if you could read the earlier Anita Blake books, you're fine.
main characters: Willow, Rafael (the Rat-King), and Amy
is Willow/Raphael on the QPC list?
the QPC site: http://quickie.moonlightpaths.com
disclaimer: I own nobody from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the Anita Blake novels by Laurell K Hamilton.
distribution: Bite Me, WLS, NHA, Twisting the Hellmouth, Wic, anyone else just ask
note: set post S5 with minor changes (Willow & Tara split up & stayed separated, Spike was never 'in love' with Buffy)
Buffy was dead, and Giles was gone. He'd taken Dawn with him to England, on the idea that she would be safer there. Xander and Anya... well, they had decided to go to Las Vegas in celebration of surviving Glory. Willow had spent exactly three hours moping from everyone else being gone, her 'failure' to save Buffy, and the fact that she felt miserable and exhausted.
She'd been distracted by a squeaking noise from the side of her room, coming from Amy. She looked at the girl turned rat as if she'd never seen her before as the idea blossomed in her mind. She'd been trying to find a way to change Amy back, but there had been so many crises one after another that she'd never gotten anywhere. Perhaps it was time to consult with outside sources.
"Amy, I think it's time for you and me to go on a little road trip to help us find a way to make you your taller self again."
In her cage, the rat that was Amy squeaked, sounding excited. She was practically trying to squeeze through the bars to get to Willow.
"Yeah... just give me a bit of time to pack. No more than an hour, maybe two." Willow's voice had a small calming effect on the rodent-girl, as if she still understood english. Perhaps she did.
As it turned out, she was ready to leave in just a little over one hour. The problem came with the question of where to go. It wasn't as if simply flipping to the yellow pages would lead you to a witch or sorcerer strong enough to help with something like this. That was the beginning of a meandering road trip that brought them into St Louis during the peak of July's heat, when the sun and the humidity beat mercilessly down. Never had the hours kept by vampires sounded more appealing to Willow.
She left Amy in the air conditioned motel room while she tried to find a lead. She could feel power and magic all through the city, there HAD to be someone that could help her. All she had to do was find the right person to point her to someone. It was at a comedy club called 'Lunatic Cafe' that she finally had a possible lead. Her murmur of needing to talk to someone about a rat caused the waitress to point her at a dark man sitting at a corner table.
Making her way over, she tried to get some idea of what to expect from him. He had an odd sort of energy to him, one that left no doubt that not only was he not quite human, he was a powerful not quite human. "Hello? I was wondering if you could help me with a little problem..."
He gave a small nod, and a polite smile as he gestured for her to be seated. When he spoke, she could feel the power, and he had the faintest hint of an accent. She could also see a golden band gleaming on his left hand. "What do you think I can help you with?"
Willow raked her finger through her hair, wondering how much to edit from her story. "There's a friend of mine... she had a bit of an accident with a spell. I'm trying to help her get back to normal."
"Why would I be able to help? I'm no bruja." He moved one arm, pulling his coffee closer, the gesture revealing a mark in the shape of a crown branded into his arm.
"She turned herself into a rat. I've been trying to find a way to restore her to her human form. The waitress over there seemed to think you could help me with a problem about a rat..." She let her voice trail off as she considered the feel of the people here. "You're a shifter, aren't you?"
He gave a small, tight smile, as if he expected her to run away screaming. "Yes, I am a shifter. Why should I help you try to make your friend not a shifter anymore?"
For a moment, Willow could only stare at him, trying to decipher his words. "Amy's not a shifter. She... she really turned herself into a rat, you know, small, furry, fits in your hand? Squeaks and runs a lot on a little exercise wheel? It's not right, and I want to help her get to be herself again."
Now it was his turn to gape. "Really a rat? That... that is different. How did that even happen?"
Willow gave a small shudder at the memory. "There was a witch hunt and she was tied to a stake at the time, with someone about to light a fire underneath her. She called on Hecate, and then she was a rat, fell out of the ropes, and scurried away."
"That's illegal." His expression said that he was still thinking over her words, and the comment about the law was almost an afterthought.
Willow found her fingers tracing the darker swirls of blue on the blue green tabletops. "Yeah, it's illegal. There were some weird circumstances at work, but w... she would still have been dead. Can you help me help her?"
He looked at her, his eyes serious. "She may never again be fully human. IF I can find anything, and I do not know that I can, she may become a were-rat. Can you deal with that?"
Willow looked at him, giving a slightly shaky smile. "But that's what you are, and look, all human shaped and talking and wearing clothing... That would be better for her than living in a cage, eating little pellets for the rest of her possibly short life. Everything in life changes, and if she ends up going furry once a month, I can deal with that. She would still be Amy the person again, instead of Amy the small furry animal."
Willow had the impression that her words had pleased him, because when he smiled again, there was real warmth. "I am Rafael, the king of the rats of St Louis, and I will do all that I can to help you help your friend."
Smiling at him, she gave a relieved sigh with a breath that she hadn't realized she was holding. "And I'm Willow, with no catchy title, and I think I could use all the help I can get."
She pulled out a scrap of paper, an old receipt from something that she'd bought at the Magic Box, and scrawled her cell phone number on the back, along with her name. "So you can let me know if you find anything."
