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Summary: An ancient Roman denarius shows up in Sunnydale. Crossover with The Dresden Files (the books, not the TV show).

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > Dresden Files, TheanotherlostsoulFR18528,376108815,16429 Aug 1121 Oct 11No

Welcome to the Hellmouth

Author's Note: Now that we're getting into the canon events of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you'll easily be able to track which chapters focus on canon events from the series and which don't: if the chapter is named after an episode, it contains my version of those events. Those with original chapter titles occur either in between episodes or replace episodes whose events either don't focus on this story's characters or couldn't be salvaged. Simple, no?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

     It was a bright, beautiful morning in early March and the California sun was already threatening them with a long and intensely hot spring and an even worse summer. Willow had the same half-mocking smile that she'd worn since winter break on her lips as she casually strolled up the sidewalk on her way to school. She was wearing a black lace top with flaring sleeves over a royal blue corset and a pair of black leather pants along with her boots. A week ago she'd found a gorgeous black silk parasol at an antique store and had finally decided to put it to use, using it to shield her fair skin from the sun as she walked, a pair of equally old sunglasses perched on her nose. The small, round, cobalt blue lenses served to both protect her eyes from the glare and hide them from view.

     Even after two and a half months, it was rather obvious that the students of Sunnydale High had still yet to figure out how to deal with the new Willow. Amusingly enough, one thing that most agreed upon was that they should get out of her way when she wanted to go somewhere, clearing a path as she walked with the same sort of almost fearful reverence that only Cordelia and her minions had commanded before her metamorphosis. Some, she imagined, did it out of respect for the only girl at Sunnydale High who was willing to face down Cordelia and publicly insult the self-proclaimed queen of the school. Others likely did it because they found Willow's new attitude and her willingness to verbally rip into those that offended her at least as intimidating as Cordelia. Not that Willow particularly cared one way or the other. She'd realized shortly after she reinvented herself that the vast majority of her classmates were nothing more than mindless sheep, a fact that had made itself abundantly clear when the goth population of the school exploded in the wake of her first few public snarkfests with Cordelia. Once they discovered that Willow was no more interested in being surrounded by her own sheep than she was in being one of Cordy's sheep, things had gradually settled back into the new status quo.

     Willow slowed her pace slowly, watching as a girl she didn't recognize got out of an SUV that had pulled up to the curb. The girl paused at the door, clearly talking to the driver of the SUV, most likely the girl's mother. The girl was petite and blonde and almost anorexically thin, wearing a trendy outfit that wouldn't have looked out of place on Cordelia or one of her sheep. She was smiling as she turned away from the SUV and headed up the walk toward the school without even a glance in Willow's direction. Willow frowned, her free hand automatically coming up to touch the silver denarius hanging from the collar around her throat. Something about that girl seemed… wrong somehow.

     "Coming through… coming through… not sure how to stop… look out…" Willow heard Xander's voice and the distinctive scratching of skateboard wheels on concrete getting closer, turning to watch as her best friend grew closer. Watching with an arched brow and a slightly mocking smirk on her lips, Willow just barely managed to keep from laughing as Xander caught side of the little blonde girl. Rather predictably, it resulted in a badly-timed shift in attention and he rode his skateboard straight into the metal railing down the middle of the stairs up to the school's walk. Physics took over from there as the skateboard continued forward and out from under Xander's feet, resulting in him landing hard on the concrete, more or less flat on his back.

     Strolling over to stare down at her friend, Willow clucked her tongue disapprovingly. "Honestly, Xander. She barely had an ass at all. Was staring at it really worth a case of road rash?"

     Xander winced as he climbed back to his feet, his face reddening slightly from her pointed observation. He bought himself a minute by chasing down his skateboard, but when he returned and she showed no sign of letting him off the hook… "Willow! Since when do you check out other girls' butts? Is there something you haven't been telling me?"

     "Xander, Xander, Xander. Even straight girls check out each other's asses. It's part of how of we assess who is and isn't a threat." Willow's smirk turned downright wicked as she continued, glancing back over her shoulder at the lost-looking blonde. "And with that bony excuse for an ass? She's definitely not a threat."

     She turned and strolled up the walk toward the school, leaving Xander staring slack-jawed after her. He managed to pull himself together and catch up to her just as she entered the building, where a smiling Jesse was waiting for them. With a familiarity born of years of practice, he fell into place beside Xander, the two boys walking behind Willow as she closed her parasol and continued her sedate pace through the halls of Sunnydale High. "Hey."

