For What Ails
Thursday afternoon, Willow slipped into Callie and Tony's house, feeling tired. The morning had been spent unpacking boxes at Bayou Moon - tedious, but necessary for a store. She'd pulled out a little notebook and copied down the return address for the shipment of crystals, and the one for the assorted incense. There was supposed to be a shipment of herbs on Monday, prompting the request that she be there early and ready to help unload and stock shelves again.
Part of her really wanted to do something more demanding than bring boxes in, open boxes, unpack and shelve - repeat for about seven hours. Another part of her wanted to do something towards fixing the mess of her life. Another part wanted to talk to Tante Mattie about fixing her memory, learning who and specifically why her, and how to keep it from ever happening again. Except that she didn't have a direct way to contact that woman.
With a sigh, she took a quick shower, and changed into clothing that wasn't dusty and smelling of too much patchouli and cayenne pepper. Combing through her hair, she decided that it would probably be too early for emails from Wesley or anyone else at Angel Investigations, she still had no direct way to contact Tante Mattie... and she was almost out of her bruise paste and sore muscle oils.
"I wanted productive, that'll do," she nodded to herself and began assembling her things. Some herbs, a few oils, beeswax, honey, and a couple mineral powders, as well as some small bowls, a mortar and pestle, and bottles and jars for the finished medicines. Wanting a bit of light, she set up her things in the kitchen. The fact that it had the benefit of being near the coffee-maker was an added bonus, not the whole reason... really...
Willow was just pouring the sore muscle oil into a second tall, slender bottle when a figure shambled into the kitchen, bumping into the doorway and adjusting course. The oddly pale complexion, wild hair and rumpled clothing at first made her think 'undead', which didn't match the bright patches of sunshine and the absence of the stench of rot. The figure shambled towards the coffee, mumbling curses about 'bright light' and 'moving counters'.
The voice connected it for Willow, and she smothered a giggle. It was obvious that Tony hadn't managed nearly enough sleep... Feeling helpful, she floated a mug out of the cupboard, and poured some coffee into it, along with the appalling amount of sugar that Tony took in his coffee. It was enough to make her teeth hurt just watching.
Tony blinked at the cup that settled on the counter. One hand rubbed over his face before he shrugged, picked up the cup and gulped down about a third of it.
Willow finished pouring the oil, and then sipped at her own cup of coffee. "I hope whatever has you looking rather zombie-like was worth it."
"Guess so," Tony mumbled, then took another swallow of the coffee, "De coffee... hot coffee... how it get dere in front o' me?"
"You looked like you needed it, so I floated you a cup," Willow shrugged, and considered the rest of the oil. Maybe enough for a small bottle. "There's more in the pot."
"Y' used magic on de coffee?" Tony blinked at his cup before shuffling over, putting three heaping spoons of sugar in the cup and then pouring in coffee.
"I used magic on the cup, the sugar spoon, and the coffee-pot. Not the coffee itself," Willow corrected. "And all I did was move things, just not with my hands. They were full."
"Don' look like breakfess..." Tony mumbled before taking a swallow of coffee.
"Magical medicine. This is for sore muscles, next up is a bruise balm," She considered him for a moment, "Do either of them sound like something that would help you at the moment?"
"Bot' soun' good," Tony's words were still slurred, but easier to understand. "Got anyt'ing to keep from getting infection?"
Willow considered that, remembering the scrape on his arm, remembering patching Remy up after the robot-dogs, remembering the many scrapes and cuts she'd picked up in Sunnydale. "I can mix that one up in my sleep. I might have on a few occasions..."
“Lot more useful den some o’ de magic I seen,” Tony sipped at his coffee again. “Most o’ what I see be good twenny years down de road, not so good f’r t’morrow.”
“And most of what you’ve seen has been from a different style of leaning than ‘got to keep the monsters from killing us tonight and destroying the world tomorrow’, I bet,” Willow countered. “I don’t know most of the long-term stuff. My magical training has been… rather patchy and based on books, a few immediately needed tricks, and things that I’ve figured out for myself.”
“Sounds…” Tony shook his head. “Not be a good way t’ learn most t’ings.”
“Not really the best way to learn magic either,” Willow swallowed the last of the coffee in her cup. “But sometimes you don’t get what you want, you have to make do with what you’ve got. I’m hoping to get some lessons in that while I’m here as well as how to defend myself.”