It was almost three days before she heard anything, three days where she tried to learn more about the gifted community of St Louis. One of the things that she learned was that there were vampires here, more discrete and less world-destroying than the ones from home, but still dangerous. One witch made the comment that "It's a good thing you aren't too powerful, that might attract the vampires, and the next thing you know, one of them would do that mind control thing and have you dancing to their tune. Maybe forever."
That idea had terrified her, and she'd redoubled her efforts to shield and mask her power. She'd recovered from the fight against Glory, which would probably be helpful if Raphael found something. But she didn't want to end up bound to some random powerful vampire for eternity. The idea gave her the shivers.
Her cell phone rang, making her jump. She answered it, hearing Raphael's voice as he explained that he'd found a ritual, and a witch to help with it. It would require her help, and they could try it tomorrow night. He also gave her careful directions to get to the place for the ritual, a small warehouse that he promised would be safe.
"Amy, it looks like tomorrow we try a ritual to make you not so small and furry. There is a chance that you'll end up as a were rat on account of being, well a rat for so long. But I figure that would still be a big improvement." Willow was excited, and couldn't help telling Amy, even if Amy couldn't talk back and might not even understand her.
Which was why Willow found herself in a warehouse that looked as if it had been used for some sort of dust cultivation, an open area in the center cleaned and almost spotless, four ion candle holders almost as tall as her, each with an undyed candle of beeswax. Raphael was there, as well as a small, wrinkled old woman of undeterminable ethnicity with long grey-white hair dressed in a dark green dress and a shawl patterned in green, blue, red, amber and black.
She was holding he cage with Amy in one hand, and a duffel with some spare clothing that would hopefully fit in the other. "I'm here... with Amy. What do I need to do?"
"You weren't joking when you said she'd turned herself into a rat. This has a bit of a risk, it will demand a lot of power. I hope you're strong enough." Raphael's voice seemed torn between amusement and worry.
"You stand here, to the South corner. Remove the girl from the cage and place her in the center, our request is on her behalf." The old woman spoke, her voice reminding Willow of the wind through tree branches.
The woman produced what looked like a peanut butter jar filled with a light yellow cream dotted with flecks of herbs. "Anoint your wrists, heart and forehead with this. Lend your strength to me when the chanting begins. Your part will be very simple."
Amy cowered in the center as the woman began chanting, and Willow pushed energy at the older witch, hoping desperately that Amy would be alright, that she could be herself again. She could feel the currents of magic, hear sounds that weren't coming from anything in the physical world. Willow felt as if her body was getting lighter, as if she could float away. There was something that felt almost like a snapping, and Willow crashed to the ground, feeling remarkably like some unseen force had thrown her. Her vision was filled with the after-images of streaks and swirls.
Willow forced herself to sit up, feeling every muscle and bone protest. "Amy?"
In the center of the circle a woman crouched, long dark hair falling in a tangle down to the ground, and wild eyes looking around. She was naked, and had far more muscles that Willow remembered, but it was Amy. Except that she looked a few years older than Willow for some reason. "Wi... Where am I?"
Willow gave a happy squeak, and was over there hugging Amy immediately. "Oh, you're you again! I'm so sorry that it took so long, but I went on a road trip and we're in St Louis and we just made you not so small and furry again! Oh, and umm, your naked, but I picked up some clothing for you as a short term."
Amy gave a hesitant smile. "Didn't think you babbled so much anymore. I remember you said we were looking for a cure... was there something about side effects?"
While Amy was carefully and slowly putting the loose shorts and tee shirt on, Willow decided to try to explain. "The only person that I could find was Raphael, and he's a were-rat. Apparently there are a lot of shape shifters here in St Louis, and he said that he found something that might help but since you've been a rat for two years, there might be complications, and you might be a were rat now instead of the sort of normal witch that you used to be, but I thought that you'd still think that was an improvement over being all small and furry all the time."
Amy tilted her head while she tried to sort out everything. "So, am I? How can I tell? What if I am? You can't pay me enough to go back to Sunnyhell."
The old witch was pulling herself to her feet and gave a small shake of her head. "If the touch of silver burns, you belong to the Moon and to the Rat. If you are of his kind now, you should stay here with your people." She carefully held out an elaborately carved silver dagger, one with a deliberately dull blade marking it as for purely ceremonial purposes.
Amy reached out, her hand shaking a bit. Her fingers brushed over the blade, and she pulled them back with a sharp cry, the skin red and raised. "Guess I am..."
Willow gave a small smile. "You're probably a lot safer in St Louis anyhow. But... I can write."
"You aren't staying?" Amy looked surprised.
Willow shook her head sadly. "I have to go back to Sunnydale. Buffy's dead, and there's nobody else to keep things safe. I have to go."
"Be careful, Willow. And stay in touch." Amy looked a bit sad, but apparently understood Willow's reasoning.
"I will be. Oh, before I forget, I set up a bank account for you, so you have money." Willow talked a bit longer with Amy, making certain that her friend would be okay. Amy might have a new spot in life, but she was herself again. That was enough for Willow.
end Amy the Rat.