The First Taste - 2
~ The Bronze, Saturday 11:15 p.m.~
Willow shouldn’t have come here, not tonight. If Buffy had been thinking, perhaps she would have realized that bringing her roommate back to the Bronze so soon after the fact would bring back too many memories. But alas, Buffy hadn’t been thinking about that. Buffy’s thoughts seemed to center on a certain TA. Willow sighed as she watched Buffy sigh, watching the same TA play pool with his friends across the room.
“He’s a strange boy.” Buffy said.
“Oh?” Willow wanted to be interested, really she did, but her heart just wasn’t in it.
“He told me he likes cheese.” Buffy replied.
“Right.” Willow nodded. If that was the best the boy could do, then maybe she shouldn’t have given him any pointers the day before.
“And when he smiles, his nose crinkles up.” Buffy mused, sighing again.
“I hadn’t noticed.” Willow answered listlessly.
“I’m sorry. I’m boring you, aren’t I?”
“No, that’s okay. I’m just…” Willow gazed up at the stage, half expecting to see the Dingoes warming up. “How about I get me some good ol’ caffeine? I feel like getting drunk tonight.” Willow’s voice barely carried over the noise of the crowd.
“How about I get that for ya?” Buffy gave a meaningful look at Willow’s crutches resting against the wall behind her.
“Oh, right.” Willow sighed.
“So, one mocha coming up? I’ll get one too.” Buffy offered her friend a warm smile, but quickly glanced back to the pool table near the bar. Buffy turned back just in time to catch the sorrowful look in Willow’s eyes. “I’ll even get extra chocolate for you, okay?” And with that, the blonde hopped off the bar stool and headed for the bar, via the pool table.
Willow looked over her left shoulder. She could have sworn someone was watching her. She’d had that feeling all night, but looking back she never saw anyone.
Asher observed Mademoiselle Rosenberg from the shadows of the club. She looked so sad, like someone had torn her heart out, trampled it, and then tried to shove it back in. He had been following the slayer that evening, looking for any sort of clue, and had instead found out something far more interesting. The slayer had greeted the redhead as if they were best friends, and they had been sitting at the same table for nearly an hour. He had watched the redhead put on a show for her friend, but whenever the blonde glanced across the room, the empty look came back to her eyes. Now that the slayer had finally left the table, his kitten seemed to deflate, losing that spark of life she had.
He watched her glance again in his direction. He smiled, but stayed in the shadows not yet ready to reveal himself. It was uncanny how some humans were able to sense his presence even when he was hiding in plain sight. Perhaps even more amusing was the slayer’s inability to seek him out, but then this slayer had hardly stuck him as the vigilant type. He found it difficult to believe some of the stories he had heard about her, seeing her drooling over a college boy. A college boy that seemed to be about the same size as the man that had led the unit against his host, even down to one shoulder being higher than the other; my, how things got interesting. Asher studied the man and his companions more closely. There was something off about them. Unlike the rest of the students in the building, those three looked like they hadn’t relaxed in a decade. He would have to watch out for them.
Unfortunately, the slayer returned, balancing two oversized coffee mugs. Deciding that he had seen enough, Asher turned to leave, stopping at the door for one last glance.
Willow looked up from her mocha, feeling like the air was being sucked out of the room. She looked at the door just in time to catch a glance of the most beautiful ice blue eyes ever. She held the look for a moment, asking a million questions with her eyes. The vampire’s eyes seemed to understand and send back an answer, but she had no idea what to do with pain and anguish she was seeing. Blushing, she looked back down at her drink. By the time she glanced back up, Asher was long gone.
“Hey Willow, what’s caught your eye?” Buffy asked her friend, glancing to the door where Willow seemed to be looking.
“Oh nothing, just thinking.”
“That’s dangerous you know. You shouldn’t think on an empty stomach. Do you want something to eat? I’m starving.”
“It’s alright Buffy; you don’t need to make up an excuse to walk by the pool table again. I’m your friend, I understand.” Willow offered.
