Criminal Minds and
BtVS are not mine. No infringement of copyright is intended. No profit will be made.
Author's Note: This is intended to be a post to the LJ TwistedShorts August contest. Let's see if I can keep it below the 3000 word count limit. Ha!
It was the tail end of summer, late August. She didn't mind the heat. It didn't even count as heat, since it was barely over 80 degrees. She did mind the impossibly crowded house where you had to scan the floor before putting a foot down, and reaching the kitchen could take a half an hour expedition. She minded the noise, physical and psychic. She minded feeling like there were elephants sitting on her brain and she couldn't breathe.
So, she'd given Xander one pitiful look, and he'd tossed the keys to the SUV to her.
“There's a full tank of gas. I need it back by six. Try to miss the worst of rush hour, and keep your phone on.”
She'd nodded and escaped as quickly as she could.
Cleveland was a lot larger than Sunnydale, but, so long as you kept an eye on the highway signs and didn't drive all the way to Niagara Falls, you were okay. She found an anonymous city park on the edge of the lake, parked in the shade, climbed out, locked the doors, and walked out to the water's edge.
Willow took a deep breath, and then another, feeling the breeze off the lake lift her hair off her neck and shoulders.Find your center,
she thought.Seek the stillness.
That was one of the hardest things to learn, and one of the simplest. It was impossible to keep her mental and emotional balance in the storm and stress of a house filled with young Slayers and a handful of adults trying to deal with a world turned topsy-turvy.
Deep breath. Slow inhale, hold, slow exhale. Let the tension go with it.Kennedy.
It wasn't fair. Ha ha. How many times would that complaint be voiced before she finally stopped expecting some manner of universal fairness?
The breakup hadn't even been that bad. Just . . . a moment when she realized she wasn't with Kennedy because she loved Kennedy or lusted after her or . . . anything. Just that it was better than listening to her own breathing at night. Better than crying silently over Tara, trying to hold on to the idea that the world was worthsomething even if Tara wasn't in it.
And now, she could hold Tara's memory and feel a bone deep ache that comforted rather than tormented, and she . . . didn't want to be around Kennedy anymore. She had Buffy, Xander, Dawn, and Giles. She had enough. She didn't need or want Kennedy's drama.
After gently breaking it off with Kennedy, Kennedy had left. Screw the Council, screw the Hellmouth. She'd only stayed because of Willow. She'd head out for her own adventure, and maybe she'd drop them a postcard.
Except, she was dead. Not in an accident. Not killed by a vampire or other demon. Not even a bolt of lightning, house fire, or shark attack. Kennedy was dead because she'd been killed by some guy whose brain had turned inside out and decided killing young women was the right and proper thing to do.
Willow sat on one of the small boulders lining the shore and watched the water lap. She could, she knew, walk straight out into the lake, and depending on what choice she made, she could either stay on the surface of the water and walk as far as she liked, or keep to the bed of the lake. If she went underwater, she'd get to decide whether or not to let gills open up on her neck so she could breathe the dissolved oxygen in the water.
She could do it without a formal casting; she was that strong. She could see the connections between the land and the water, the air, the sun, the shadows, her own body, and all the birds, insects, fish, and animals for quite a ways out. If she wanted, she could sink into that awareness, like it was water, and just be – be so completely at one with everything that all the Willow molecules and atoms would drift off on the wind, or fall to the earth and water.
“Are you all right, miss?”
The question didn't surprise her. She'd been aware of the man watching her for a few minutes and then strolling up, watching a little longer, and then asking. He was . . . not a danger to her.
“No,” she answered. Falling into her center, it was impossible to lie.
“Do you need anything?” he asked.
Without looking up at him, she knew he was taller than her, in his late fifties, had a bald spot he didn't bother to cover, dark brown hair going to gray, brown eyes, and a smile that was rarely anything more than wistful. He wore a light, long sleeve shirt with the cuffs rolled up, a pair of well worn jeans, and boat shoes. He had a wallet filled with enough cash to last him three days and a place to go to for more.
What's more, she saw the dark stains on his soul – of things seen and experienced, decisions made, regrets and grief. He had killed people. He had seen corpses, blood, flames, and things most people didn't really believe could exist outside of Hell. He was the most centered person she had ever met, and he was broken.
She considered his question and answered almost in a trance. “Space. Time. Understanding.”
He sat beside her.
“Tell me about it.”
She looked over at him, suddenly aware there were tears on her face, and her eyes were dazzled by the sunlight reflected from the lake. He was as she'd known, which was unusual. Most people projected something – a facade, a mask – to protect who they were. He simply was and accepted her as she was.
“I broke up with her,” Willow said. “A few weeks later, she was dead. Someone killed her. I didn't, but I feel like it's my fault.”
“She left, because she couldn't be with you,” he confirmed. “That decision put her in the path of her killer.”
“The police caught him,” she continued. “It was random. He'd killed a bunch of other girls. They were . . . really nice. One of them was nearly killed by him as well, but she survived. He's in an asylum now where he can't hurt anyone else. We brought her back here and buried her in one of the public cemeteries.”
Numb, Willow shook her head. The phone call she'd made had been surreal. “They didn't want her. They wouldn't say why.”
“So you put her to rest. The man who killed her can't hurt anybody else. But there's something else.”
She looked up at him, and gazing at his eyes, she realized what it was. His eyes were just like Tara's. Not the same color or shape, but that same sense of silence, of wholeness, of the solidity of a rock at the bottom of the ocean. No lever, no matter how long, no matter how firm the ground it was wielded from could shift him.
“I don't miss her,” Willow admitted. “I miss Tara. I miss her so much.”
“Tell me about her,” he said.