     "Jesse! What's the what?"

     "Hey, Xander. You hear yet? New girl."

     "Didn't just hear it. Saw it. She's pretty much a hottie. Cute. Blonde. Little short, but that's why girls buy heels, right?"

     Willow rolled her eyes. Apparently all it took to be a hottie in Xander's eyes was blonde hair, tits - no matter how small they might be - and a trendy outfit. It was a wonder that he wasn't chasing Harmony if that was all he needed. After all, compared to the occasional varsity cheerleader he crushed on for a week or two before getting sick of rejection, she was a far easier catch… in every possible sense of the word 'easy'. Unable to see her expression, though, the two boys continued merrily down the path to Annoyed Willowville.

     "So tell."

     "Tell what?"

     "What's the sitch? What do we know about her? Apart from that she's cute and blonde."

     "I dunno. New girl. It's not like I've had a chance to talk to her yet."

     "Well you're certainly a font of nothing,"

     Enough. Willow came to an abrupt stop, steeling herself as both boys bounced off her back before turning to face them. "She transferred in from Los Angeles. According to one of the girls I tutor who spends some time working in the office during her free periods, she had some kind of trouble at her last school so her mother moved here. Now if you don't mind, some of us come to school to learn about more than anorexic blondes with behavioral problems." And with that, she spun on her heel and stalked away, leaving her friends behind.

     Willow let out a long-suffering sigh as she stepped out into the hall and began making her way to her next class. Apparently, the new girl was everyone's topic of choice today. Almost against her will the redhead found herself learning more and more about her, simply because people would not stop talking about her. Buffy Summers, late of Hemery High in Los Angeles, who had been their equivalent of Cordelia right down to her role as captain of the freshman cheerleading squad until she… burned down the school's gym.

     Somehow, Willow found herself doubting that last bit. Arson, even by a minor, tended to carry a somewhat steeper penalty than just expulsion. Furthermore, while she could agree - at least in principle - with burning down a school gymnasium, the blonde girl that she had seen briefly today certainly didn't look the type to engage in wanton destruction of public property. The real story of what happened was probably far, far less interesting.

     Drifting to a stop, Willow bent and drank from the water fountain, her lips curling into a smirk as she heard Cordelia's voice heading her way. It had been almost a whole day since the brunette had taken a verbal shot at her and - especially given it was the first time she was wearing one of her pairs of leather pants to school - she seriously doubted that the girl would be able to pass up the opportunity. Idly, she wondered if Cordelia would actually take a swipe at her pants or if she'd go for her pretty parasol or her glasses, which she'd opted to keep on even in class after realizing they didn't impede her ability to see indoors. She continued to drink until she heard not one but two sets of feet come to a stop behind her, slowly straightening up and turning to face Cordelia with an expectant look and an arched brow. Surprisingly, instead of Harmony or any of the other Cordettes, the brunette was accompanied solely by the new girl. "Willow. Nice outfit. I mean, if this were an S&M club instead of a high school. It's no wonder you're such a guy magnet."

     "You know, come to think of it, I thought that girl on stage last weekend looked kinda like you. Huh. You never struck me as the type, Cordy, but now that I know…wanna carpool next time?" Willow smirked as Cordelia's jaw dropped open, her eyes round in shock. She didn't hesitate to take advantage of the situation and did the one thing she knew would piss the brunette off like nothing else: she turned and walked off, continuing on to class before Cordelia could recover and return fire.

     At lunchtime, Willow took her parasol and found an empty stone bench outside so she could enjoy some fresh air while she ate. A slight tension seemed to build in her neck as she casually surveyed the other students taking advantage of lunch to soak up some sun in the quad before noticing the new girl walking purposefully towards her. She watched the blonde move, admiring the easy, athletic grace in her motions. So the rumors of her being a cheerleader were probably true, she conceded, although she looked a little light on her feet even for that… maybe a gymnast or a dancer on top of that? What really caught Willow's attention, however, were the girl's eyes. They were wary and guarded, making her seem almost paranoid. It was certainly the most interesting thing about this… Buffy… so far, and made Willow very much wonder just what it was that the blonde wanted to hide.

     Coming to a stop in front of her, Buffy looked around uncomfortably before clearing her throat. "Uh, hi. Willow, right?"