“That’s not what I meant.” Buffy blushed. “Okay, so that was part of it, but I really am hungry, and they had a cheesecake at the counter, and you look like you could do with a slice, and I know I’m always in the mood for some cheesecake.”
“Cheese, eh?” Willow offered her friend a sly smile.
“There’s nothing wrong with cheese.” Buffy beamed
“I never said there was.” Willow nodded understandingly. “Alright, how about we split a piece?”
“You are a mind reader, my dearest, bestest, bud. I’ll be right back.”
Willow’s smile faded as her friend joined the throng of teenagers at the counter. She glanced around the room, hoping that an old game of spot-the-vamp might cheer her mood. Her gaze landed on the stage. Oz used to stand on that stage. Oz used to stand on that stage and smile at her like there was no one else in the world, like there was no world outside of the two of them. It felt like such a long time ago. Willow checked her watch. It had only been eleven days, two hours, and fifteen minutes since the last time she had seen Oz. Why, she could still count all the days on her fingers… and a toe. Oh dear, she had to include her toes. Did that mean he’d never come back?
“Penny for your thoughts?” Willow looked up into the goofy but kind face of Riley, the TA.
“They’re not really worth a penny to you.” She sighed sadly.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Normally your thoughts are dime worthy.” He offered, taking a seat next to the one Buffy had vacated. “It’s okay that I sit here, isn’t it?”
“Do whatever you want. I don’t own the place.” Willow offered a tired smile, than quickly drooped back to a frown.
“I’m sorry about what happened with Daniel.”
“Look, Riley, I appreciate what you’re trying to do. I know you’re trying to get to Buffy by being nice to her friends. That’s an honorable course, really it is, but please, don’t.”
“That’s not it.” Riley said then contradicted himself. “Alright, the thought went through my mind, but I’m also worried about you. You’re a good person, Willow Rosenberg, and I don’t want to see you so sad.”
“That’s sweet, really it is, but it’s just something I have to go through, okay?”
“Oh, right, I understand.” Riley nodded, not having a clue what she meant. Women were so confusing. Just when you thought they wanted you to talk about emotions, they clam up. What was with that?
“So, I take it your pool shark days are over?” Willow asked, half heartedly.
“Oh yeah, Forrest always wins, but that’s okay. I figure that just gives me more time to work up the nerve to talk to Buffy. So, you don’t mind, I mean, about Buffy?”
“What about Buffy?”
“You know, that I like her.”
“You’re not the first….” Willow didn’t finish that thought, as Buffy approached with the slice of cheesecake.
Sliding onto her stool, Buffy frowned. “Doh! I only got one fork.”
“That’s okay, Just give me the first taste and you can have the rest.” Willow offered. “I’m not really hungry. I think I’m going to head back to the dorm soon anyway.”
“Do you want me to eat fast?” Buffy asked, studying her friend’s expression.
“No, that’s okay, why don’t you and Riley stay and talk about whatever it is you kids talk about these days.”
“Are you going to be okay? I don’t want you to get … mugged or something.”
“I’ll be fine.” Willow said, helping herself to the smallest possible taste of cheesecake and handing the fork back to Buffy.
“Hey Graham!” Riley called over to one of his friends who was chatting up three girls Willow recognized as juniors from the old Sunnydale High. His friend immediately responded, as if he was used to taking Riley’s orders. “Willow’s not feeling so well and you said you wanted to get some of your reading done tonight anyway. Would you mind walking her back to the dorms?”
“Sure, no problem.” Graham smiled at Willow. It was always good to have your C.O. owe you a favor. “Here, let me help you with your bag.”
Buffy gave Willow an encouraging smile. Willow shrugged back and picked up her crutches. Silently she followed Graham out of the building.
“Thanks for walking me home.” Willow said, feeling awkward in the sudden silence of the night outside.