And he listened, without saying a word, just showing with a tilt of his head or a flick of his eyebrow, or the smallest, saddest smile that he heard every word she said. She felt like her grief was being poured out of a pitcher into a river, to be carried to the sea and transmuted into something else.
“It wasn't something the police could handle,” she told him, and then she stopped, a new knowledge unfolding in her mind. “It was. Warren used a gun. He meant to kill Buffy, and he nearly did, but one of the wild shots killed Tara.”
“What did you do?”
Her jaw tensed for a minute. This was still very painful territory to touch on. Giles had talked to her about it a little bit. The witches in Devon had focused more on reconnecting her to the world and Gaea and her own place. Xander deflected any and every comment that might touch on it, like a knight gallant defending a maiden from a dragon. Except . . . she had made her own dragon.
“I killed him,” she said. “I had the right, morally, but I didn't do it right. I should have just put him down. He was like a rabid dog. Or I could have just broken him, so he couldn't hurt anyone else. Instead, I . . . made it as cruel as I could. I laughed at him. I showed him what he was, inside and out, and I made sure he knew he was nothing before I snuffed him out.”
She felt tears slip down her cheeks. “He took her away from me, and it hurt so much, I had to spread the pain around. It wasn't enough to hurt him, kill him. I had to hurt the world because the world had let him take her.”
She had been ready to destroy the world. No ifs, ands, or buts. Where all the master vampires, elder demons, and hell goddesses had failed, she could have plunged her pain into the center of the world like a dagger and destroyed it.
“Did it help?” the man asked.
“No,” Willow said, shaking her head. “It didn't. It just hurt more and more. It wasn't until Xander refused to let go of me. He didn't care what I'd done. He didn't care what I was capable of. He just . . . loved me.”
Her shoulders began to shake with pent up sobs. The man gently rubbed her back, and when she put her arms over her head and sobbed, he held her against his shoulder and let her cry.
“I want you to listen to something,” he said. “It's a meditation by a man named John Donne.”
“All mankind is of one author,” he recited, “and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.
“Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
His voice was soft, but carried and pierced her heart.
“There are many things I don't understand,” he told her. “But I have understood for a long time that we are all connected. That your pain is my pain, that Tara's and Kennedy's and Xander's and even the killer's pain are all shared among us. All of us. There is no escaping that. But that pain, no matter who it belongs to, when we allow ourselves to feel it, that is what makes us human, because we are driven to make it better.”
Willow listened and thought for a long moment. Then she decided something.
“My name is Willow Rosenberg. I used to live in Sunnydale, California. I killed Warren Mears. I doubt there's any physical evidence left. Sunnydale's gone. But . . . there's no statue of limitations on murder. So, if you want to tell anyone, they'll be able to find me. I won't hide. In the meantime, I will remember what I did to Warren and myself and everyone else in the world that day. I'll try, I really will, to make sure my actions don't harm anyone, including myself.”
He nodded. “I think that's a very wise decision, Willow. Rosenberg? Are you a Jew?”
She cast her eyes down for a bit, feeling an old, complicated scar rise to the surface. “Yes, but my family was never very observant.”
“I would say,” the man spoke thoughtfully, “if I may give you advice, that while you're clearly neo-Pagan in your beliefs, go back and study your people and their religion. Yom Kippur isn't that far off. You may find some solace in the Day of Atonement. You may find you are part of a world you don't really know, one that gives you comfort.”
She had leaned back when she'd finished crying, and they sat together, his arm over her shoulders.
“You don't hate me, because of what I did?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No. Absolutely not. I lost the ability to hate a long time ago. Now, I just . . . want to understand.”
“Do you mind telling me who you are?” she asked. She didn't say it aloud, but it occurred to her that she wouldn't mind saying his name in prayers of thanks.
“Jason. Jason Gideon.”
“That . . . sounds familiar,” Willow said, frowning thoughtfully.
“I was with the FBI for a while, in their Behavioral Analysis Unit. We made the news every now and then, bringing in people like the man who killed your Kennedy.”
“Oh.” She thought about it a moment. “Do I need to be ready for a . . . a knock on the door or something.”
He made a face, dismissing the idea. “No. I know it's not my place to make these decisions. I never had that authority granted to me anyways. But, there are killers in this world who are still harming us, destroying us. You're not one of them. My old team, their time is better spent on those lost souls.”
“It's been good talking with you, Willow,” Jason said. Then he stood and brushed off his pants.
“If it means anything,” he continued, and leaned over her. “I forgive you.”
He kissed her forehead and then left, ambling away with his hands in his pockets.
“It does,” Willow whispered.
Jason Gideon, formerly head analyst of the FBI's celebrated BAU climbed into his pickup truck and buckled his seatbelt.
Some time, several years ago now, he had rushed to his apartment to protect the woman he loved from a serial killer. He was too late. The sight – blood spatters on the wall above the headboard of his bed, Sarah's sightless eyes, her organs removed from her abdomen and chest – was still there whenever he closed his eyes. Breitkopf injected his victims with ketamine, so they couldn't fight back, but were still aware. Ketamine was also a dissociative, an anesthetic, and a hallucinogen, so it was possible that while Sarah was awake and aware of what Breitkopf was doing to her, it hadn't bothered her. He prayed it was so.
He'd left the FBI when he'd realized that he no longer understood what he was doing or why, when he felt the broken edges of his soul move like tectonic faults, threatening to destroy him. And he knew, oh, he knew, that if he lost his hold on sanity, he could easily have destroyed the entire BAU. So, he'd left and wandered the face of the Earth, seeking what he'd lost.
The things Willow had spoken of, he could have written off as hallucinations or delusions, but they hadn't been. There were more things out there than he'd known, and now he understood a little better. He could feel, however metaphorically, a small place in that tectonic fault cracking his soul had bound itself and become whole.