The Long and Winding Road
Buffy stared at the sprawling manor before her.
It was a gorgeous place, the kind that belonged in a four page spread of Town & Country
, from its impressive stone facade down to the hanging ivy that clung to the walls in just the right place; and that was only the main building. The grounds themselves were just as jaw-dropping. She could almost picture people playing lawn games on the well-manicured grass, right before they retired for some tea under the large willow trees that dotted the property. Well, if the inhabitants of the house weren’t a coven of witches anyway.
Buffy giggled at the thought of the coven’s leader, a dour witch by the name of Nora, doing something as mundane as playing croquet, or better yet, lawn darts. It was a nervous laughter, though, and not because Nora would probably turn Buffy into an ant if she knew she was laughing at her expense.
No, the butterflies were there for another reason entirely.
It was ridiculous, if Buffy thought about it. She had faced the First Evil. One little conversation should not have scared her. And yet, as she knocked on the heavy oak door, she couldn’t stop fidgeting.
A minute later, when the door creaked open and Buffy found herself standing before the head of the coven herself, she had to fight the fleeting urge to run.
“Ms. Summers, what a pleasant surprise,” Nora said, in a voice that sounded like it was neither pleased nor surprised.
Buffy took a deep breath before giving the witch her brightest smile. “Hi, I’m sorry to bother--”
“Follow me,” Nora cut in.
Then without waiting to see Buffy’s reaction, she turned on her heel and began walking back inside the house, her heels clacking loudly on the marble floors.
Buffy hesitated for a split second before she hurried after the woman, her own boots quickly adding to Nora’s staccato beat.
Soon, she found herself in the middle of a confusing maze of corridors. Though she occasionally glanced at Nora, she didn’t say a word, both because the head witch really didn’t seem in the mood for small talk and because Buffy didn’t know what to say. She simply walked, content to listen to nothing but the almost hypnotic rhythm of their footsteps as they made their way through hallway after hallway.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Nora pushed open another large door, one that led outside to a covered walkway, and stopped.
“She’s out in the garden. The path at the end of the portico will take you there.”
Buffy nodded. “Thank you.”
Then Nora was gone, and Buffy was on her own.
Suddenly, the butterflies were back, and by the feel of it, they had learned how to do the Mexican hat dance somewhere along the way.
There was no turning back now, though, so Buffy stepped onto the walkway and followed it to the end. There, just like Nora said, she found a pathway. It brought her right to the ‘garden’, though to her it looked more like a bunch of wildflowers; granted, more wildflowers than the eye could see, forming a wall so high she couldn’t see inside it, but a bunch of flowers nonetheless.
Buffy stared at the sea of colorful blossoms for a moment. Then she took a deep breath and waded in.
She found her a few seconds later, sitting close to a patch of heather, eyes closed and completely unaware of Buffy.
Buffy took the opportunity to study her. She looked better than she had a few weeks ago, when they had first arrived here. Of course, anything would have been an improvement.
Knowing that she had stalled long enough -- and feeling borderline creepy for staring -- Buffy cleared her throat.
Her time here definitely hadn’t affected her Sunnydale-honed reflexes. Though Willow’s eyes snapped open in surprise, she was on her feet in two seconds flat. She didn’t make any move after that, though, and neither did Buffy. They just stood there looking at each other, both unsure what to do.
“And here I was, worried this would be awkward or something,” Buffy quipped in an effort to cover her own nervousness.
Willow blinked at her for a moment. Then she laughed and threw her arms around Buffy in a giant bear hug so quickly, Buffy barely had time to brace herself.
“It’s so good to see you, Buffy!” she exclaimed. Then, just as abruptly, she pulled away, a frown on her face. “Hey, wait. You’re supposed to be in France right now. You know, letting some French hottie woo you with croissants and wine.”
Buffy gave her a crooked smile. “Croissants and wine? Am I getting wooed, or just drunk and fat?” she joked.
Willow just arched her eyebrow, letting Buffy know that her attempt to divert her focus from the question failed. Miserably.
Buffy tried again.
“I was worried about you,” she said, which was totally true. Between the red hair, the werewolf talk, and the magic flying around, how could she not think about Willow and worry about her, especially since she was close by?
Though Willow smiled at this, she still said nothing and just waited.
Buffy suddenly became very interested in her feet. She knew there was no escape, though.
“I, uh, got... sidetracked,” she finally mumbled. “Werewolf.”
“You’re slaying again?!”
Buffy suddenly wished a Hellmouth would open up under her feet and swallow her whole.