     Willow considered her for a long moment, intentionally adding to Buffy's unease, before speaking. "And you would be Buffy Summers, the newest addition to Sunnydale High." She pointedly raked her eyes over the girl before shooting a glance over at where Harmony was… not so much sitting in her boyfriend-of-the-day's lap as dry-humping him under one of the quad's trees. "I'm sure you'll fit right in."

     Shooting a look over at the spectacle, Buffy grimaced before lowering herself to sit at the opposite end of Willow's bench and nibbling on her lower lip. "Right. Um, listen, I kinda need to ask a favor."

     Willow's eyebrows shot towards her hairline as she stared at the blonde in disbelief. "You're hanging out with Cordelia and asking me a favor?"

     "I can't hang out with you both?" Buffy sounded almost genuinely confused by that as she frowned at Willow.

     The single, decisive shake of Willow's head was as authoritative as her tone as she answer. "No. You can't."

     Evidently, she hadn't been as authoritative as she'd thought because Buffy just raised her hands in an attempt to pacify Willow, offering a hesitant smile. "Look, I'm new here and so obviously I have no idea what the deal is between you two, aside from the part where you obviously don't get along very well…"

     Willow's loud, mocking laughter rang across the quad, interrupting Buffy before she could go on. Actually, it interrupted a good number of things as most of the other students stopped and turned to watch the latest landfall of Hurricane Willow. "Cordelia has spent the best part of the last decade - more or less our entire school careers thus far - treating me like I was something unpleasant that she'd stepped in. Saying we 'don't get along very well' is something of an understatement, Buffy."

     "Oh…well, I just thought…I mean Cordelia was really nice…to me anyway." Buffy's cool was a thing of the past, the blonde stammering as she tried to push onwards. "I just thought that if I helped you…you might fit in better…"

     Willow blinked, her mouth open as she stared dumbly at the girl, struggling to process what she had heard. Had Buffy really just said that? Everyone seemed to be wondering that, the normally lively quad for once deathly silent. "…what?"

     Nodding as she offered the same vapid, insincere smile that all popular girls seemed to be issued upon collecting their first box of hair dye, Buffy proceeded to lay out the specifics of her offer. "You know, I could help you dress better and teach you to be more social, and in exchange you could help me not have to repeat the year. Well, I mean, the office assigned me to your or you to me or whatever, so you kinda have to help me, but I figure… honey and vinegar and all that. Why not offer you something to make it worth your while? Although now that I think about it, that's a weird phrase. I mean, why would anyone want to catch flies-"

     "Holy crap." Willow closed her eyes for a long moment, wrapping her head around the blonde's words and the obvious intent behind them. "She really, truly believes that I'm just jealous of Cordy's popularity and want to be one of the Cordettes. She doesn't even realize how insulting what she's offering really is." She reached up and slid her sunglasses down her nose so she could meet Buffy's green eyes with her own hazel ones. "That has to be the most ridiculously condescending thing anyone has ever said to me. I dress the way I dress because I like it. I like the way it makes me look, I like the way it makes me feel, and I couldn't give a rat's ass what anyone else thinks about it. I have no desire to change who I am so that I'm more acceptable to the mindless sheep that populate this school, just as I have no desire to be social with people who are incapable of thinking for themselves."

     Buffy's mouth moved a few times and then random sounds began to emerge, eventually followed by coherent words. "But… Cordelia said-"

     Waving one hand, Willow cut the blonde off before she could dig her hole any deeper. "Cordelia says a lot of things. Most of which she might even believe are true, but that certainly doesn't mean they are actually true. Or that she knows or understands a single thing about me." Pushing her glasses back up into position, Willow leaned back and studied the blonde as she tried to decide what punishment to hand down for this transgression. After all, failing to punish negative behavior would only result in its repetition. "Look, Buffy, it's obvious that you're not the brightest bulb in the box, so let me make this abundantly clear to you: I'm not like you. I don't want to be like you. I have no use for the sort of popularity and acceptance that you and those other vacuous morons who worship the ground Cordelia walks on crave. I would no sooner change to be more like you than I would encourage the witless posers who tried to imitate me when I started dressing this way. As for your rather bizarre way of trying to make me want to help you, my time is far too precious to spend it trying to force knowledge into the head of a girl who's too stupid to realize how insulting she's being."