“How long y’ planning t’ be in N’Awlins?” Tony looked at her, starting to look more awake, more like a living human.
Willow considered him for a long moment, and then sighed, “Right now, I don’t have any firm plans to leave. I probably need to move out of your spare room eventually, but hopefully not until I’ve got somewhere to go. I don’t really have anything to go back to Sunnydale for…”
“Y' talk to Tante Mattie ‘bout leaning new magic?” Tony asked.
“Sort of, but not in any detail, and I don’t have a number for her,” Willow admitted.
“Got a way to get a message to her,” Tony admitted. “One ‘f her granddaughters be… well… Tony can get a message to Lottie, an’ Lottie can get de message to her Gran, and dere you go.”
For a moment, Willow wondered if Lottie might be an ex-girlfriend of Tony’s, before she decided that it didn’t really matter. “That’d be nice.”
“I get de message t’rough for you,” Tony promised.
“Thanks,” Willow beamed at him. Then she refilled both coffee cups before starting on a thin salve to prevent infections. She figured that the bruise balm could follow that one, and then… maybe she’d check her email after that.
End part 1.
When Willow finally checked her email, there were the expected useless things, including a reminder from UC Sunnydale about the deadline to register for next year's financial aid. Giving that one a brief, bitter chuckle, she continued on down the list. The one that she was most and also least eager to see was from Wesley, with the subject line “RE: Memory Problems”, and apparently with several attachments.
Heart feeling like it was fluttering in her throat, Willow opened the email and started a virus scan on the attachments, just in case.
It pains me to admit that there is something clearly wrong in Sunndyale. A few additional calls regarding the same invented problem as well as a discussion of several Watcher texts have given me the impression that the presumed Miss Madison in Sunnydale is considered to be a valued and trusted member of the research and support team, with Mr. Giles offering considerable praise for her magical potential. The mentions of you were solely in context of computer issues.
While I do not believe your magical education has been as thorough in the basics or as cautious as I would hope, I do know that you show strong potential and have experienced remarkable results, though not always as intended. As a side note, I hope that you might search out some further education in the magical basics, and I shall send you a copy of some of the basic theory and meditational exercises that all Watchers are supposed to use. You may or may not be aware that most Watchers are trained in a few magical skills, even though few learn more than a smattering of useful and fairly simple things to enhance basic safety.
I am most troubled by the fact that the Miss Madison in Sunnydale is considered a valued friend, and that Miss Summers and Miss Madison are often shopping together. I fear that this Miss Madison may be seeking to influence the Slayer for some nefarious end… but I digress.
Attached are the scanned pages containing two rituals to uncover and reverse simple mind-altering spells. Another is a recipe for a tea that is believed to enhance the mind’s natural defenses – while this is not the best solution, I do not see how it could hurt. There is also an anointing oil that can offer a defense for the mind for a time, but it should not be used more often than once a week at most, preferably no more than once a fortnight. Which is two weeks, if the American educational system has not covered that term.
You have my hopes that your time outside of Sunnydale will be safe and beneficial. I have been instructed to ask if your cellular still has the same number, and when would be a good time for Angel or Cordelia to call you.
Willow again found herself smiling at the formality of Wesley’s email. It was more like he was writing out a letter, and just using the computer instead of paper – which sounded remarkably like Wesley, now that she thought about it. For a moment, she found herself wondering just what Angel or Cordelia would want to say, as neither had been that close when they were still in Sunnydale.
In her reply, she made certain to note the better times for someone to call, both in the afternoons and the evening for Angel. She assured them that she still had the same number, her emails were still the same except the UC Sunnydale one, and she was already making arrangements to learn some very useful things. She’d look into those memory repairs, and was trying to find a good local teacher, though Wesley’s book would be very welcome. She also noted that rat-Amy seemed to be in good health.
The first ritual that Wesley had sent was simple enough, requiring an open area that she could chalk in a protective circle, burning a few protective herbs, and a candle to help her focus, then some chanting and calling on powers of wisdom, memory and clear thought. Willow considered the bedroom floor for a moment, and then decided to check out the little balcony behind the house. The inside floor didn’t look well suited to chalk lines. A few herbs for protection, cleansing, and clarity, a bit of almond oil to bind it together… she could do this today.
