Looking for Serenity
Chance Meetings: Willow and Nathaniel
: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Anita Blake belongs to Laurell K. Hamilton. No profit has been made from this fic, and the only benefit to me is personal satisfaction and the creative process.Note:
After Chosen. Incubus Dreams
spoilers. FFA entry No. 1717. Also, warning about an off-screen character death. ~*~
She came every night.
For the last three weeks, the red-headed woman had shown up at the club to watch Nathaniel's set, then she left. He'd begun to notice her after a few days. She always sat far enough back that he couldn't ask her up on stage, always in the same chair, always with the same drink.
One single glass of red wine.
She became a small obsession. Who was she? What was she waiting for? Nathaniel quietly asked the bartenders, the waiters, anyone he could find at the club, about her. She always paid in exact change, the bartenders said. Always ordered in person, then sat in the same place.
He could ask Jean-Claude about her, but then the Master would tell Anita, and Nathaniel did not want to explain this to Anita. He shared everything else with her these days, he just needed something of his own. His little red-headed obsession.
Jason had joked that she was like his stalker, but Nathaniel had experienced stalkers, and the red-head wasn't a stalker. She never made any effort to get his attention, or waited outside Guilty Pleasures, or anything.
He wondered about her. What was her name? He pictured an elegant name, maybe Victoria, or Rose, or Eleanor. What was her job? Nothing menial, he knew. Even as she stared at him taking off his clothes, her eyes were distant, looking for meaning. He imagined that she saved lives somehow, a doctor, maybe, or a social worker, trying to pull people like the boy he had used to be, drug-addicted and hopeless, out of the dirt.
So every night, he danced, and endured the groping hands of frantic women, and wished that just once, he could ask her up on stage, and dance with her, if only for a few minutes. Touch her in his unreal world, make her real to him.~~~~
It was a Wednesday afternoon. Nathaniel had borrowed the Jeep from Anita and had driven to the supermarket. His plan was to get the week's grocery shopping done before he needed to get to the gym. Normally, someone from the house went with him, but Micah was at work and so was Anita, and so Nathaniel was alone as he pushed the shopping cart down the aisles. Coffee for Anita? Check. Tomato soup? Check.
Nathaniel frowned down at the grocery list. Micah's handwriting was horrible, and Nathaniel wasn't sure if his Nimir-Raj wanted shampoo or sardines.
Someone bumped into his shopping cart, and his mumbled apology was already halfway out when Nathaniel looked up and froze in mid-line.
It was her.
She stared at Nathaniel, green eyes wide. Her mouth moved, but no words came out.
Nathaniel had encountered this a few times before; women he had danced with at the club, then had met out in real life. They usually stammered and rushed off, but this woman just stood there.
He smiled his best smile. "Hello," he said mildly.
The red-head nodded. "Clothes."
It was such a strange non sequitur that Nathaniel actually laughed. "Pardon?"
The woman's cheeks went pink and she clutched her shopping basket, containing only two apples and a ready-made sandwich from the deli, tighter to her chest. "You're wearing clothes," she said quickly. "Which I guess isn't surprising or strange or even unexpected, seeing as how it's a supermarket with bright lights and I think they have a no-shirt-no-shoes rule here."
Nathaniel felt the edges of his mouth curling up into a smile. "They also tend to get annoyed with you show up without pants," he offered.
The woman smiled shyly. "Sorry. I just never thought I'd... I'm Willow."
Nathaniel smiled again, for real this time. "I'm Nathaniel."
An expression of confusion crossed Willow's face. "I thought you were Brandon."
"Stage name," he explained. "Company policy."
"Oh." Willow looked down. "I should let you get back to your shopping."
"No," Nathaniel said before he thought. Then he reviewed how that might have sounded, and swore silently. "I mean, you've been at the club a lot recently. Are you new in town?"
Willow sighed. "Sort of. It's a long story."
"Can I buy you a cup of coffee?" Nathaniel asked. "I mean, you watch me take my clothes off every night, right? Maybe we could talk?"
"I'm not sure," Willow hedged. She blushed again. "I mean, I've sort of got a girlfriend."
Oh? Interesting. "So do I."
After a moment's hesitation, Willow looked squarely at Nathaniel, and he was struck by the almost-hidden uncertainty he saw in her eyes. "Sure. Coffee sounds nice."~~~
She took her coffee black, Nathaniel noted. Not like Anita, who usually put cream and sugar into her cup.
He wondered if he should feel strange, having coffee with this strange woman. Anita always said she wanted him to have outside friends. But would she be mad about this? He never knew what she was going to do. That was partly why he loved her as much as he did.
"Thanks for this," Willow said abruptly. "I haven't been getting out much."
