Fixing What's Broken
Title: Fixing What's Broken
Author: Jinni (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Disclaimer: Nathaniel and all things Anita Blake belong to Laurell K Hamilton. BtVS items belong to Joss Whedon.
Distribution: Near Her Always, A Witch's Love, The Sunnydale-St.Louis Connection. Anyone else who has my fics may have this one as well.
Dedication: To Kaz, who is having a bad day thanks to Yahoo.
Author's Notes: Up to BtVS Season 5 and "Narcissus in Chains". The only change I am making is that Nathaniel did not become Anita's pomme de sang in my world.
Nathaniel stepped into the club, through the front door because he had been unable to get anyone to answer at the back. He nodded to the doorman, walking down the short hall that separated the front door from the actual entertainment section of Guilty Pleasures. Music was blasting, a song he recognized as being one of Stephen's. That meant that there were still a few more sets before he needed to get on stage. That was good. He wasn't feeling too well that night, anyway. Just wanted to get it all over with so he could go home and rest.
He frowned. At one point in his life he had had a bed partner every single night. There had been women that would have happily stood in a line just to sleep next to him, much less receive all of the numerous pleasures he knew how to deal out. Then there were the dominants that he had been partnered with at one time or another. That was through now. He couldn't be trusted by the members of his own pard to not allow someone to hurt him beyond repair and Anita had forbidden him to date anyone except those that she had approved first.
Problem was that she wasn't really 'approving' anyone. He had to admit that he hadn't put that many candidates before her, but the ones that he had given over for review had been rejected in less than a day's time. Too sadistic. Likes to play with knives. The list of excuses went on and on. He knew it was in his best interest, and he did owe Anita his life. But it was getting lonely. Too long had he been the bottom to someone else's top - he didn't know how to get along in life for this long without someone there to hold his hand, someone there to tell him what to do. It wasn't a healthy state of mind. No, it was a very sad and pathetic one, he knew. But it was all he had.
He rounded the corner, his eyes adjusting immediately to the darker lighting of the room. Strobe lights were flashing on the stage in shades of red and blue. They mixed to form a purplish haze at times, coinciding with the more emphatic points in Stephen's music. From the looks of the money shoved into the werewolf's g-string, he was doing very well tonight. The crowd was going wild for him and, not for the first time, Nathaniel was deeply glad that he never followed Stephen's performance. It was too hard to go on after him. Most of the other dancers couldn't make a performance bring in fifty dollars if they went on after Stephen. He was a showstopper, for sure.
Violet eyes scanned the crowd, searching for a certain someone unconsciously. Would she be here yet? With his own performance still twenty minutes or more away. He passed over the front of the club, the part near the stage. She never sat there. Not once. Finally he found her, in the back at a table most people avoided because it was just too far away from the action. He let his eyes roam over her, wondering what caused her to spend this much time at the club.
Every night she came in, usually sitting in the back, though the middle would do in a pinch if she couldn't get a table further away. The wait staff said she always ordered the same thing - a glass of the house Chardonnay, and nothing else. He knew it was naïve to think that she came here each night to see him, but that was the feeling he got. And he had found himself dancing as though it were for her alone more and more. She intrigued him. Each night he'd come by her table as he made his way through the audience during his set. She'd slip a ten into his g-string, her fingers soft as velvet on his skin. And then, afterwards when he'd place a light kiss on her cheek, she'd give him another five.
It was like that every night.
He noted absently that she didn't seem too interested in Stephen's performance, in fact she seemed downright bored with it. Her eyes flickered from the glass in front of her to the stage, and then back to the glass. It was a reaction so different from the other women in the club that he had to laugh. Stephen would no doubt feign insult if he knew there was a woman that found him to be, well, boring. She looked so alone sitting there, staring down at the wine in her glass as she swished it gently around the inside of the crystal.
He made a decision then.
Slipping through the back of the club, past the tables filled with cheering women, he found himself standing next to her table. She was still playing with the wine, her face downfallen and filled with an emptiness he thought he could understand. He'd at least like to try to. It seemed such a shame that a beautiful woman like herself was sitting here like she had no friends in the world. Beautiful didn't quite cover what he felt about her. She was stunning, in a haunting way. Her skin was a refreshing pale shade, far different from the tanned models that were all the rage in current times. Straight red hair fell around her face, framing a face that was utterly adorable. He knew from previous nights that her eyes were a sparkling shade of emerald green, though those eyes were currently focused solely on her wine glass. "Mind if I sit down?"
