Title: Everything Changes
Author: Jinni (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: Something's going wrong in Sunnydale.
Disclaimer: BtVS/AtS stuff doesn't belong to me - it belongs to Joss and Co. Anita Blake and cast belong to Laurell K Hamilton.
Distribution: Sunnydale Connection - all others please ask.
It had been three years since Willow left Sunnydale when she got the ill-fated email that would send her back to the town she had come to despise. The world outside of Sunnydale's border was so much more fun than her stuffy little town. And, while there were monsters all over the place, the ones in Sunnydale were just downright cruel. They were the fringe of society, the lawbreakers and deviants. She had thought she knew about the world, thought that it wasn't that different from where she came from. But she had been wrong.
Within two months of leaving Sunnydale for the plush programming job she had been offered in Tucson, Willow had discovered up close and personal the reality of everything. There were items on television everyday over vampire rights, rights for the furry, and other such silliness. She didn't think it was silly for any bad reason like believing werewolves, vampires, even zombies didn't deserve rights. No - she thought it was silly because shouldn't they have always had rights? Sure, there were the ones living back in Sunnydale, that were so twisted by the demonic energy of the Hellmouth that they couldn't function rationally. Those poor creatures needed to just be put out of the misery. The ones outside of all of that, though, they deserved to be treated like normal human beings. Sure, they were dead or diseased - but hadn't they all been human at some point? And didn't all human beings deserve the same rights?
That was one of the reasons she had left her first employer after only two months of working there. They were off the wall vampire fanatics - but not in the 'let's all be friends' type of way. No, these people wanted to see all vampires eradicated from the face of the earth. Willow just didn't think that was right.
She had found another employer easily, this one a much better match to her own personal views and experiences. The company was owned by an alpha werewolf and specialized in programs for small to medium businesses. Anything from sale software to customer databases. They did it all. He didn't tolerate anyone on his staff that expressed any of the views her former employer had. And for that she was grateful. Work there was fun, laid back, and offered her more than enough money to take care of all of her needs and wants. After two years she had discovered someplace she really fit in.
And then the emails started.
The first one she disregarded as an overly paranoid attempt on Xander's part to her back to Sunnydale. The second one she took a little more seriously. It spoke of Buffy. But not the Buffy as she had once known her. A Buffy that had, instead, been warped and twisted by something Xander couldn't put a name on. She had become cold, cruel. And he had a sneaking suspicion that she was behind some of the latest murders that had ran rampant through the small town.
But he had no proof.
And so she had written back to him, nervously, letting him know that if he could give her one scrap of proof that Buffy had somehow gone bad, she would be on the first plane out. She would ride in to his rescue and try to figure out what had happened if only he could tell her that he knew for absolute sure that Buffy had flipped out.
It was the third email she got that sent her into a state of near panic.
It wasn't from Xander, though.
I know it's been at least a month since I had a chance to write to you last. How's everything going over there? Me and Ri are good. Touring the country, fighting evil and righting wrongs - you know, the typical husband/wife thing. Anyone new in your life? Someone special that Ri and I can double date with you on next time we're in town?
Have you heard anything from back home lately? I know you and Xander still keep in contact. Has he said anything about, well, anything odd going on? We've had rumors, some reports sorta, of some bad things happening.
Bad things involving Buffy.
Which brings me to the real reason for my email. Ri and I need a favor. We have a contact we need to send in to investigate these rumors. But he needs an 'in' with the locals, something to make him not stand out quite as bad as he would otherwise. We were wondering if you could be that 'in'.
Send me an email if it's cool with you and a good time to call. If you don't feel comfortably with it, just tell me to scram, I'll understand. Really, I will.
Let me know, Will.
Riley and Sam***
Willow just stared at the email in shock, her mind whirling at a million miles a second. Sam had heard rumors about the things going on in Sunnydale? Maybe Xander wasn't nuts, after all. But, if that was the case, it meant Buffy had crossed the line; meant that there may be no redemption for one of her best friends.
She sighed, closing her email program. It was lunchtime. She'd think about Sam's request for her to be what amounted to a spy against Buffy and get back to her after she ate. If what Xander had hinted to her was true, Buffy would need to be stopped. The Slayer would need to be neutralized. There had always been the chance that this would happen; that the mystical energies of the Hellmouth would corrupt her the same way it did other supernatural creatures.
And who better to take care of it all than her?
Willow glanced at her phone, at her computer screen. Phone. Computer screen. Phone again. She sighed, putting her head down into her hands. Sam would be calling any minute now and they'd go over exactly what it was that she wanted Willow to do. Whatever plan it was they had come up with to get their agent into Sunnydale.
On a deeper level, one that she didn't care to truly admit to for the most part, Willow was bothered by the fact that she was going back to Sunnydale not to just visit her friends, but to aid the government with spying on Buffy. She owed it to everyone to do it, though. If Buffy had gone rogue it was for everyone's best benefit that they dealt with it now. Contained her and kept her away from the general public. It all made perfect, logical sense.
But, damn, it hurt.