     "But I need-"

     And then it hit Willow. Buffy probably did need her. The jocks she currently tutored to ensure the school's sports teams stayed stocked with talent were certainly helpless enough without her. But what did she care if the football team lost or the basketball team failed to reach states? She had no school pride. And cutting them loose would give her back a significant amount of free time, a commodity that was currently at a premium. Willow smiled wickedly. And she could do that, she realized, while rewarding the girl who'd helped her come to that realization with a one-way ticket straight to the bottom of the social pyramid. "I said no. And since I doubt you can be trusted to think of this on your own, I am going to tell you exactly what you are going to do from here." She raised her voice slightly, making sure that at least the closest students would hear her pass sentence and that there would be no way for Buffy to hide her crime. "You are going to go down to the office after school. You are going to tell them that you need a new tutor. And you are going to tell them that from now on, Willow Rosenberg is no longer available to tutor anyone. At all. Under any circumstances. Understand?"

     Surprisingly enough, Buffy actually seemed to appreciate the magnitude of what was happening to her. "But… you tutor like, everyone. Everyone who's anyone. If you stop tutoring them, they'll-"


     "And if they find out it's because I-"


     "You can't do this!"

     That would be where the blonde was wrong. Willow grinned and rose from the bench, giving Buffy a condescending pat on the head. "It looks like I just did." And she walked away.

     As the school day ended, Willow leaned comfortably against the building, shaded by her ever present parasol as she waited for the boys to join her. She found herself wondering, not for the first time, why it was that she continued to keep them around. The last few weeks had strained her relationship with Jesse and Xander, changing it more than a little. Ever since they'd met, Xander had been her best - and at times only - friend. Now more than ever before, though, Willow was acutely aware of the growing gulf between them. They had few interests in common, a number dwindling with each day, and she was certain that if he'd met her for the first time today, he'd have no interest at all in getting to know her.

     Jesse was an even murkier topic. Despite their use of the term for each other, Willow was well aware that he was probably the one that Xander actually considered his best friend, thanks primarily to that pesky Y chromosome they both shared. She was likewise certain that same chromosome ensured that she would never truly understand what either of them were thinking. Although she was almost certain that her new look and the accompanying change in attitude, especially towards the object of his desire, had alienated Jesse. He'd avoided being alone with her for more than a few minutes at a time since they got back from the holiday break, which might have struck her as odd if it hadn't been one of the two outcomes she'd anticipated. Either he'd resent her for lashing out at his precious Cordelia or transfer his obsession to her as she became the sort of strong woman he clearly favored.

     Considering she found the idea of dating Jesse about as attractive as the prospect of hooking up with Harmony, Willow couldn't bring herself to be too upset with the way things had unfolded.

     The rumbling sound of a powerful engine drew Willow out of her thoughts and she glanced up to see a gorgeous blonde sitting behind the wheel of a candy apple red sports car. For a long moment, the woman behind the wheel looked right at her, her blue eyes almost gleaming. The driver's sensual, borderline lascivious smile made Willow draw in a long slow breath. As the blonde turned back to the road in front of her, Willow heard a low whistle from off to her left, near the door. Jesse shook his head slowly in admiration. "Wow! A beautiful girl in a classic Mustang. Did you see that look? I think she was just checking me out."

     Willow rolled her eyes and shook her head sadly, knowing that Jesse would see neither gesture as he stared after the blonde in the car. Friend that he may be, the boy had an ego the size of California and at moments like this, it was all that she could do not to laugh openly at his delusions of grandeur. It was quite tempting - the boy really did need to be cut down to size for his own good - but she knew that crushing him would put Xander in a position where he'd be forced to choose between them. And these days, with the growing gulf between them, she wasn't sure that was a fight she would walk away from victorious. "I'm sure she was, Jesse."

     "Who was what?" Xander ambled over to join them and Willow pushed off the wall, glad for the first time in a long while to be leaving school behind. "And you are not gonna believe what I overheard the new girl and creepy librarian guy talking about this afternoon…"

     There was a new librarian finally? That was almost enough to keep Willow from gritting her teeth as yet another person - the most important person in her life, even - felt the need to obsess over the new girl. Almost. Ironically, it was Jesse and his ego that saved Xander from her foul mood. "Xan! Get over your obsession with the new girl and deal with this for a moment: a serious hottie in a classic sports car just drove by, and from the look she was giving me, I think she wanted me."