Her head came up, eyes widening when she saw who was standing there. "S-Sure."
Nathaniel smiled, lowering his duffel bag to the floor next to the table and pulling out one of the empty chairs. Behind him Stephen was finishing up his set. Next would be one of the vampires doing some sort of eye thing. It wasn't a strip tease, but it was still a hit at the club. "So - I've seen you every night for a week. I'm guessing you know my name. But I don't know yours.
"Willow." She gave him a half-smile, tilting her head in acquiescence. "My name is Willow."
"Pretty name." He let the comment go for what it was; opting not to add on any one of numerous cheesy pick up line that normally would come after it. The soft smile on her face didn't match the sadness in her eyes. He knew that look. It was one wore most of the time, as if you were trying to make the world think everything was okay when really you were broken apart. A look like that spoke volumes without her every saying a word. She had been hurt, badly. And not in a physical way, either.
So why did he feel like he needed to fix it? Him - the wereleopard with an unhealthy taste for pain who couldn't even say 'no' to stop himself from getting hurt. Why did seeing that look on her face make him want to be something more. A part of him remembered what it was like to be assertive, in control. He hadn't always been this broken. No - that was Gabriel's fault. And Raina's. They had broken him, flipped switches in his head that he didn't know how to turn off again. Through them he had learned the horrifying truth of the term 'brain washing'. Before them he had thought pain and dominance was just another kick. Something to play at.
They had made it his life.
But this little red head couldn't be a top to him, no matter how attracted he was to her. She needed someone to take care of her, it was obvious in her eyes, her mannerisms. Something had happened to make her hurt in her mind, her soul. He wanted to fix it if he could. To make her whole.
"So - come here often?"
"Too much." She murmured, an embarrassed blush creeping across her face. It was the same blush he got every night when he kissed her cheek, the type of blush that made her seem so much more innocent and young than being in this club would allude to.
He chuckled. "If you think you come here too much, why do you still come?"
She thought on that for a moment, her eyes returning to the clear liquid swirling about the inside of the wine glass. "Because its something better than being alone?"
"Someone as beautiful as you shouldn't be alone." He whispered, unsure if she even heard him. Her eyes slowly turned back to him, wide with surprise.
"Beautiful?" She laughed once, hard and bitter. "Beauty is only skin deep. On the inside I'm ugly."
"I don't want to talk about it with someone I don't know."
Nathaniel grinned, leaning forward on the table, his elbows resting lightly on the white tablecloth. "I'm hardly a stranger. After all, you've seen me nearly naked all week long." He was proud of himself for being pushy about this, even though he knew it could blow up in his face at any moment. Power radiated across her skin, creating an aura that anyone sensitive enough could probably feel from a few feet away. She wasn't a shifter. Nothing so easy to handle as that. No, she was something else entirely.
"You want to know why I'm ugly?" She whispered, her voice suddenly sad again. Not nearly as forceful and angry as she wanted to be. "I found my lover in bed with my best friend and you know what I did? I cursed them. They'll never be able to love again. I took that away from them in the heat of anger for what they did to me. And, you know what? I can't take it back. No matter how much I regret hurting them like that, even though they hurt me, too - I can't take it back. What's done cannot be undone. They'll never know love again. Why should I try?"
Nathaniel sat back in his chair, looking at the red head strangely. Was that it? Sure, it was something pretty damn bad. But it wasn't like she had killed them. Most women he knew would have just killed their lover for that kind of transgression. Sure, most of the women he knew were lycanthropes and subject to certain fits of unconquerable rage, but he was assuming that the feeling ran true in normal human women as well. Of course, normal human women weren't capable of tearing a man apart with their hands, nor could they throw a curse as powerful as the one Willow had just admitted to. "They hurt you and you got back at them in the only way that made sense at the time?"
"And that means you have to suffer for the rest of your life?" He asked, genuinely curious. "You made a mistake. We all do. Did you learn from it."
She laughed, bitter. "Yeah. I'll never curse anyone ever again without going away and thinking about it for a day or three."
"Okay. So you learned from your mistake and you seem to be sorry for what you did. Doesn't that mean you can get on with your life?" He had been right, she was more broken that he was. More hurt inside. Definitely filled with more pain and self-loathing that he could ever imagine.
"I wish." Willow sighed. Why was he doing this? Making her talk about something to painful, something that haunted her every night when she went to bed.
Nathaniel smiled. "Wishing is a good step. Actually making it happen would be a better one, though." It was time for another spot of assertiveness. This had to be the last one, though. It was more than tiring to override his brain's natural conditioning to speak up and say what he felt. "Start by going out with me. Tomorrow night. I'm not dancing."
