Lorne sat across the room from Willow’s bed, watching Spike’s movements. The blond vampire paced like a caged tiger between the bed and where the green demon found himself lounging. He needed to clear his head and fully think about everything Wes had told him before he tried to dip into her mind himself.
With the little amount of time that the young ex-Watcher had spent in the company of the so-called Scooby Gang, he had noticed the wallflower/doormat quality that Willow had. He said she was scary smart and oddly enough, Cordelia’s relays indicated she was as adept with magic as she was with academia. However, even Wesley admitted that he didn’t know much about the Slayer’s resurrection but Lorne knew enough about that kind of magic to know that someone had to be pretty powerful to match wits with whatever god was invoked and still manage to bring the target back whole, which Angel had insisted she had.
Besides which, she had restored Angel’s soul, something that had taken an entire gypsy clan the first time around.
Other than that, Spike was a veritable font of information. He didn’t often broadcast that he could often pick up things that the others would rather he not know because emotions carried a tune of their very own. And this vampire was very emotional for so many reasons.
Guilt was at the forefront of his mind, which was spectacularly odd by itself. He blamed himself and everyone else alternately for Willow’s state, but mostly himself. He had smelled the death for weeks but had hoped that the other witch would return to the redhead, had hoped that it was death of the heart and not of the body. It was almost irritating that he couldn’t pick up a real name for the other witch, just witch or Glinda, which was surely a reference to the Wizard of Oz.
Then there was shame. The shame at having to resort to going to his ensouled sire and the shame at being so helpless in this situation were superficial feelings, covering the real source of shame. He had been bedding the Slayer, something he’d been working toward for almost a year now. However, it wasn’t all blood and roses; she was different somehow and the sex was just so much rutting, like animals with nothing better to do. His shame was in the feeling that his only purpose was to service the Slayer.
Lorne frowned to himself. While he was sure that the Slayer may seem dead inside, maybe it was just that core difference. After all, death changed everyone.
Allowing his red eyes to lose focus, he tried to reach further into the vampire’s mind, correctly assuming that more information about Willow may lay there. However, the vision of his mind’s eye was interrupted by a slash of green. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to push past the arc of pain, when he heard a sharp intake of breath.
“Dawnie!” Lorne opened his eyes to see Willow sit upright and scramble madly out of the blankets that covered her. As she ducked and dodged around Spike’s quick steps toward her, almost as if she knew his movements before they were made, the Pylean demon had just enough sense of mind to open the door.
He followed the young witch at a leisurely pace, hearing Angel’s slightly off-key singing in a room not too far from them. Willow led them down the stairwell to the foyer between the stairs where the young brunette stood motionlessly, staring out the doors and tears rolling down her cheeks. Lorne knew Angel was with Connor and a quick glance told him that Xander and Anya were talking to Wesley.
“Dawnie, what’s wrong?” Lorne turned his attention back to the witch when he heard her speak. She had a nice, melodic speech pattern and he found himself wishing he could hear her sing.
“Buffy was on the phone,” she whispered, holding her injured arm close to her body. Slowly, Dawn raised her head to look at Willow. “She said… Willow, what’s wrong with your eyes?”
Finally, as if her marginal fear brought it to his attention, Lorne looked into the redhead’s eyes. He could tell know that they had changed. From his previous encounter with her, as painful as it had been, he remembered her eyes to be a dark, almost hazel-green. Now they were the brightest green he had ever seen and not just bright, but as if they were lit from behind. He wasn’t sure what it meant but the expression on her face and the little emotion he could feel beyond her shielding implied that she knew what the problem was.
“Don’t worry about it, Dawnie. What did Buffy say?”
“But I am worried! I worry all the time! Because… because you’re not you anymore, Willow. You’re like a ghost, just drifting all the time and so sad.” Dawn’s tears began to redouble their efforts, making her brown eyes shimmer and cutting a clear path down her cheeks.
“I know,” Willow told her softly. She drew the teenager into an embrace and let her cry there for long minutes that followed. Her new unreal eyes pinned Lorne and Spike in their place and the demon’s heart broke a little at the loneliness projected by that gaze. He tried to gain access to her mind and she shook her head slightly, gently pushing back his probe.