     Thankfully Xander's maleness allowed him to say what Willow had been thinking without getting in trouble. "Wow, a girl hot enough to make you abandon your quest to be humiliated by Cordelia Chase for two minutes. This must've been some girl."

     "I wouldn't go that far." Jesse shook his head as he looked over at where the brunette in question was climbing into the Escalade that had arrived to pick her up. "This girl was hot, but Cordelia is on a whole other level."

     Willow gave a disgusted sigh that neither boy noticed as they began to debate the relative hotness of a number of different girls; even though they trailed along behind her like a pair of obnoxious ducklings, Willow might as well have been invisible for all the attention they paid to her. It was only as they reached the street and she turned to follow the sidewalk towards her own house instead of Jesse's that Xander seemed to notice her presence. "Hey, Wills, where are you going? Thought you were coming to Jesse's after school with us…"

     Not wanting to offend them, even as irritated as she was with their behavior, Willow offered a half-smile before nodding in the direction she'd been walking. "I'm just gonna head on home. Maybe I'll catch you guys at the Bronze later."

     As she turned away and began to walk again, she heard Jesse's voice behind her. "What's her deal, Xan? Ever since Christmas she's been different. Not hanging out with us, the stuff with Cordelia… I heard something happened between her and the new girl during lunch today…"

     "You don't know the half of it, Jesse." Xander's reply was barely loud enough for her to hear and Willow came to a stop, not wanting to miss the end of this particular conversation. "She admitted to checking out the new girl's ass today-"

     "Wait. Willow's gay?"

     Jesse's startled exclamation was loud enough that Willow could hear it easily from where she stood… and so she found it hard to believe that any of the two or three dozen students standing near Jesse could have missed it. The redhead sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. Willow sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. His surprised question would be taken as a statement of fact and it would be all over the school by morning, if not sooner thanks to the twin wonders of texting and Facebook. It was far too late to do anything about it now, she decided; there would be no pleading her case now that 'the truth' had been shared by one of her only friends. And it was all because she'd made a comment - and a rude one at that - about one girl's ass. Ugh. She hadn't even found Buffy's ass the slightest bit attractive. It certainly wasn't as nice as Cordelia's, or even Gwen's…

     Turning her back on Sunnydale High, Willow went to take her first step towards home and abruptly stumbled before coming to a halt again. "Oh. My. Gosh." The blood drained from Willow's face as the truth hit her. "Jesse's right. I am gay. I mean, I look at Cordelia. And Gwen. And that cute senior on the tennis team. I spend way more time checking out girls then I've ever spent checking out guys." She forced herself to start walking again and thought back carefully. Other than Xander, she couldn't recall having ever really found any of the other male students particularly attractive. Even the male television and movie stars that her classmates constantly gushed over had never really appealed to her. She wasn't just kinda gay, she realized, she was almost completely gay. She was like Portia de Rossi or Ellen DeGeneres gay. Really, really gay.

     Willow felt the cool silver of the coin hanging from the collar she wore between her fingers and it startled her out of her thoughts for a moment. She hadn't even been aware of lifting her hand to her throat. She took a couple of deep, calming breaths and attempted to approach the situation logically. By morning, the entire school was going to be gossiping about Jesse's outburst, but did she honestly really care? It wasn't like they hadn't been gossiping about her for months already, and while she hadn't realized it until now, it wasn't like this particular rumor was exactly false, either.

     Besides, being outed might actually work in her favor, Willow realized. While she couldn't think of any openly lesbian students currently attending Sunnydale High, that didn't mean the school was a lesbian-free zone. Maybe Jesse outing her would inspire some of the others to come out or, failing that, at least drop a note in her locker or bag. She doubted she'd meet Miss Right in high school, but there was nothing wrong with Miss Right Now, was there?

     A new bounce in her step, Willow turned the corner and continued on her way home, whistling a particularly ironic song about irony that didn't actually contain any irony at all. Her peers didn't matter. Gossip didn't matter. All that really mattered was that she knew what she liked and what made her happy. And if that was girls? Then people would just have to deal with it.

     Willow snickered. Before she left the closet, though, she planned to take one last look around. Maybe she'd find a few birthday or Hanukkah presents her parents had forgotten to give her.