He let the comment hang in the air.
The red head bit her lip, her green eyes meeting his violet ones. She exhaled a breath, nodding slowly. "I can do that. I guess."
"Good. I've got to go get ready for my set. You'll be here when I'm done? So I can get your number?" He held his breath, hopeful. If she actually stayed around it would be a good sign. A sign that she was going to try and not run. He waited patiently for her to say the words he wanted so much to hear, knowing that if she did neither one of them had to be lonely much longer. He had never believed in love at first sight, but sitting there, talking to her, he could at least believe that the act of caring could begin that quickly. He cared for her, wanted her to be happy. And if he could make her happy, and fill the hole he had in his own life, all the better. At last she blinked, tearing her eyes from his as though she was giving up, giving in; and said the words he had been hoping for.
"I'll be here."
He had said that he would meet her outside of the club at eight o'clock. By seven-fifty Willow had begun to seriously regret her decision to give Nathaniel a chance. It wasn't that he had done anything wrong. No - he hadn't even showed up yet so there was no way he could have upset her. In whole, her reason for regretting her decision was due to her own internal struggles and damnations. She didn't deserve to be happy. Not after what she had done. How could she seek her own pleasure in life when she had done her best to make sure that two of the people she had once called friends would never again know what it was like to love?
She could remember that day so clearly. It had only been two in the afternoon, still early for her to be home from school. But her last class had been canceled; the teacher was sick. She had been excited at the chance to go home and surprise Tara. But that's where her excitement had ended. The house had been quiet when she opened the door and she had made her way up the stairs and to the room she had shared for nearly half a year with her blonde haired lover.
And that's when she had heard it.
Moaning, whispering. The sounds of two people making love, having sex, fucking. It didn't matter the word that was used to describe it when it all boiled down to the same thing. Cheating. Lying. Betraying. Willow had stood outside the door for five minutes, listening to the two people on the other side. She recognized their voices without even opening the door and her anger and pain knew no bounds. So, when she finally did open the door, it was with a monumental amount of hatred backing her. Her worst fears were confirmed, Buffy in the arms of the one person Willow had thought would love her until the end of time. She could remember hearing their shocked exclamations, their pleading voices begging her to just 'understand' and not to be 'rash'.
Unfortunately, she had been far past the 'rash' stage by that time.
Summoning up all of her power, Willow had called upon Megaera, a vengeance goddess, to help her exact what she felt was a suiting punishment to those that had hurt her so badly. She had met their eyes, each in turn, as she whispered those damning words. "This curse I place upon you. Never to know the power of love. Never to bask in its warm rays ever again. Live your lives as those that are unloved, unwanted. You are betrayers, the foulest of humans. Live knowing that you will never again feel the passion you felt today."
And, in a light show so dramatic it left Willow blinded for almost a full minute, the curse was brought down upon the woman she had once called her best friend and the one that she had called her soulmate. She had left them there, in bed together, knowing that now they couldn't seek consolation from each other. They would be reviled for what they were. Hated.
And, for a while, it had been enough to allow Willow to cope with what had happened. Xander had been furious with Buffy and Tara; but in the end he hadn't been able to deal with what Willow had done to them out of vengeance. Anya had been pleased - hell, she had even gotten another offer from D'Hofryn for a job working as one of his vengeance demons. But that didn't stop the guilt she had felt inside. It had eaten at her from the inside out, destroying the life she had made for herself in Sunnydale. Slowly Xander stopped talking to her, and even Anya's once a week visits hadn't been enough anymore. Buffy and Tara were outcasted from their group, but Willow still heard about how they were faring. It was hard not to in such a small town. They walked and talked like they were living, but there was something missing from them. Willow knew what it was, it was the one thing she had taken from them. Love and the ability to care. And that just made her guilt all the worse.
So she did the one thing she could think of to get her away from all of the memories of everything she had done, everything she had lost.
'And here I am.' Willow thought bitterly. 'St.Louis. More than a thousand miles from Sunnydale. Waiting outside a strip club for my favorite piece of eye candy to take me out.' She snorted.