"No worries," Nathaniel said as he sipped his own coffee. "You've been coming to the club a lot, recently. Are you new in town?"
As conversation starters went, it totally sucked, but he wasn't sure what else to say. His life hadn't ever prepared him for normal conversations with normal women.
Willow stared into her coffee as if it held answered to questions untold. "Yeah, I'm new." She took a small sip from her cup, and a shiver ran down her body. "I was just passing through, you know. I didn't plan to stay."
"What changed?" Nathaniel asked, quietly. He knew the answers about her were within reach, and he didn't want to spook her.
She was quiet for so long that Nathaniel thought she wasn't going to answer him. "I got one of those phone calls, the ones you never want to get?" Willow ran her finger over the rim of her cup as she spoke, a fragile action. "A friend of mine died."
There was surprise in her voice as she said it, as if even the idea of her friend's death was still new to her.
"Anyway, after I heard, I just went out for a walk and kept going," Willow continued. "I ended up at your club. I don't even know why I went in. And there were all these people, all alive and not doing anything important, you know?"
"I'm sorry about your friend," Nathaniel said, although it was the last thing he wanted to say. He wanted to ask about Willow's friend, and why Willow kept coming to the club. But that wasn't very nice, and Nathaniel didn't want to scare her off.
"Thanks." Willow lifted her cup and took a long sip. "She wasn't really a friend, not to start with. She sort of used a friend of mine then tried to kill us, then went to jail and got out and saved the world and I'm really talking too much." She put the cup down and buried her face in her hands.
Nathaniel leaned forward in his chair. Should he touch this woman? If she was pard, he knew what he would do, but she wasn't a lycanthrope.
"And I just thought that was what Faith would want to do, if she wasn't dead. Go watch men take off their clothes," Willow continued, her voice muffled as she spoke through her hands. She pushed her hair back from her face and couldn't look up. "But I saw you."
Nathaniel licked his lips. Did she need him to speak? When in doubt, keeping his mouth shut didn't seem like a bad idea.
"And you just looked so... like you weren't really there, even though you were." Willow shook her head. "I'm not making any sense."
"Sometimes I don't feel like I'm all there," Nathaniel offered. "Sometimes, it's like my real life, but others, it's like I'm watching someone else's life and he's the one on stage."
Willow nodded. "Like you're just playing a role because someone told you that you need to do it? Not that it's you?"
Nathaniel crooked his lip up into a smirk. "Sometimes."
With a sigh, Willow slipped back in her chair. She looked down at her hand, and a tiny ring on her pinkie. "Ever since Faith died, I don't know if I should go back." She pulled off the ring. "Kennedy's in the same line of work as Faith. What happens when she's the one who's just a little bit too slow? I don't know if I can go through that again," she finished in a whisper.
Nathaniel stared at the little red-head, and surprised himself by speaking the truth. "My girlfriend, she's got a dangerous job," he said. "There are times when she goes out and I don't know if I'm ever going to see her again." Those were the times when Nathaniel wondered if he'd live out the night, because of his marks with Anita, but did he ever want to live if Anita was dead?
"So how do you do it?"
Looking down at his hands, Nathaniel said, "If she didn't do it, she wouldn't be her. I can't ask her to be something she's not, not for me. Not for anything."
"Oh." Willow lapsed into silence. It looked as if she was thinking very hard. Nathaniel let her think, finishing up his own coffee. He wished he could have said better things about Anita, like how careful she was, and how dedicated to her job, but the time for that seemed past.
After a while, Willow threw her crumpled napkin onto the table and stood up. She appeared to have made a decision.
"I think I need to get back," she said.
"Back to home?"
"Back to my life." Willow slung her purse over her shoulder. "Faith wouldn't want me whining about my love life. And I think I need to go tell Kennedy something. A lot of somethings."
Nathaniel also stood up. "I hope things work out for you," he said, then hesitated before saying, "And I'm sorry to hear about your friend."
"She went out the way she would have wanted," Willow said sadly. "Kicking and screaming and taking as many of them with her as she could."
It was odd, but that was how Nathaniel always thought Anita would die.
"But, um, thanks," Willow continued. "For listening."
"I'm good at listening," Nathaniel said. Should he offer to shake her hand? Give her a hug? She was still a stranger, and so he did nothing. "It was nice to meet you."
She nodded, then turned to leave.
She didn't say goodbye.~~~~
Nathaniel never saw Willow again. He looked for her, that night at the club, and every night for a month. But she never came back, and Nathaniel supposed that she must have gone back to wherever home was, talked to her girlfriend Kennedy, grieved for her friend Faith, gotten on with her life.
He hoped she found what she was looking for.-fin