     The Bronze was packed when Willow got there that night. The live band that was performing was one of the more popular local acts and one of the few with a real chance at a major label contract. One of the advantages that Willow had discovered in embracing her goth side, however, was that even in crowded bar people seemed to stay out of her way. She smirked as she made her way to the bar and settled on a recently vacated stool, sweeping her eyes over the crowd.

     She caught a glimpse of Cordelia through the crowd and smiled; even if the girl was a bitch of the highest order, she was fun to watch whether she was coming or going. Her eyes following the brunette back to the table where her sheep awaited. She watched the group for several long moments, casually assessing the girls. If nothing else, Willow had to admit that Cordelia had certainly managed to surround herself with beauty. Unfortunately that was all that the Cordettes had to recommend them. They were self-centered, spoiled, vacuous creatures with very few exceptions. Of the six girls at that table, only two were remotely interesting to Willow: Cordelia and Gwen. As far as she could tell, Harmony, Aphrodesia, Aura and Buffy were all about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.

     Willow found herself half-smiling as Gwen met her gaze from across the room and didn't immediately look away. It wasn't the first time she'd caught the blonde looking at her over the last few months, something she'd become far more aware of since she'd starting having those dreams about the prettier girls of Sunnydale High. She was almost certain that Gwen was about as straight as she was, using her popularity as a shield to keep any sort of accusations about her true sexuality at bay. Not to mention that it put her right in the middle of some of the prettiest girls in the school… and their sleepovers. Willow watched the pretty blonde's lips curl into a small smile as the Cordette gave her a tiny, almost unnoticeable nod. Willow returned the nod with a wink before turning her eyes elsewhere.

     The hairs on the back of Willow's neck abruptly stood on end, causing her to glance around the club again. Almost immediately her eyes were drawn to the very same goth girl she'd seen at the mall during her Christmas Eve shopping trip. The one who had been, rather unintentionally, responsible for Willow's new look. And surprisingly enough, this time she seemed just as interested in Willow as the redhead was in her, staring at Willow with an almost predatory gaze. Their eyes met and the other girl's lips curved into a wicked smile. She lifted a hand and beckoned Willow over with one, black-nailed finger as a slow song began to play.

     Willow hesitated for a long moment. This was very much a point of no return that she was about to pass. It was one thing to admit to herself that she was gay and to know, intellectually, that everyone was going to know it thanks to Jesse's ill-timed exclamation. It was an entirely different thing to go out onto the dance floor at the Bronze and slow dance with a girl she didn't even know. If she did this, there would be no denying, to anyone, that she was into girls. On the other hand, though, if she didn't take this chance? She might spend the rest of her life regretting it and wondering what might have been. That was enough to cement Willow's resolve and she slid off the stool, walking purposefully towards the girl with a smile on her lips. From now on, she told herself, she would go after what she wanted in life no matter what. No hesitation and no regrets.

     Neither girl spoke as they met on the dance floor. Willow's heart hammered in her chest as the other girl's arms slipped around her waist and pulled her close. They swayed together to the music, slowly turning so Willow could see the shocked faces staring out at them. Oh look, she had Cordelia's attention. No doubt she'd be hearing about this tomorrow. Gwen looked… amused, dare she say? And Buffy actually looked worried for some reason. That didn't really make sense at all and since she had better things to do than ponder the sheep while in the arms of a very pretty girl, Willow closed her eyes and shut out the rest of the stares she was sure she was getting.

     Buffy stared out across the dance floor at Willow for a long, shocked moment. None of the people she'd talked to about the bitchy goth girl before approaching her had thought to mention that she was also a big old lesbian. Not that there was anything wrong with Willow being a lesbian, as long as the redhead didn't try to be a lesbian around her. Buffy was fine with that sort of thing. Really. There were just boundaries that had to be observed. Like when she'd banned those two girls on the freshman cheerleading squad from attending any more sleepovers after they'd come out. It hadn't been anything personal; she and the others just hadn't felt comfortable changing and sharing sleeping space with girls who might be interested in them in a more than friendly way.

     Then again, judging by the looks that Cordelia and her friends were sporting, nobody had mentioned it because nobody had known. Or almost nobody. Buffy's gaze drifted back to Gwen and she frowned. The blonde looked… amused, and perhaps the slightest bit jealous. Oh crap. Did that mean was Gwen a lesbian? Or at least bi? Because if that was the case… she couldn't really do anything, Buffy realized. After all, her position was precarious enough after the disaster that had collapsed everyone's free ride to a passing grade. She didn't have the standing to challenge one of Cordelia's established friends yet. Not to mention she had a more pressing problem to deal with: Willow wasn't just a lesbian, she was a lesbian who was now dancing right out in the middle of the dance floor with another lesbi-goth… who was also a vampire.