It was funny, in a deeply ironic way, how things had turned out for her once she left Sunnydale. She had gotten a day job doing computer consulting work for a local company, a firm that specialized in animation. From what she had gathered they were one of the best in the country. She couldn't attest to that - the only person she had ever met from the company was the owner. Her work was done from home and he sent her a check every two weeks. He paid her well. Both for the work she did and for keeping quiet about what she saw in their files. 'Paranoid little man.' She smirked. He was deathly afraid they'd lose their edge over the other, larger, animating firms around the US. Slim chance. The research Willow had done online after getting the job had indicated that Animators, Inc. boasted the single best animator in the entire country. Anita Blake. A woman so powerful she was the bogeyman of the supernatural world.
Willow hoped to one day meet her.
She didn't really remember the night she had first stumbled upon Guilty Pleasures, a supernatural strip club in the part of town distastefully called the 'Blood District'. It was run by a vampire, the Master of the City. That should have made her stay away. She didn't really want to be around vampires, but there was something about the club, the staff, and the people that went there, that made her feel a little less alone. She hadn't seen Nathaniel that first night. But he was there the second time she came.
Whatever she had seen in his light violet eyes that first night had been what prompted her to come back. It had been something similar to what she felt inside herself, a sense of loss that was too profound to put words to. What had he lost? She wondered often, each night when she came to see him dance. Never in her wildest dreams had she ever thought to approach him. Not a single fantasy had ever occurred to her in which he came up and made conversation with her. She came each night to watch him move, to look into those haunted eyes and see someone who might actually understand; without ever feeling like he would really understand if he knew what she had done.
But then last night had happened.
And she had been floored.
He had come to her table, engaging in conversation with her. His eyes had been so worried for her, and it had seemed like for those moments that he could see into her soul. She had told him what she had done, despite the fact that it was a crime that could land her in jail. Cursing was a dangerous thing, something not to be played with. And she had cursed two people irrevocably. Yet she had still told him, warned him in a way that she wasn't someone that he wanted to get to know - though she had hoped against hope that he would decide differently for himself.
To her surprise, he had. In a blinding moment of judgment he had decided that she was worth getting to know and that, despite everything she had done, he wanted to be the one getting to know her. He wanted to take her on a date, even. She had hesitated then, wondering if he was being serious. When it was clear that he was she had hesitated again, not because he was a lycanthrope, she had no problem with that. But because he was a man and, aside from the fact she liked to watch them dance, she hadn't had any feelings for a man in a long, long time. She had sat there while he watched, searching within herself to see if it would even be possible for her to allow herself to care for him if she could ever forgive herself for what she had done to Buffy and Tara. The last thing she wanted to do was lead him on if men were still distasteful to her.
So the third 'miracle' of her night had occurred - she had decided that he was worth a shot.
And so here she was, waiting; sitting on the hood of her car for him to make an appearance. Only five minutes left until he was officially late and ruined her entire second chance with the male sex. She blew a piece of hair out of her face, arms crossed, as she looked around the parking lot. Women were pouring into the club in a near-steady stream. The night's entertainment would just be starting. Another hour or so and the place would be packed full of screaming, hormonal women. But she wouldn't be one of them tonight. It was the first night in a couple weeks that she wouldn't be in there, trying to feel like she was part of society again. Tonight she was going out for dinner and a movie. Sure, it was with one of the dancers from the club, but that was beside the point. It was a start, at least.
She tugged at the hem of her tank top, making sure that the light pale green cloth covered as much of her skin as was possible. This had been the only item in her closet that she had considered even remotely date-like, sparking in her mind the idea that she had been trying a little too hard to avoid any type of friend, or boyfriend, inspiring contact. The black jeans she was wearing were practically new, not faded in the least. A part of her hoped that Nathaniel thought she looked good, while another part of her was sure that it would be much easier if he just lost interest here and now. She didn't deserve this chance he was giving her. He'd come to that conclusion eventually, too.
A flash of movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention and she turned her head, hiding a smile at the sight of Nathaniel making his way across the parking lot to her. His long auburn hair had been braided, the thick length swinging back and forth behind him as he walked. The sapphire blue shirt he was wearing looked like silk, and went perfectly with the blue jeans he was wearing. She had never been a fan of silk on a man until that moment. It looked good on him. Not too feminine, not to frilly.
"You're here." He made it sound like a question.
"Did you really think I wouldn't be?" Willow asked, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips.
"I had wondered." He admitted, holding out a hand to help her down from the hood of her car.
"Me too." Now she was smiling outright. Why did being around him make her feel so good when she knew she didn't deserve it? She allowed herself to be led across the parking lot, to his waiting car. He held the door open for her, waiting until she was seated to shut it. Such a gentleman.
Maybe for tonight she could just allow herself to have fun.
~*~End Parts 1-2~*~