Dawn’s hitching breaths began to smooth out after another minute and she lifted her head. “She’s not coming, even if she could find a way,” she started, laughing mirthlessly at the end of the statement. “She didn’t even ask where you were.”
Willow nodded understandingly and Lorne could hear the pain that leaked through the cracks of her mental armor. “And?” she prompted Dawn quietly.
“And I yelled at her.” Dawn dropped her head slightly. “I might have… said some things. I don’t know, it was kind of a blur. I was so mad! And then, I was here and crying.”
The redhead reached up and patted Dawn’s hair, smoothing her tresses comfortingly. Lorne could hear tendrils of magic spiraling from Willow’s fingertips but he couldn’t see it, no matter how hard he looked. He wondered idly if that wasn’t her inner magic, something she was and had always done and not something to put upon people willfully. It did make him wonder also if her friendships began to falter when she became aware her latent abilities.
“Come on, Dawnie.” Willow began to maneuver the younger girl around the demons that watched them and up the staircase.
Beaming that comforting smile that seemed so natural to her, Willow led her into the room she had recently vacated. “You need to sleep. Everything will be better in the morning.”
Sitting down, Dawn toed off her shoes and allowed Willow to tuck her in. “For you, too?” she asked after a moment of reflection.
Willow’s smile slid away inch by inch. “Not as quickly,” she admitted, “but it will get there.”
Lorne watched the witch as she became the quiet comfort that seemed so natural to her. She stayed until the teenager was asleep and the demon stayed to watch her, trying to pry into her mind and being rebuffed ever so gently every single time. Eventually, Willow stood and walked out of the room, closing the door slowly to muffle the sound of the door.
“It will take time,” she told Lorne, answering the real question hidden under Angel’s earlier request. After all, they all wanted to know: Would Willow be okay?
Willow sat in the hotel courtyard that held the garden, contemplating life and trying to adjust to her new vision. The sun would be rising soon but she was in that large area that sunlight never touched. It was that pre-dawn darkness, the one time during the day about which so many poems were written.
“Red?” Willow swiveled her head at the sound of Spike’s voice, closing her eyes when her vision defined him in sharp lines and too-bright colors. And why in the world was everything tinted with green?
She sighed and turned away, gazing at the blurred outlines of the flowers. “Yeah?”
Shifting his feet uncomfortably, the vampire finally sat next to her, careful to leave space between their bodies. He’d noticed that she was now keeping a specific distance from others, her rescue of Dawn’s erratic emotions notwithstanding. “The demon chit—”
“Anya,” Willow interjected softly.
He gave her a look that clearly implied ‘like I care’ before he remember his concern. “Anyway, she said you knew?”
She looked at him again but was relieved to see that the lines and colors had gentled to the point that she could almost see him as clearly as before. Feeling at least a little better, she asked him something that had been bothering her for months. “Do you know what Giles called me after I brought Buffy back?”
Spike sat very still, sensing vaguely that they were entering dangerous territory. “What?” He knew from so much immersion in their group that the Britishman in question was a phenomenal Watcher, a pretty okay person, but absolutely oblivious to the inner workings of a mind like Willow’s.
“A rank amateur.” She laughed, the sound mirthless and tears forming in her too-bright eyes. “And I told him he shouldn’t piss me off. Guess I burned a bridge there.”
He wanted so much to comfort her, be gentle to someone in a way he hadn’t been able since Dru had healed. However, he knew she still wanted the distance to be maintained. “Pet…” he started.
Willow inhaled with a shudder. “This summer was hard. I had to use magic more and more just to keep us all alive, much more than I liked when I realized I was doing it. The weird thing is my response to that was exactly what I’d learned from Giles.” At Spike’s blank look, she clarified. “I researched it. Massive magic use tends to cause addiction, I found it. It scared me, so I researched what would happen if I stopped altogether.” She finally stopped, nibbling at her upper lip at the clear memory.
“It would kill you?” Spike hazarded.