     Well shit.

     After the way Willow had treated her earlier, Buffy was sorely tempted to just let the vamp have her. But even as the thought crossed her mind, she knew she wouldn't be able to live with herself if she did that. That didn't mean that she couldn't let the vamp scare the crap out of Willow before she saved her, though. She smiled for a moment before leaning back into her seat to keep one eye on vamp and victim while she waited for an opportunity to intervene.

     The one thought on Willow's mind as the tempo of the music picked back up was that her first dance with another girl hadn't lasted nearly long enough. To her surprise, she felt the girl's fingers slide down the inside of her arm and twine with her own. Her eyes snapped open to find herself staring into a pair of light brown, almost copper, eyes. When the girl spoke, her voice was just barely audible over the din of the club. "Let's get out of here. Find somewhere without an audience?"

     Smiling softly, Willow nodded her acquiescence and the girl turned, drawing Willow along behind her. Her cool, smooth fingers gripped Willow's hand with a surprising strength as they slid through the crowd like a hot knife through soft butter, heading directly toward a side exit that opened on an alley. Willow's heart pounded wildly as the girl lead them away from the Bronze and along the darkened streets of Sunnydale.

     They walked for several minutes without either of them uttering a single word, Willow letting the other girl decide their path as she struggled to control her speeding heart and excited breathing. She had just left the Bronze after being picked up by a girl. A girl she didn't even know. A girl who was leading her into a cemetery. A dark, quiet, poorly lit cemetery, far from the normal nighttime traffic in Sunnydale. Suddenly, Willow's heart was beating faster for a very different reason and the fingers intertwined with her own seemed too cold against her skin. She slowed her pace abruptly, tugging at the girl's hand and causing her to cast a curiously cool glance back at Willow. "Where are we going?"

     Turning back to face Willow fully, the girl drew her in close and raised her free hand to caress Willow's cheek softly, the redhead instinctively leaning into her touch despite her misgivings with the entire situation. "Does it really matter where?" She leaned in, letting her lips brush softly along Willow's neck before nipping at her ear. "I just thought you might like to go someplace private. Somewhere we won't be… interrupted." Willow shuddered softly at the sensual promise in the girl's voice, but even that couldn't break the cold claws of fear that held her heart in a vice grip. Something was wrong. Very wrong…

     In a single movement that was too abrupt and too fast for the redhead to react to, the girl turned away and roughly shoved Willow through the door of a nearby crypt. She stumbled and fell down the short set of steps to the mausoleum floor, scraping her hands on the old stone as she caught herself. Cold panic vanished in a sudden blaze of rising heat as fire seemed to kindle in her thoughts, burning away the fear. She turned her head and rose to glare as the girl came through the door with a sneer on her face. "Aww, did the poor pathetic little girl fall and hurt herself? Are you scared yet, you stupid little slut? Cause you should be." Abruptly something changed, and her temptress's face became a monstrous caricature of a human being, with inhuman ridges and fangs and predatory yellow eyes staring out from beneath a heavy brow. "Fear makes the blood that much sweeter."

     The creature, Willow couldn't think of it as a girl any longer, stalked down off the steps and away from the door as Willow scrambled to her feet. The icy fist was back in her chest, squeezing her heart even tighter than before. She backed away, trying desperately to keep out of arm's reach. "What are you?"

     "I am your death, stupid girl." For some bizarre reason, Willow found it interesting that this… creature… retained the voice of the girl it had disguised itself as. Assuming this was its real face. Maybe the girl she'd been swooning over was her real face and this was some sort of… wait. Why was she wasting time on this? Didn't she have bigger things to worry about? Like, perhaps, getting out of this alive? "I was sent to bring back food for the Master… but I want you. I want to feel your hot blood spill down my throat, want to feel you struggle against your death in my arms. I want to watch the lights go out of your pretty eyes."

     Willow's eyes went wide as the creature answered her but then much to her surprise, her mind cleared and reached a level of clarity she'd never been able to in the past. She had but a singular, immediate need - to survive - and that helped hold what would have been mind-numbing terror at bay. She slowly backed away as the monster described what it wanted, managing to put the stone bier that occupied the central part of the mausoleum between her and her would-be killer.