She knew she shouldn’t have come here. Things were finally starting to be okay between her and Willow. In fact, Willow was one of the few people who understood why she had to leave the group, that she needed some time away, if there was any chance of her coming back again. The others had been much less understanding. A few of the girls even accused her abandoning them, and honestly, maybe they were right. Still, she had to do it, and she did, with Willow’s support. Her show of solidarity was the first step toward reconciliation between them.
And now she was messing it up, just like she was afraid of.
It was all that stupid non-werewolf’s fault.
“Hello? Buffy? Are you still with me?”
Buffy gave a start and realized Willow was staring at her, obviously waiting for her to make with the explaining.
“It’s nothing, really. I mean, can a werewolf even fall under the slayage category, seeing as there’s no actually slaying going on?” she asked. “And anyway, it doesn’t mean anything. It definitely doesn’t mean I’m going back to it. I’m just doing this one last time to... to get it out of my system. Closure, if you will. Then I’ll move on with no apologies and no regrets. And is it just me, or do I sound like I’m in a relationship with it?”
As she took a much needed breath, she glanced over at Willow. To her dismay, she saw that her friend’s face was bright red. It took a minute before she realized it was because she was trying not to laugh.
“Wow, Buff, I think you just beat me in the babble category there,” Willow teased.
“So... you’re not mad?” Buffy asked nervously.
Suddenly, Willow became dead serious. “Well, of course, I’m mad. Now I owe Xander twenty bucks,” she said. At Buffy’s confused look, she smirked. “He said you’d be slaying again by the end of the month. I said it would take two.”
Buffy felt her jaw drop. “You... he... what
Willow’s laughter disappeared when she saw how distressed Buffy was.
“It’s okay, Buffy. Really it is,” she reassured her. “There are no hard feelings about it, honest. We just know you
. You wouldn’t turn your back on anything slayer-related, not when innocent people could get hurt.”
Buffy swallowed hard. It was getting more and more difficult to deny the fact that slaying was still very much part of her, wasn’t it? Still, she wasn’t quite ready to accept it yet, at least not completely. After all, the land of denial was lovely this time of year.
“Maybe,” she conceded. “But there’s a big difference between this back-to-basics kind of slaying and the kind that involves apocalypses.”
Willow nodded fervently in agreement. “I hear you on that one,” she said. Then she clapped her hands together. “So, tell me all about this werewolf.”
“No,” Buffy immediately replied. “I didn’t come here to talk shop.”
Willow pouted. “Oh, come on, Buffy. This is the most excitement I’ve had in weeks. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the incredibly abundant and highly suspicious amount of dried herbs hanging everywhere, you wouldn’t even know
I was living with a coven of witches. And sure, I think that’s mostly because Nora ordered everyone not to do magic around me in case it sends me spiralling back downward into a mind-numbing depression, but still
, sometimes we need a little vicarious living,” she huffed.
Buffy smiled, despite herself. “I think you just took back the babbling title,” she said. Her smile quickly faded, though, as she was reminded of the other reason why she had dreaded seeing her friend. “So your magic hasn’t returned yet?”
“Nope. Nora’s still working on it, although she has a few ideas about what happened,” Willow said with a shrug.
Even though Willow talked like it was no big, Buffy knew differently. She had gone through a similar experience with the Cruciamentum. She had also seen Willow right after they had closed the Hellmouth, when they all finally realized something was wrong.
Buffy bit her lip, an overwhelming surge of guilt washing over her. After all, the activation spell had been her idea.
“Don’t you dare apologize again
, Buffy Anne Summers. We all did what we had to, and you know what? It saved the world. Seriously, no one blames you, so just stop this,” Willow ordered.
blames me?” Buffy asked pointedly.
“Not anymore. We worked all that out, remember?” she insisted. At Buffy’s continued look, she pressed her lips together in an effort to hide her smile. “Okay, Kennedy
still blames you. But I’m working on that, I promise. Now spill.”
Finally giving in, Buffy told Willow all about the werewolf she was tracking, including her encounter with the mystery wizard the previous night. She glossed over the part about the attempted memory assault, though. She knew how guilty Willow still felt over what she had done to Tara. Instead, she focused on what he had told her about her intended target.
“From what this wizard was insinuating, it sounds like this Greyback is a pretty nasty wolf,” Buffy concluded. “If that’s the case, I may have to handle this differently.”