With only a little rearrangement, Willow was able to get her chalked circle, just large enough for her to sit inside, on the semi-enclosed balcony. She had a little bronze bowl with the herbs and a bit of almond oil, and after a bit of thought set it onto a metal and ceramic trivet, just to make certain there wouldn’t be a scorched mark on the floor. She set the trivet and bowl to the east, and turned a bit more towards the bulk of thou house, feeling like that gave her knees a bit more clearance. A flicker of thought lit the candle and then the herbs, and Willow began murmuring her invocation.
Willow’s world seemed to narrow to nothing more than the pale candle, the scent of herbs, and the dancing flame. She couldn’t say how long she sat there, the words flowing without further thought. Tears began flowing down her cheeks as things that had been blurred sharpened in her mind. Her grief when Jesse had died… been turned, and then staked. Seeing Drusilla and Angelus following her on several occasions during her junior year. The lectures and trips to the UC Sunnydale library. Her dates with Tara, which had been vague yet enjoyable, until the awful revelation – now revealed as discussions of herbs and lunar calendars, comparing various pantheons, and discussing why some neo-pagans opted to go vegetarian – had been pleasant times. Tara might have been a good friend, except for the whole trying to use her part. The painful days after Oz left became well defined memories of misery, instead of a blurred, pained haze.
She remembered trying to de-rat Amy again, calling on Hecate on Amy’s behalf. She’d heard the door open, and then… There was a feeling of terrible wrongness, and she couldn’t remember anything until Buffy had returned from patrol, turning on the lights and Willow trying to explain the blanket-covered lump as the now de-ratted Amy… and the small rat curled up in the cage on her desk. Remembered Amy-the-rat being there, but her not seeming to really notice, despite continuing to feed and water the transformed witch. Remembered seeing the ‘Amy Madison’ with Buffy and Anya a few times, seeing ‘Amy’ make a few gestures before Willow had found herself going elsewhere… Seeing ‘Amy’ make a few gestures before ‘Amy’ had been receiving instruction from Giles and Anya…
“I still don’t remember what really happened when I tried to de-rat Amy that last time,” Willow whispered. “That must mean… whatever blanked that out must have been a more complicated effort than covering the other things.”
She wondered who was in Sunnydale pretending to be Amy, and why. How long they would pretend to be Amy Madison. If Amy was the first identity that they’d stolen.
End part 2.
Trembling, Willow extinguished the candle with a thought, and then twisted to look at the bowl that had held oil and herbs. It was now empty, with a thin layer of ashes over the interior. Moving her hand towards it, she decided that it was still too warm to pick up, and left it there. She lurched to her feet, discovering both of her legs had fallen asleep while she was fussing with her memories. Her eyes also felt dry and scratchy.
“Ohhh… not fun,” Willow grumbled. “Coffee will help… coffee makes everything better.”
Tony was in the kitchen, looking clean and grinning. “Dat oil be good t’ soak in. De oil, a little of the goop t’ prevent infection… ‘s all good.”
“Glad you’re feeling better, Willow gave a small smile as she staggered towards the table, deciding to just float the coffee to her rather than stumble around more. “My legs went to sleep on me.”
“Dis got somet’ing t’ do wit’ whatever you doing on de balcony?” Tony asked.
“Bingo. Sit down for… however long and don’t move and of course your legs go to sleep,” Willow caught the floating coffee cup. “It needed to be done, but…”
“Sometimes, what need t’ be done not be any fun,” Tony finished.
“Right,” Willow agreed. “Did you talk to Lottie?”
“Oui, an’ Lottie says she be over to talk t’ you ‘bout what you know an’ don’ know. Lottie know a bit about magic herself, but not de complicated, big t’ings,” Tony explained.
“So here’s a question,” Willow began. Part of her wondered if Lottie had been one of the people Remy had meant when he said he knew people and people who knew people, and magical training could be arranged if she came to New Orleans. “No matter how nice and generous Lottie may be, teaching me will take time, either her's or whoever she finds to teach me. What will she want in return?”
“mmm. Lottie be hopeless wit’ computers, anyt’ing electronic really,” Tony mused. “Maybe if Lottie teach you, you set her up wit’ a computer she can use? We figure somet’ing out if someone else teach you.”
“Set up a computer and maybe lessons in what to do with it, in return for magical basics that someone should have taught me a couple years back,” Willow pondered the idea. “Sounds fair enough.”
“Umm… a word o’ warning?” Tony looked nervous, and then sighed. “Lottie… she’s… she’s very fluttery. Comes across as needy, scatter-minded, sweet an’ not too bright. She is an’ she not like dat.”
