Willow jerked awake, her internal clock telling her it was around three o’clock in the morning. As she had seen happen in the library during similar research sessions and in Giles’s apartment of the other Willow’s memories, Watcher and teenager alike had succumbed to the call of slumber. The redhead herself, however, had long ago trained herself to cope on very little sleep. Even before meeting Buffy and the long nights that resulted, she often stayed up late honing her hacking skills and got up early to tutor Xander in whatever class he was currently having difficulties.
Despite his insistence on his level of stupidity, he really only had problems with math, which made him at least marginally smarter than Percy.
Shaking her head of the tangential thoughts that tended to pass through her mind in those first few moments of waking, Willow stretched her arms above her head and pushed herself to her feet. Her living room was scattered with the unconscious. Even Faith was curled up on the living room sofa, a large research tome clutched to her chest. Willow vaguely remembered the Slayer stumbling into the house shortly after midnight, her own recollection somewhat muffled by her focus on their need to solve a problem that was mere days away.
In an effort to solve something smaller and immediate, Willow returned to her bedroom, sleep-brightened eyes roving the room from corner to corner. At first, her eyes landed on her computer and the idea of hacking another government agency for information she didn’t really need wasn’t all that appealing. She could hack the FBI or CIA – again
– but not the NSA. She stayed away from them because while she could slip in unnoticed, she wasn’t sure that their consistent paranoia wouldn’t find her trail sooner or later.
Her gaze shifted and found nothing of interest. Her mind was so full of Olvikan and the Mayor and treachery and hidden agendas that she could barely focus. Suddenly, though, her ears caught a small squeak, the sound Amy the rat’s wheel made just as she was climbing into it. Though Amy had only transformed herself into a rodent mere months ago, Willow still had memories of Rack swirling around in her head. The other Willow kept those memories fresh as a reminder of what the wrong kind of magick could do to her.
But now… Willow knew she could finally unleash all the pent-up rage on someone, someone that actually deserved it. Oh, how that warlock deserved it. Despite his constant condescension, especially towards Amy, the redhead knew that it was his influence and his skill at messing with a witch’s power that had caused the brunette to think she could handle turning herself into a rat, to think that it was the right thing to do in front of a bunch of demonically enraged parental units.
After having gone face-to-face with the Mayor just hours earlier, Willow felt she could adequately deal with Rack. Though there was a part of her saying that going into that dreadful magical flophouse was reckless at best, she knew the best ways to convince herself. She wasn’t desperate from magic drain this time or even borderline addicted to magic. She was calm and controlled and he was something that needed to be dealt with.
For God’s sake, in that future that would never be, he had caused her to summon a demon that she wasn’t sure even existed outside of those magic-induced hallucinations. There was no telling what kind of havoc he was wreaking without them even knowing that he was the cause.
Even as she grabbed the few things that she would need to survive the darkness of Sunnydale, Willow knew that she was clutching at straws. For the past three years and for most of the time of the other Willow’s life, Buffy had been the guiding influence in her life. The blond Slayer had been like a perfect mold of what to do and how to act. Well… maybe a little less so on the second aspect.
Befriending Faith, protecting the Slayer that had no one on her side, had been a slap to the face. Despite their neglect, Willow’s parents had ensured that she led a sheltered life, both idyllic and hollow in its reality. But Faith’s life, both while she endeared a level of isolation here in Sunnydale and what hell she endured prior to that, was far too real, too harsh and too sharp. Because of that, she felt a deep and raw need to heal and fix everything around her, to make it all soft and comfortable again.
But she would settle for tearing Rack’s little business to shreds.
As soon as the thought passed through her head, she gasped at the memory that followed it. She could see herself, the not-Willow, in that flophouse in a future that would never happen, her hand deep in Rack’s chest, sucking the magic out of him until there was absolutely nothing left. No magic, no heartbeat, nothing but the husk of a man that had already been a shadow of a real warlock.
Shaking her head of both the thoughts and the memories, Willow straightened the line of her light jacket and walked quickly but quietly down the stairs. She smirked slightly when she reached the top of the stairs to see that her friends were still sound asleep, the only movement belonging to Faith, who had stretched out on the sofa upon Willow leaving her spot. With light footfalls, she descended the stairs and maneuvered a convoluted path through the downed bodies.
However, just as she opened the front door, a drawn-out groan caught her attention. From the tone, she could already tell that she had caught her boyfriend’s attention. Leave it to Oz to be keenly aware of her movements. “Babe? Where you goin’?” The words were slurred by the remnants of sleep but his eyes were quickly regaining his sharp intelligence.
Turning slowly on the back of her heel, Willow faced her boyfriend, shifting her body into a half-crouch in front of him. Even looking at his face, blank and unlined from the sleep that still gripped him, she felt a sort of pain. She would
be going to school in D.C. and leaving him behind, as he had always said that their opportunities for the band were pretty much West Coast. “Just outside for a breather. I won’t go far, I promise.”
The guitarist struggled to pull himself into wakefulness, mostly unsuccessfully. Willow was used to too few hours of sleep, was used to having too much to do with too little time in the day. “Want me to come with you?”
“No.” Willow placed a calming hand on Oz’s shoulder, pushing down very slightly in a nonverbal cue to get him to go back to sleep. “I’ll just be on the porch. You know there are no baddies in this neighborhood anyway.”
“You’re sure?” He blinked and the time it took him to open his eyes again told her everything she needed to know.