Willow frowned. “Before you go, let me talk to Maris. Her parents were wizards, but both she and her sister aren’t. Maris was able to learn my kind of magic, but I’m pretty sure her sister decided to stay with her parents, so she might be able to help.”+++
Buffy’s eyes snapped open. She had been lying among the flowers, just enjoying the feel of sunlight on her face while Willow went to go talk to some people. After so many nights prowling around in damp forests, it was a welcome change. She must have dozed off, though, because the sun was significantly lower in the sky now.
Propping herself up on her elbows, she looked at Willow, who was looking down at her with a triumphant smile on her face.
Willow rolled her eyes and sat down next to Buffy. “The wizard you met last night,” she elaborated “Maris said his name is Bill Weasley. Apparently, Greyback’s attack on him was big news when it happened. Something about Bill defending a school of kids against an attack led by Greyback and some other dark wizards.”
Buffy groaned and fell back on the grass. “Great, you just had to make him all noble and tragic, didn’t you? Now I’m going to feel bad the next time I pound him into the ground.”
She heard Willow snort with laughter.
It took her a moment to realize why.
“I didn’t mean it like that!” she exclaimed, her face burning with embarrassment. “So did your friend have the 411 on Greyback?”
Willow grimaced, all traces of humor gone. “Yes. And it’s not good. Like I said, Greyback was part of a group of dark wizards who thought all non-magical people were inferior to them. Their leader was very powerful, very dogmatic, and very ruthless. Think Hitler but with magic,” she said grimly. “There was this huge war a few years ago between this group and some other wizards, of which this Bill was a part of--”
With a yelp, Buffy sat up. “What?! Are you seriously telling me that there was an entire war
where one side wanted to exterminate everyone who couldn’t do magic -- which is most of the world, by the way -- and this is the first we’re hearing about it?”
“Right, because we put out a PSA for every yearly world endage,” Willow said dryly. She laughed when Buffy stuck her tongue out at her. “Seriously, Buff, right or wrong, these wizards play it close to the chest. Luckily, the good guys won.”
Buffy blew out her breath as she took a minute to think about everything Willow had said. It looked like she would have to bring out the heavy artillery after all. Still, she wanted to be absolutely sure first. This wasn’t the kind of a decision she made lightly.
“So why attack sheep? That doesn’t really seem to fit the MO, does it?”
Willow shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe he’s trying to fly under the radar? Maris was definitely spooked when I mentioned his name. And from what she said, it looks like this Bill guy wasn’t exaggerating. Greyback enjoys the kill, whether he’s wolfed out or not, and when he is... well, let’s just say that it’s the younger the better for him. The guy’s evil through and through.”
Buffy had heard enough. Willow was right. She needed to take care of this guy, the sooner the better. Without another word, she pushed herself up off the ground.
Willow joined her a second later.
“Buffy, before you go, I have a few things for you. Gifts, to help you,” she explained.
Buffy immediately shook her head. “Will, you really don’t have to. You’ve done more than enough.”
Willow smirked. “They’re not from me, they’re from Nora,” she replied.
That got Buffy’s attention. From their brief interactions, Buffy got the impression that the head witch had nothing but disdain for her. Curiosity overwhelming her objections, she watched as Willow reached for a bag on the ground Buffy hadn’t noticed before.
Before she pulled whatever was inside out, however, Willow paused, a hesitant look on her face.
“Buffy, I have to tell you something Nora told me in the house just now, something about you,” she said. Then she took a deep breath. “Slayers have magic in them.”
Buffy’s eyebrows flew upward. “Whoa, wait a sec. That’s just crazy talk. I’ve never been good with magic, remember?”
She was thisclose
to adding, ‘that’s all you’, before she managed to catch herself.
By the slight twitch on Willow’s face, she thought her near slip might have been noticed anyway. Before she could apologize, however, Willow’s expression smoothed and she began speaking as if it hadn’t happened.
“I thought so, too, but according to Nora, ‘Slayers by their very nature are magical beings. It’s in their very essence. It is only due to the machinations of some highly insecure, severely short-sighted men that this gift has been allowed to dull over the centuries’,” Willow explained, in a very bad yet highly amusing British accent.
Buffy laughed despite herself. “Okay, then. If that’s true, why is she only telling us this now?”
“Because up until this point, the slayer’s always been in the control of these men,” Willow explained. “Anyway, I wouldn’t get too excited. Although Nora wasn’t too forthcoming with the details -- I think she sees this as a test or something -- I got the impression that you won’t be able to do magic or anything, not the same way wizards or Wiccans can at least. Yours will be more intuitive, more subtle. Does this make any sense?”
“Nope, and I don’t have time to figure it out now,” Buffy immediately replied. “Her Majesty deign to impart any other words of wisdom?”