“So she isn’t as shallow and silly as people think?” Willow wondered if she’d be dealing with someone like Cordelia – no, most had figured that Cordelia was smart, and nobody associated Cordelia with sweet. Maybe more like a Harmony… eeeeh, she hoped not. “And she’s well connected to people who can make your life absolutely miserable if you try to play nasty games.”
“Oui,” Tony nodded.
“So when will I meet her?” Willow asked.
“Lottie be over t’morrow at two,” Tony shrugged.
“I’ll try to be ready,” Willow promised.
“So what you be doing tonight” Tony waved his hand at the coffee. “Y’ look like you want to be up an’ about.”
“Remy’s going to give me a combination walking tour and French lesson, and maybe dinner,” Willow tried not to blush. “He also mentioned that we might stop by to talk to someone who might want a little basic magic in trade for something yet to be discussed.”
“If you be planning to get into trading favor for favor, maybe you be willing to find some information on de computer for some people, hmmm?” Tony mused.
“That… might depend on what the information is,” Willow considered the idea. Tony almost certainly meant thieves, meant for her to give information to help steal things… But she’d hired a thief, and she had considered that there was a very good, very big reason why that wasn’t a bad thing. “And how tough it would be to get the information. There are limits to what I can do.”
“So dat be a maybe?” Tony poured her more coffee.
“A maybe,” Willow agreed, hoping that she wasn’t being charmed into a mistake.
End part 3.
“Belle Willow,” Remy smiled at her, holding out a pale flower.
“You are a charming flirt,” Willow told Remy as she took the flower, inhaling the sweet scent. Glancing at him, she tucked the flower behind her ear, and smiled, “You mentioned a tour and French lesson?”
And so the tour began. Remy would point out historic buildings, and murmur some things about the building’s history, as well as describing the building – all in French. He’d murmur comments about some of the people they passed, describing them in French. The idea was learning by immersion, and being able to match the words with what she could see. They ended up at a small restaurant that served delicious food, accompanied by lively music unlike anything Willow had heard in Sunnydale. She wasn’t entirely certain if she liked the music, or rather, if she’d like it elsewhere, but it fit the moment.
The restaurant had spells on it. Spells to prevent pests and water damage, spells to help preserve the food, to keep the customers content. She could feel them, neat and orderly and probably better cast than what she could manage. “I wonder who did their spell-work?”
“Remy don’ know dat, but next door be a place described as natural medicine. Maybe you be able to sell some of your bruise balm dere?”
Remy’s grin made it impossible not to agree to stop in the little shop next to the restaurant. It felt like it had the same sort of spells, and they’d been cast by the same person. Willow glanced around the shop, wondering what she’d see inside such precise spells. There were herbs and crystals, candles with and without scents, and oils for perfume and aromatherapy and medical use. Books on massage and meditation and philosophy and some types of martial arts. Jars marked for bruises, scrapes, sore muscles, stress… Nothing about spirits or drawing on energies, nothing about assorted pantheons or how to use your power to improve your life, no dream catchers or dried bird-feet.
“Welcome to … Remy, what have you been up to, you charmer?” the woman smiled at Remy, with cheerful chocolate eyes, and a dozen little chocolate braids tipped with beads in blue and green emerging from under a soft blue scarf.
“Willow, dis be Nola, an’ her shop. Nola, maybe you be interested in carrying some of Willow’s medicines in your shop?” Remy smiled at the woman, “Y’ know Remy only bring de best to your shop, Nola.”
Nola shook her head, and glanced at Willow, “You be careful with this one, girl. He charms women as easily as he breathes, and he’s always up to something.”
“I’d noticed the charming part, and had my suspicions about him being up to things,” Willow admitted. “I’m just hoping he’s not up to too much that I’d get mad about. Hoping he stays out of trouble is too much for anyone to ask.”
“Hey!” Remy protested.
“You make natural medicines?” Nola asked Willow. “Along the lines of what I already have?”
“Probably a different recipe, but the same idea,” Willow considered. “Does it help if I say that Remy likes my bruise balm?”
“Dat stuff for scrapes be pretty good to,” Remy added.
“So you have good reason to know he’s always in trouble,” Nola smirked. “It does speak well for your medicines that Remy uses them.”
“Thanks,” Willow smiled.
“Why don’t we talk about what you have, and what I might put on my shelves…”
end part 4.
End Small Favor 21: For What Ails