Disclaimer: As usual, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all characters therein belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Productions, not me. I just like to play with their toys. Only the plot and any original characters are mine.
Author's Note: Okay, for those of you that may follow some of my other stories, you might think that I'm burdening myself with too many fanfics. Well, :-P Anyway, I am working on the others, so no worries. Also, this story is also posted on Near Her Always, the Willow website of the BtVS Writer's Guild. And don't forget, reviews are my lifeblood. Enjoy!
Anya was the first to notice.
There were so many things that made her think of Willow: Dawn’s cast, Buffy’s seemingly blank expression, the way Xander had started to cry in his sleep. But she was supposed to hate Willow, that was her role here. The redhead was the reason she’d lost her vengeance demon status, not that she would take it back for anything now, and Anya was losing her grip on all those negative feelings.
“Hi, Anya.” She looked up at the voice and saw Tara, all dark blond locks and saccharine sweetness.
“Hi.” Anya pitched her voice high and congenial before the next thought had fully formed in her mind. Tara was nice, sickeningly so. Except for when it comes to Willow,
a dark voice reminded her. But if she was going to do what she needed to do to make this stubborn guilt go away, then she would have to find a replacement to watch the store.
Closing the store early and sacrificing potential sales had never been an option.
“Oh, my God.” She winced internally when she heard her voice. That had definitely been a little overly loud. D’Hoffryn had always said lying was her weakness. However, all of Xander’s friends (her friends too, weren’t they?)
were a little lost when it came to nuance.
Her innocent doe eyes wide, Tara strode quickly over to the counter, where Anya stood. The former demon could feel the fakeness of the desperate expression plastered across her face. “What’s wrong?” the blond witch asked softly.
Anya snapped her fingers in an ‘oh darn’ kind of way. “I had a bunch of wedding things I had to get done today. Cake-tasting, venue check, stuff like that. It completely slipped my mind.”
Tara glanced back and forth, like she was trying to find a way out of what Anya knew her conscience would force her to offer. With the softest of sighs, she asked the question Anya had been itching to hear. “Do you want me to watch the store?”
“Thanks!” Anya grabbed her purse as Tara maneuvered herself behind the counter. “If I’m not back in time to close, just call Xander. He knows how.”
She nodded silently and fidgeted slightly before settling on the stool behind the counter, reaching into her knapsack for one of those heavy books for the college classes she loved so much. Anya watched her for a moment, her mind flitting from concern about store sales in her absence to anger at the blonde that was now in her place.
“No time for that,” she murmured to herself before quickly opening the door and stepping out onto the sidewalk. An idle glance at its direction verified that the sun was setting, which also indicated that Buffy was at work, and she started at a steady clip to the Slayer’s home. It would be the best place to start.
Because she really wanted to know: how was Willow really doing?
It was well after sunset when Spike caught up with Willow. For the past two weeks that he’d been trailing her, he’d noticed that she was always in one of three places and not one of them really an overly safe place to be. As it was, she was in the first place he checked, the cemetery where Joyce was buried.
She was still standing, obviously about to kneel in front of the headstone. Good, she hadn’t been there long.
“Damn it!” The curse was soft but the vampire heard it easily enough. Someone was moving through the foliage like a brush hog and he hoped it wasn’t a demon. Even as his body moved into a defensive stance, ready to attack anything that thought the broken down witch might be a prime piece of flesh, he realized that demons were unlikely to sound quite that high-pitched.
He immediately moved to the source of the noise. “Hush, you stupid bint,” he hissed harshly.
“Hey,” Anya started, her ego bruised not only from his insult but also from faulty attempts to stealthily follow Willow.
“Just shut it.” Spike handed the former demon a healthy dose of a gold-tinted glare. He would not have her scare away Willow when he was so close to figuring out what was wrong.
Pouting slightly, Anya pressed her lips together until she no longer felt the need to talk. Being around Spike made it easier. Humans felt this inane need to talk all the time but what was bad was that they never talked about what was right in front of them. Demons didn’t always do that – their inane chatter usually held promises of torture.
Anya had never fit in there, either.
Soft murmurings reach their ears after a moment and Spike breathed an unnecessary sigh of relief. She was following the routine and that was a good sign. After a moment of listening to the witch relay her day to Joyce’s grave, he glanced over at Anya to see her trying to broadcast questions at him with her eyes.
“She goes out every night,” the bleached-blond vampire started, his ice blue eyes darkening with something akin to guilt. Though he was sure Anya wouldn’t get it, he felt like Willow was his responsibility now. The Slayer and the boy were a dense lot and if not for his grief, Spike would have noticed her downward spiral before she would have gotten anywhere near Rack’s. There was a small part of him that blamed the Watcher for allowing her to go untrained for so long but he knew Giles would never have been able to keep up with her, just like Glinda the Good Witch wasn’t able.
Shaking his head of the tangential thoughts but his eyes still watching the redhead, he continued. “Sometimes here if she feels guilty about Buffy, sometimes to an old teacher’s grave when she’s missing the Watcher, other times to a something McNally. I can tell he was a friend.”
“Jesse,” Anya whispered soundlessly. She remembered stories Xander had told her, stories that were just him, Jesse, and Willow. It was those stories that had cemented the jealousy in her, those times that not even Buffy was privy to. “How can you tell?”