Willow hushed her, though the effect was ruined by the grin on her face. “Nope, she just wanted me to give you this.”
Then, without any further preamble, she pulled a necklace out of the bag. It was delicately wrought, with whorls and swirls intricately woven into a very fancy knot. When Buffy looked closer, she thought she saw some runes carved into the metal threads.
“This will help protect you against magical attacks and enhance your own abilities, which you’ll need for this
,” Willow said. As she spoke, she pulled something else from the bag.
Buffy gasped. It was a weapon, something of a cross between a dagger and a short sword -- the perfect size for her, by the looks of it, with a short leather-clad hilt and a shiny blade that tapered into a sharp point. It was gorgeous.
Willow held it out to her, and after a moment’s hesitation, Buffy took it. As soon as her hand had fully grasped the hilt -- which was surprisingly supple to the touch -- she felt something; a tingling warmth that raced through her body.
She looked up at Willow in astonishment.
“Nora may not be full of warm fuzzies, but she definitely knows her stuff,” Willow murmured. Then she gave Buffy a wry smile. “I think you and Carnwennan just bonded.”
With a grin, Buffy inspected the sword in earnest.
Up close, she could now see that, like the necklace, it also had runes, which ran down the length of the blade on one side. On the other, there was a jagged line, one that looked like a lightning bolt or something. The most surprising feature was on the pommel, though; set inside was a pale brown crystal, rounded and smoothed into a sphere.
She looked up at Willow questioningly.
“Smoky quartz,” Willow said. Then she clapped her hands together. “Okay, now it’s time to learn how to use it.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Uh, Willow? I think that’s the one thing I do
know how to do.”
She hadn’t even finished speaking before Willow was shaking her head.
“Not this sword. This one you can summon
. You just have to focus on it and call it by its name.”
Buffy frowned. Names were not her strong suit.
“Uh, could you tell me its name again?”
Yeah, there was no way she was going to remember that. On the other hand, weapons weren’t given names willy nilly. They were reserved for those that deserved it -- which meant mangling its pronunciation would be a major sign of disrespect.
Buffy gazed at the blade in question. “How about I call you Winnie? Would that work?” she murmured.
Then she waited. When she didn’t get zapped on the spot, she took it as a sign that it was okay.
And with that they got to work.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as it looked. First she had to learn how to clear her mind and visualize it. Then she had to half-ask, half-will it to appear in her hand. By the time Buffy finally managed to make the sword materialize, she was out of breath and covered in sweat.
“Excellent, Buffy!” Willow encouraged.
Buffy looked up at her with a weak smile. “Yeah, as long as the baddies are willing to give me a meditation break mid-battle to the death, I’m good.”
Willow shook her head. “You’re over the hump. With a little practice, you’ll be summoning with the best of them.”
Buffy straightened up. “I hope so,” she replied. Then she frowned. “I hate to say it, but I can’t stay any longer. I want to catch this guy ASAP.”
She held out her arm, which Willow immediately took. Arms linked, they walked to one of the entrances to the manor. When they got to the door, however, they stopped, knowing it was time to say goodbye.
At first, they just stared at each other, both at a loss for words. Then Buffy gave Willow a big hug.
“Thank you, Willow. For everything. Now you just focus on getting better so you can start kicking some Wicca ass again.”
Willow immediately hugged her back. “I will,” she promised. As she pulled back, however, she bit her lip uncertainly. “Will you come back when this is over?”
Buffy blinked in surprise; not at the question, but because Willow honestly thought she might say no.
“Do you even have to ask? Of course I’ll come!” she said, pulling her in for another quick hug.
“Good,” Willow said, her relief obvious. She broked away and opened the door. “Buffy, maybe you should consider working with Bill Weasley. I don’t like the idea of you going up against this Greyback alone.”
“Absolutely not,” Buffy immediately replied, maybe a little too quickly, judging by the look on Willow’s face.
Buffy hesitated. She didn’t want to upset Willow, but it could be important for her to know, especially if Buffy crossed paths with him again.
“He tried to erase my memory of him and Greyback.”
Willow blanched, and Buffy instantly regretted not sticking to her guns.
“Don’t worry. Between my nifty new sword and necklace, he doesn’t stand a chance,” she said as reassuringly as she could.
“And if even tries it again, he’ll have me to deal with, magic or not,” Willow said, her eyes sparking dangerously with anger. Then she sighed. “Just... be careful, okay?”
Buffy smirked. “Aren’t I always?” +++
A/N: Yes, I powered Buffy up a little bit. Please don’t hate me.