“Oh, it’s no problem. Like Riley said, I had some work to do tonight anyway, so I didn’t want to stay that late anyway.”
“It looked like you were having fun.”
“Well, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t have too much fun, or I’d never get home tonight, if you know what I mean, and I’d be in trouble tomorrow.”
“Oh, my.” Willow blushed.
“I’m sorry, you probably think I’m horribly crass for implying…” Graham started apologizing. They were barely down the block, and he’d already stuck his foot in it big time.
“Well, there’s that, but I was just thinking that it was probably close to those girls’ bedtimes anyway. You know, high school starts much earlier than college classes. I bet their used to getting up way earlier than you.”
Graham was thankful the night hid his furious blushing. If Forrest found out he was chatting up jailbait, he’d never live it down. “Then I really owe you a thanks.”
“No problem.” Willow answered smugly.
“So, you’re Willow Rosenberg, right? Riley’s mentioned you a few times.”
“Yeah.” Graham wasn’t sure what to say, so he settled for taking in the sights around them. It was funny how this town had a way of lulling everyone into a false sense of security. It looked just like a hometown should, with the cops at the all-night donut shop, and the dry cleaners down the block from the bookstore. Once you knew what you were looking for, however, it was like some freakish nightmare. His first month in, he’d wake up in the middle of the night dreaming it was his hometown that had zombies and vampires and other random demons, but Walsh assured him there was just something special here. “So how long have you been going to Sunnydale?”
“Well, this is my first semester, but I’m from the town, if that’s what you mean.” Willow answered, recognizing the small talk for what it was. She liked to talk at night too; it made her feel safer.
“Wow that must be pretty weird.” Graham commented without thinking.
“Yeah, a lot of people thought I should go out of state for college, but I don’t know. It just felt wrong leaving everyone behind like that. There’s just something about this town; it’ll grow on you if you let it. Beginning, of course, with its lovely location right on the beach, and well, I hear there’s no cheaper real estate anywhere on the coast.” Willow inwardly groaned. She sounded like a freaking brochure from the visitor’s bureau, but what was she supposed to say? Run, run, as fast as you can?
“The beach is nice.” Graham agreed, rolling his eyes. How could people live their entire life here and not notice all the freaky things going on? It was utterly baffling. No wonder that Walsh wanted to do a psych experiment here. “So you live on campus? Which dorm?”
Graham coughed. “Stevenson? I heard there was a prank there just a few days ago.”
“Yeah, some guys dressed like commandos let off a smoke bomb or something. It smelled for hours, and it’s not like I could go anywhere since the elevators were turned off and they were blocking all the stairwells with stuff that’s not very crutches friendly. If it had been a real fire I would have been in trouble.” Willow frowned.
“You should see about getting a first floor room, temporarily or something.” Graham suggested.
“No, that’s okay. I like sharing a room with Buffy, and I don’t want a room on the ground floor since you don’t know who could just walk in or something. Besides, if there really is a fire, I can just jump out the window. I mean, what’s the worse that could happen? I could break a leg… whoops, been there done that. No worries.”
“Yeah, that’s understandable.” Graham nodded.
After an awkward pause, punctuated by the tap-swish-thunk of Willow’s crutches, Willow had to speak. “So, do you live on campus?”
“Yeah. I live in Lowell House, with Riley.”
“The Dingoes played there last year.” Willow suddenly remembered why she was heading back to her dorm to wallow in self pity.
“Yeah, they were pretty good.” Graham smiled good-naturedly. “I actually bought their CD, Far From Heaven. I cannot wait until they come out with the next.”
“Yeah.” Willow sniffed. “They were the best.”
“I said something wrong. What did I say wrong?” Graham could hear the girl crying quietly for no apparent reason.
“It’s not you.” Willow mumbled.
“That’s what they always say, but here’s a clue gumshoe, it’s always you.” A voice called from behind them. The couple froze. “Oh shit.” Graham muttered. Turning slowly, Graham saw that there were at least five vampires circling them.