She rewarded him with a ghost of a smile. “There were many accounts of witches who had been bound so completely that they couldn’t even think about magic. It was the most painful death I can think of. One of the Watchers’ journals compared it to starving a vampire of blood.” She caught his horrified look instantly. “But, you know, that Watcher had never had the personal experience. A bound witch can’t last as long as a starving vampire.”
Spike thought back on his own personal experience with starvation. Two years back, he had starved for almost a month before he sought out the Slayer and her gang. It was the most horrible thing he’d ever gone through – water everywhere but not a drop to drink and a muzzle that shocked him every time he so much as thought about it. He shook his head of the memories as Willow continued.
“I’d put it away and then I was so busy. There was Buffy and trying to help her reacclimate to… this place and Tara and Rack and then hurting poor Dawnie.” He could tell she was gleaning over a lot of detail and he let her; he didn’t really feel the need to know exactly how she’d gotten to the point of hitting rock bottom. “And I promised Buffy I’d stop and I did, even though I knew the consequences.”
“What exactly were the consequences?” he asked softly. His imagination could bring up so many things but he knew that he didn’t understand magic the way that Willow did. As smart and mostly circumspect as she could be, he was pretty sure she’d known all the consequences before it had occurred.
“At first, it’s just withdrawal symptoms – sweating, shaking, vomiting, insomnia. After about a week, the real pain sets in. Jagged, white-hot pain in my blood and in my brain. Some days I thought I would go insane from the pain and the need to release the magic just one more time.”
Spike frowned, thinking to himself. “I heard Peaches call it… magic poisoning?”
Willow nodded. “It was like I couldn’t breathe but I couldn’t ever let my control over myself drop either. This was my penance.”
He sat quietly, wanting to ask her why she didn’t just tell her friends how much it hurt but already knowing the answer. The Slayer would likely take it as Willow backsliding and her friends backed her step for step to the point that the redhead herself might begin to believe it, her research into the subject notwithstanding. “This is all the bloody Watcher’s fault,” he murmured, almost to himself.
“I miss Jenny,” Willow said softly.
Spike jerked slightly, looking to the witch and her eyes that searched some middle distance that he couldn’t see. “I know that name. Don’t I?” He frowned deeply, trying to grasp some memory that eluded him.
“Angel…” She trailed off and shook her head, correcting herself almost immediately. “Angelus killed her and left her on Giles’s bed. She was descended from that gypsy clan that cursed him.”
Spike nodded, remembering now. Angelus had come back to the warehouse, puffed up and full of himself, making the younger vampire think of male peacocks in season. Of course, Angelus’s win was soon muted by the fiery collapse of their home, caused by the Watcher of all things. Even though he had not been a happy camper then, the memory made his lips twitch into the echo of a smile.
Willow sat in the silence and allowed herself to be calm, closing her eyes against the outer world. She reached inside and found that inner core of magic, already brimming with power and demanding to be used. No more personal gain,
she thought firmly, knowing it was her selfish use of her own power that had led her down that dark path.
Finally, after long seconds of thoughts, she fed the magic out into the world with only one condition: she wanted to help. Opening her eyes, she was not so much surprised as awed to see that the world had returned to normal, the clear lines and muted colors of the city, with the exception of an ethereal green line that painted the ground.
Standing suddenly, she began to follow the line, her eyes alternately on the ground and on the world around her. She had almost made it to the gate when Spike realized she was leaving and not going for a jaunt around the garden.
“Red?” he called out uncertainly. He could feel that her fey nature had brimmed to the surface, the part of her with the knowing smile and twinkling eyes. With her having been so close to death recently, this worried him some.
She turned to face him and he noticed that the unnaturally bright color of her eyes had dimmed somewhat. “I’ll be back.” She graced him with a grin, something that made him smile in turn. “I promise.” That said, she disappeared beyond the gate.
Spike knew he could not follow, for the dawn was dangerously close. Despite his fondness for midday walks in Sunnydale, he knew that not even his jacket could protect him for long in this large expanse of a city. Turning around, he wondered where she was going but immediately decided it didn’t matter. She was doing better and that meant he could sleep easier.
For a bit, at least.