“That he was a friend?” Spike’s accent was slowly becoming less rough around the edges and more clipped. He was beginning to soften and sound like what Anya would guess was the William of old. “It’s painful to listen on those nights. When she goes there, she knows exactly how much she’s lost.” He darted to look at the former demon and she could see that his eyes were bright with tears and she wondered if he had retained pieces of his soul when he was brought over.
Tearing her eyes away from the vampires, Anya looked at Willow, who was now hunched over the headstone and hugging it for all she was worth. Even the former demon could hear the witch’s words. “I’m so sorry… Why can’t they see I’ve stopped? And it hurts.” The words were followed by a low moan, filled with indescribable pain. Anya saw how her clothes now hung from her frame, how the clothes for an already petite body didn’t fit quite right anymore.
But first, she had another question to ask. “Shouldn’t you be elsewhere anyway, dutifully between the Slayer’s legs?”
The growl that burst from the vampire’s throat obviously startled her but she was determined. “How did you know about that?”
“I was a demon, a vengeance demon that specialized in horrible relationships and their even worse endings, far too long to not notice whatever it is between the two of you. Besides, you always reek of sex, both of you.”
Not wanting to give up certain details of his life, even if Anya was a bit dead-on, Spike sighed and gestured in Willow’s direction. “She needs protection. Whatever insane hoops her ridiculous friends have, she’s jumping through them.”
Anya bit back her need to point that he was screwing one of Willow’s ‘ridiculous’ friends. “So, what is this? Penance?”
Spike shifted uncomfortably, his blue eyes watching Willow’s body for the coming sign of exhaustion. “Yeah, I guess. In a way.”
Anya shook her head fiercely. As soft as yearning for Buffy had made him, he was still a demon at the core. “No, it’s not. I might not know you well but I do know well enough that it’s something else.”
She saw the micro-expression when his face flinched into deep guilt for a split-second but he still watched Willow resolutely. “She’s dying,” he whispered after a long moment.
The former demon stepped back, the force of his words hitting her fully. Dying? No, Xander’s Best Person, one of the most powerful witches she’d ever met in her very long life, could not be dying. It was impossible.
“You’re lying,” she murmured defiantly.
“I wish,” he spat back at her. “I don’t know what it is or what’s causing it but I know what dying smells like.”
The part of Anya that was still fully demon, that had absolutely refused to be that insipid Viking woman called Aud ever again, looked at the witch now and somehow knew this façade wasn’t fooling the redhead. If she had learned anything over the past summer when they were all leaning on Willow and relying on her for far too many things, she knew that she was not stupid. Purposely naïve sometimes, though she had known the cost of the resurrection ritual well enough, and never an idiot.
She stepped out of the shadows and walked the short distance to Willow. When she got closer, she could see small blue flowers on the ground in front of the redhead, random in a way that she recognized very well. Teardrops, they were the pattern of fallen teardrops. Outside of the edge of Joyce’s grave, Anya dropped to her knees, grimacing in distaste at the thought of future grass stains.
“Willow, look at me.” Anya used the voice that used to strike terror in the hearts of lesser mortals and had always given D’Hoffryn a reason to smile.
Willow’s downturned face slowly shifted to look at the former demon and she had to force herself from stepping back. Cursing herself for not paying closer attention to someone in pain and for purposely blinding herself to the danger inherent to a natural witch halting the use of her birthright, she felt her breath hitch as she called out to the vampire. “How fast can you get us to L.A.?”
A second barely passed and Anya could feel him standing next to her, his shadow for a moment blocking out the signs of magic poisoning on Willow’s face. “We’re not taking her to my good-for-nothing sire,” he ground out softly.
Anger sparked through her at his assumption. While it was true that Spike may have to endure Angel’s presence, it wasn’t the souled vampire’s help that she sought. “Giles isn’t here, Spike, and if he were, he’d be in the same boat as the Slayer.” She recognized immediately that she was no longer thinking of Buffy as a person and a friend but rather as something to be reviled and despised. “We need the other Watcher.”
“How do you know he’ll even be of help?”
Anya flicked her gaze to Willow, who was looking up at them in mild interest with eyes that glowed like green fire. The color was unnatural, as were the thick silver streaks running down her cheeks. She would never tell Spike about the conversations she’d had with Willow over the summer, serious and somber and forever ingrained in her mind. “I just do.”
“Anya?” Willow’s voice was soft and distant and reverberated inside Anya’s skull. “I knew you’d come. She told me.”
“Let’s go,” Spike said roughly. What Anya didn’t know was that Willow’s voice suddenly reminded him too much of his actual sire, she that had formerly been the love of his unlife.
Willow easily followed them as they navigated out of the cemetery to a nearby vehicle that Spike fully intended to hotwire. But Anya had to ask. “Who told you?”
“Joyce.” She cast a glance over her shoulder. “She helps.”
“Oh, God,” Anya murmured, her heart sinking.
Spike jerked open the door of a Honda Civic, hoping that it would reach the speeds the demon seemed to be asking of him. “What now?” He dropped down under the driver’s dashboard and popped open a panel, expertly stripping wires and flicking the uninsulated ends together.
“She’s got second sight.”
“So, she’s going blind.”
Spike goggled at Anya and looked over at Willow, noticing how her eyes were losing some focus. “Okay. Let’s go.”