow. I’m sure Mom won’t care if I make last-minutes changes or use her card to do it.”
“The airport?” Xander echoed. “Here?”
“Don’t forget that Angel probably heard this conversation,” she reminded him softly.
Xander growled softly, angry at himself for forgetting about vamp hearing. They just had to have super everything, didn’t they? “What if he tells them, you know, about the changes?”
When Willow spoke again, her voice was sad with knowledge and a deep well of regret, though he didn’t know the reason for it. He just knew the sound of it when he heard it. “He didn’t want to make things worse. Maybe the fact that he did will be punishment enough.”
As she said the words, he glanced out into the library again, looking closely at the vampire to discern his reaction. Yep, those were the brooding eyes, dark and bottomless and full of sorrow. Xander’s momentary glance into the library also afforded him the chance to gauge the attitudes of the others. Wesley was deep in thought but he could see in the Watcher’s eyes an echo of the feeling in Angel’s. Buffy and Giles, however, were conversing seriously, most likely making plans on how to intercept Willow and de-possess or re-brainwash or whatever it was they thought needed to be done to return her to “normal”.
“So,” Xander drawled, his voice an echo of her sadistic laugh. “Is it gonna be like that time you were mad at Jesse?”
“It’ll be more challenging,” Willow offered. “You know what to do?”
Xander smiled at the thought of playing the game in which both he and Jesse had partaken. Angry Willow was not fun Willow, so they would maneuver her so that she wouldn’t see whoever she was mad at until her fury had subsided to the forgiveness that lay just underneath. “Oh, yeah. Let’s play.”
Neither one of them spent time dwelling on the games they used to play, adult-level manipulation that echoed strongly in their vampire counterparts. It was a side of themselves that Buffy had never seen, for a Slayer demanded the morally narrow aspects from them. But in initiating the game, a game that was two parts acting that still fit like a glove and one part avoidance, they both felt freer. There was still something huge bothering Willow; Xander could feel it as closely as his own skin.
Willow’s motto when she first thought of this game echoed strongly along the edges of Xander’s brain: If you don’t play, you can win. And the petite redhead had always been the best, at everything she attempted. “Okay. Remember about tomorrow, don’t forget.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered with the clipped tone of his military persona. “Bye now.” He then slowly set the receiver back on its cradle and stepped out into the library with his usual teenage-boy loping gait.
“Was that Willow?” Buffy asked before he was even all the way across the library to them.
“Yeah.” Xander gave her a lopsided smile, as if he hadn’t blown up at her a mere hour ago, if it was even that. “Because Angel said she was getting anxious, I figured I’d give her a call. She’s better now.” His eyes flicked to meet Angel’s, daring him to renounce what he had just said. Their gaze held for a moment, likely the demon inside the vampire unwilling to back down from a mere boy, but he was the first to look away. Xander was almost positive that shame had graced his expression.
“Did you know she was keeping company with Faith now?” Giles asked softly. His gaze was cast downward as he cleaned his glasses. Well, that proved that even if it made the former Watcher glad to have a reason of Willow’s seeming dissension, it also unnerved him quite a bit.
“That’s what Angel said,” he conceded.
“You didn’t know?” Buffy asked, cold hardness in her tone. “After all, you know her so much better than me.”
His initial reaction was to yell at her some more but the Willow-voice intervened again, warning him that anger could ruin whatever plan the real Willow had concocted. For, with his friend, there was always a plan. Instead, he cast his line of sight away from the Slayer and pasted an expression of shame on his face. “Well, since the fluke, we’ve been kind of… distant.”
All of them immediately accepted that, even Angel. However, the vampire was the only one that remained with an air of discomfort and questioning, for his ears had provided proof to the opposite. But in Xander’s mind, he began to wonder, had it always been this easy to deceive them?