Despite the fact that she hadn't spoken to Buffy since the day she left Sunnydale, oh so many years before, she still felt a type of allegiance to the perky blonde. The woman had, after all, saved her life on more than one occasion. Was it really fair of her to do this? To go there and plot against her?
'Stop it.' She ordered herself. 'If Buffy has gone bad it could be very bad. And poor Xander still has to live there with her! You need to do it at least for him.'
And that was what had convinced her in the end. The fact that Xander had to live in Sunnydale with Buffy. If she had truly gone astray wouldn't he eventually end up getting hurt - or worse? She didn't even have to think about it for a second to know she'd never be able to forgive herself if Xander got hurt because she didn't act.
So, after her lunch break, she had calmly come back to her desk, opened up her email and answered Sam that she would be glad to help her out if she thought there was truly a need. She had given the older woman her phone number. Sam had responded back as quickly as though she were sitting right at her computer, waiting for Willow to get back to her. She would call at two.
Right about now.
The gods that lord over coincidence must have been reading Willow's mind because the phone rang at that moment. The noise was sudden and made her jump; startling her out of the train of thoughts she had been in previously. She licked her lips and placed a hand on the receiver, taking a deep breath before picking up.
"May I please speak with Willow Rosenberg?"
The red head laughed softly. "It's me Sam."
"Thought so. Couldn't be too sure, though."
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence and Willow could almost picture Sam sitting there, a thoughtful look on her face as though she really wanted to take back her request. That was just the type of person Sam was.
"Come on, Sam." Willow chuckled. "Out with it. We both know why you called."
"I know. I know."
There was a sound like a deep breath being taken in and released and Willow smiled. "I wouldn't have agreed to do it if I didn't mean it, Sam. Stop feeling so guilty. Picture my resolve face and know I mean it."
That got a laugh.
"Fine. I know. You didn't have to agree. But you're a civilian. Well, Ted is too. But that's beside the point. He's - different."
"Ted?" Willow asked, her forehead scrunching up in confusion. She didn't remember any emails concerning a 'Ted'.
"The guy we're sending in to investigate the rumors about Buffy."
"Ah." The red head sighed. "Tell me what's going on, Sam. I need to know. Xander wrote something the other day… but I thought he was being paranoid. What happened and why do you think it was Buffy?"
"There have been bodies turning up around town." Sam began, her words halting, as though she were afraid that she would say something to offend Willow. "At first they were just the bad sort of demon, the kind we were happy to see get torn to itty bitty pieces - even if it literally was itty bitty pieces, mind you. Some of the bodies we found were mutilated almost beyond recognition. They looked like they had been tortured."
The other woman stopped speaking and Willow waited patiently for her to continue. It was hard for the other woman, she could tell, to discuss this. Which led the witch to wonder what was coming next. Her eyes roamed over the cubicle she called her workspace - over the small figurines, mostly of strong-looking supernatural women, that she had begun to collect. They were lined up on one side of her desk, staring at her. Was it just her imagination or did they look more sad tonight?
Finally Sam began to speak again.
"A few weeks of that went by and then it stopped. We thought whoever was doing it got tired of it." She laughed and the sound was harsh. "If only that were the case. It seems by that time there weren't any more 'bad' demons left in Sunnyhell. They all fled for their lives. That's when the 'good' demons started turning up. They were chopped up even worse than the last set and it was apparent to those of us who looked over their bodies that a good majority of it had been done before they were killed. Whoever did this tortured them to death."
This time when Sam paused Willow couldn't wait. She could hear her heart thudding in her ears, the pressure almost painful. "And --?" The quiet prompt seemed like little more than a whisper to her own hearing.
"And then they found George. And Lisa. And Tony. And five others that we still haven't been able to get identification on because they were torn up too badly."
"Damn." Willow whispered.
"Yeah. You can say that again. These were human beings, Willow. They didn't deserve this. It extends past that, though. The killer has been murdering any lycanthropes it catches in Sunnydale. Hanging their skins out on the 'Welcome' sign at the edge of town."
"What? But - a lycanthrope skin would look just like a human one when they die."
"I know." Sam sighed. "Which makes it all the worse, I suppose."
Willow sat in silence for a moment, trying to digest the information she had been given. There was one thought that was burning in the back of her mind though. A question that she had to have answered. "What makes you think it was Buffy?"
"There was a witness to just one of the attacks. They didn't get a good look at the attacker but they saw enough to know it was a blonde haired girl with unusual strength."
The red head felt as though her heart had been torn out, stomped on, and then put into a blender to be diced into so much puree. She wanted to scream, cry, and wail about the inhumanity of the attacks. But she didn't. Instead she could only think of one thing to say.
Same laughed, the same bitter sound that Willow had already heard once that night. "You can say that again."
So she did - repetitively for the next ten minutes. Until she had gotten it out of her system. It was too much to hope that the little outbursts would make her feel better. Because they didn't.
Yep - far too much to hope.