Willow nodded firmly. “Go back to sleep, okay?” At his shallow affirmative nod, she watched him settle his frame back on the floor and waited patiently as his breathing evened out. Finally, after a couple minutes of holding her position, the redhead stood again, her muscles launching a dull protest at the sudden movement.
Without another thought, she opened the door and slid out into the darkness of Sunnydale, idly fingering a pocket to ensure that her house key was on her person. Reaching out with small, barely perceptible tendrils of magic, she began her search to Rack’s flophouse.
Buffy couldn’t concentrate on anything. She had allowed herself to skip patrolling the cemeteries for the night, knowing that her current emotions would end up making her wildly erratic. Last night, when she had meandered over to Angel’s mansion, finding him had been… traumatic. Somehow, the two of them had found a sort of routine since he’d returned from whatever hell dimension she’d had to send him to. It was almost dependable and real and something for her to hold on to when her destiny became too much to bear.
At first, she’d thought he was dead. Or, well… deader.
The blonde was not ashamed to admit to herself that she had freaked upon seeing Angel laid out on his bed, his breathing both quick and shallow. As often as she let it conveniently slip her mind that he was indeed of the demonic persuasion, the Slayer had been instantly alarmed by the situation. Angel didn’t breathe. In fact, Angel rarely slept.
Even as she outwardly panicked, her mind tried to figure out how to help him. Checking his pulse wouldn’t give her anything and the fact that he was inhaling and exhaling air that he didn’t need was immediately alarming. Why didn’t the Watchers teach anything about vampire first aid?
Right, she remembered having thought, that was because she was supposed to stake all vampires on sight.
She was sure it would have something to do with blood. She would have gladly made a hole in her skin and offered some of her own – Slayer blood had to be choice, right? – but she was pretty sure what Giles’s reaction to that would have been. It was bad enough that she was back with the vampire that had tortured him for hours but to give him her own blood? That might just resemble the last straw and she would only push her Watcher so far.
Oddly enough, her first thought had been to find Willow. She couldn’t call her because… well, cell phones during patrol were not the best idea ever. In retrospect, it took her much longer than it should have to remember that they weren’t talking, that she was possessed by a itty bitty demon thing and was siding with Faith – who, to be clear, she had hated a week ago – and was probably working for the Mayor now.
Buffy visibly winced at the thought. When she wasn’t in the heat of the moment or ranting through the confusion that clouded her mind, she could see how none of it made any sense. Sure, Willow was being a little un-Willowy but not usually so. She was under a lot of stress, they all were, and that situation with her dad had made it all the worse.
The blond teenager closed her eyes and rubbed her temples when she realized she had made it that much worse. She had accused Willow of being evil, of being Faith’s level of evil, and that was something she just couldn’t take back. There are some things that, when you say them, they can never be unsaid and never forgotten. Trying to “save” Willow from herself, that was not something the redhead was going to take lightly.
It was just so unreal, that new friendship with Faith. Buffy knew that she never really got on very well with other Slayers, Kendra having been full proof of that. But almost as soon as she had started to bond with Faith, Willow had gotten the suspicious eyes.
Of course, it hadn’t helped that bonding with the dark Slayer had resulted in lots of skipped school, more so than usual.
Feeling a strong need to clear her head of the cobwebby thoughts that cluttered it, Buffy stood suddenly, feeling the very slight effect of vertigo that came with the movement. Leaning over to kiss Angel on the forehead, she took the washcloth that lay across his forehead in an attempt to battle his fever and dipped it in the icy water that sat in a basin at her feet. However, as soon as she arranged the cloth back in its place, Angel’s eyes opened, his eyes blazing yellow.
Buffy tried to take a step back, unnerved by the demonic eyes, but the vampire reached out lightning-quick to grab her wrist. “Buffy,” he croaked out in a weak voice.
“Angel?” Her eyes roved across his face over and over again, wondering why he had the eyes of the demon but the face of the man. Was that even possible?
“Willow,” he murmured, his voice rough from disuse in past day. Somehow, his tone still seemed urgent. “You have to trust her.”
“But…” Buffy’s automatic response was to say that she did. She did trust Willow. But she really didn’t, did she? Even the past week aside, she didn’t trust the redhead’s magic or her judgment. Hell, she didn’t even have anything resembling a healthy respect for her computer abilities, not since Ted. So, maybe… maybe she had never really trusted Willow. “I don’t think I can,” she finally admitted in a small voice.
“She knows what she’s doing. Trust her.” Then, with a soft exhalation of breath, the vampire slid neatly back into unconsciousness, as if that short exchange had never occurred. In truth, between the lack of sleep and her own haywire emotions, Buffy wasn’t sure she didn’t dream up the whole thing.
But he had a point. Even a few days ago, Xander had had a point.
She didn’t know Willow, not really. She didn’t know Willow’s aspirations or how the big meeting with her biological father went. She didn’t know how the redhead had gotten into hacking or why her parents seemed constantly absent from her life. And because she didn’t know these things, she didn’t trust her, not in the way that she should.
Closing her eyes for a moment, Buffy gathered her instincts into a ball and let it sit. She had never been a brainy person, that was true enough, but her gut had yet to steer her wrong. She always followed where it took her and everything ended up fine. Find Willow,
it said now. There was nothing else, only that.
So, with that thought in her mind, she marched out of the mansion, determined to find her redheaded friend but promising herself that she wouldn’t let it take too long. She still had a helpless vampire to look after.