     Everything seemed to slow down for a moment as she recognized that she had a clear path to the door and out of the tomb. Without hesitation, Willow bolted toward the door, running for her life. Six steps crossed the crypt's floor, a leaping seventh put her at the top of the steps and into the doorway. Her eighth step never came as a hand clamped down on her shoulder with inhuman strength and jerked her back into the charnel house. She flew through the air, crashing hard onto the stone floor. Gasping for breath, Willow struggled to her feet as the the monster laughed at her. "You've certainly got spirit, girl. Maybe I should play with you a bit before I drain you dry… really get that blood of yours pumping for me…"

     The creature moved again and Willow felt cold fingers wrap around her throat a moment before her world exploded in pain. Her body slammed into the stone wall of the crypt and dizziness swept over her as she felt herself pinned between the cold body of her killer and the unyielding marble behind her. Sharp pain slashed through her neck as fangs sliced down through her flesh and drove into the blood vessels in Willow's throat. She struggled futilely against the creature's grip… against the vampire that was draining her life's blood… against what seemed like an inevitable end… "Please, someone. Help me."

     White hot fire kindled in Willow's thoughts, rushing out through her body and wrenching an agonized scream from her lips as an entirely new type of pain tore through her. She clenched her eyes shut as red light and oppressive heat assaulted her. She felt her attacker jerk away suddenly, a feral scream on the monster's lips. Willow's eyes snapped open in time to see flames wreathing the creature as it disintegrated to ash. How long she stared at it, or rather through the spot where it had once stood at the wall beyond, Willow had no idea. She might have stood there all night, tendrils of blood oozing down her neck, if not for the voice that suddenly came from the direction of the door. "You're bleeding."

     Willow looked toward the voice and her jaw dropped open in shock as she slid down the wall, her legs unable to hold her any longer. The woman standing there was tall and statuesque, her shoulder length pale blonde hair hanging loose around her beautiful face. Her right hand was extended toward Willow and seemed to be wreathed in the same reddish glow that had blinded Willow just moments before. "Who…"

     The stranger crossed the mausoleum quickly, her hand falling to her side as the light faded away. Weakness threatened to overwhelm Willow and her head swam sickeningly as her rescuer knelt beside her. "Stay with me dear." The woman's voice was calm and soothing as she prodded very gently around the wound in Willow's throat, sending pulsing stabs of hot agony through her. "Willow!" The sudden bark was as sharp as the pain Willow felt. "Stay with me. Focus on the sound of my voice. We have to get out of here if you're going to survive the night. More of those leeches are coming."

     "How'd you know my name?" The words were slurred by pain and exhaustion as Willow felt the woman's soft, warm hands lift her own, leaden arms and help her put pressure on her still bleeding wound.

     "I need you to keep pressure on this, Willow." The woman slid herself under Willow's free arm and wrapped her arm around the redhead's waist as she helped the exhausted, bleeding girl to her feet. "Come on, love, we need to move."

     "Who're you?" Willow's words were even more slurred and disoriented, seemingly almost entirely lost on the woman until they were out of the crypt and stumbling through the darkened graveyard, away from her near death.

     Her rescuer didn't reply until they'd left the crypt behind and were nearly at the edge of the graveyard. "I know quite a lot about you, Willow. I've been watching over you for a while now." Willow's head swam again, her vision darkening, and she stumbled, falling to her knees and dragging the woman down beside her. The world spun wildly and a rushing noise seemed to fill her ears, drowning out the world around her. She struggled against the blackness, holding onto consciousness by slenderest of margins. "Willow! Listen to me. You are going into shock and you will die if you don't let me help you. I can't help you, Willow. Not unless you ask me to."

     The woman's voice sounded so very far away, as though someone were yelling at her from down a long tunnel. Willow felt as though she could barely make out the words. It seemed so important though, so terribly important… but she was so tired. The darkness was crowding the edges of her vision, making the world seem so distant. The woman was still talking, repeating herself over and over, the words burning into her brain until Willow finally understood what she had to do. "Help…me…please…" Willow couldn't tell if she'd actually managed to say the words aloud or if she'd only thought them. It didn't matter, not now, not really. If she hadn't, it was too late now. She just wanted to sleep.

     As the darkness overwhelmed her, the last thing she saw was the woman smiling at her.
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