Sam and Riley were quick about getting to her once she agreed. If Willow hadn't known better she would have even thought that the wedded duo were waiting in some nearby city for her to make her decision.
But they wouldn't do anything like that - would they?
Less than twenty-four hours after she had spoken with Sam she was meeting with them at her apartment. She had already spoken with her boss and arrange to work from the road while she dealt with 'an emergency back home'. It was the truth, as much as it was. There was an emergency, and it was back home. He didn't need to know that she was going to investigate one of her former best friends for murder, did he?
Willow opened the door of her apartment, giving Sam and Riley a bright smile.
There was much hugging between the three of them. For Willow it felt good just to be held. It had been too long since she had been in the presence of her true friends. So long since she had ventured out for a life on her own and left everything she knew behind. It felt good just to see them again, to know that they were still her friends and still cared for her.
Pulling back from Riley's last embrace, she saw the man they had brought with them. He was standing in the hallway still, a quiet look on his face. His hair was blonde and she could see already that his eyes were blue, though they held an odd darkness to them that she just couldn't place. It was something that she had seen somewhere else before, a quiet cold that filled the soul to the brim and left little for anything else. Sam had said that he was a special agent; Willow was guessing that that wasn't the only thing he was.
"You must be Ted." She smiled brightly, venturing to the doorway.
He looked over her head and she turned to see that Riley and Sam were both looking at him, as if waiting to see what he would do. Sam nodded ever so slightly. It was puzzling to Willow and she didn't like the feeling that she was being left in the dark about something. But there wasn't much she could do. So much of what her two friends did for a living was top-secret hush-hush type stuff. Asking the wrong questions could get her, and them, into trouble.
And she didn't want that.
"And you must be Willow." He replied at last, flashing her a smile. His voice was quietly charming with a slight drawl to it. A good old boy.
"Yep." She murmured, refusing to blush at the calm, appraising way he was looking at her. It was like she was being sized up. "That would be me. Come in?"
"Thanks." Again the smile. The one that didn't quite make it to his eyes. Did his eyes ever show any emotion? Was there any warmth to be found in their cold depths? Or was he made of ice like some walking snow man - a creature best not to touch or get too close to lest you freeze yourself to death.
She led him into the living room, glancing over her shoulder to make sure the door had shut firmly behind her. No matter what neighborhood she lived in, the red head still found herself just as paranoid about things as she ever had been in Sunnydale.
"So - "
Her gaze jumped from Riley to Sam to Ted, watching as they each looked at each other as if to ask - 'who gets to start'? Apparently Sam was chosen as the token orator because she cleared her throat and looked towards Willow expectantly.
"Sam -" Willow snickered. "I already said I'd help you out. Stop looking like you're going to have a heart attack just sitting here talking with me. Tell me what's going to happen. I take it we're leaving tomorrow, right?"
Sam nodded, glancing at Riley for confirmation. "Plane leaves mid-morning. You'll be in Sunnydale before Noon."
"Good." Willow smiled. "That'll give us a chance to settle into a hotel and stuff before I get to do the whole reunion thing." She grimaced at the statement.
"You don't have to do this if you don't want to, Wills." Riley reminded her. "I know how hard it was for you to leave and not look back."
The red head nodded. Yes, it had been hard. To leave her loved ones behind and make a better life for herself. But she had done it and she was strong enough to go there, do what needed to be done, and leave again.
"I know, Ri. You're not forcing me to do anything. I want to do this, I want to help."
"And if she did it?" Ted prodded.
She looked over at him, into his cold eyes, and answered him with all the detachment she could muster. "Then she'll need to be dealt with."
"And how does one deal with a rogue Slayer?"
It was another penetrating question. Something she hadn't wanted to really think of until that moment. How would they deal with Buffy if she had gone bad? Magic was an option, though Willow didn't know of any spells that could permanently contain Buffy's powers. And it would take no less than permanent containment for Buffy to be able to go through a human legal system. Not even the government's holding facilities would be able to hold her for very long if she still had her powers.
That really left only one option and it was one that chilled her to the bone. If it had to be done, she wanted to be there, be the one to do it.
"Death." She said finally, hoping her voice didn't sound shaky. "Death is the only way to deal with a rogue Slayer."
Ted nodded, sitting back with a small smile on his face. He was going to like this girl.
"You and Ted will be going in as boyfriend and girlfriend." Sam continued, acting as though she hadn't noticed the exchange between her friend and associate. She didn't want to find out how Willow would react if she found out what Ted really was. Ted, or Edward as he was truly named, was nothing short of an assassin. He would go, look into things, and if there were a problem to be dealt with like there so obviously was - he would take care of it.
"Boyfriend?" Willow asked, a smile on her lips. "They're never going to believe we're dating."
Riley snickered. "Then I guess you two better get close really quick. This could go bad if Buffy figures out we sent someone to check up on her."
Willow nodded, retreating into her own thoughts. Ted wasn't a bad looking man. She could get close to him for the sake of all of this.
But could she get -that- close to him in less than twenty-four hours and still make it look convincing?
~*~End Parts 1-3~*~