See chapter 1.Word Count:
:See end for notes.
For two days she'd watched the redhead pouring over the ancient volume as if it were a thriller she couldn't put down. Buffy wasn't quite sure what to make of her. She'd seen visitors become absorbed in her books before but not like this. Not as if the fate of the world hinged on absorbing its contents.
She'd taken a look at the thin volume the evening before after the redhead had gone. As she'd expected, the old Latin had been heavy going but she thought she'd understood it well enough. But frankly, she couldn't see what was so special about the book for her to be so engrossed in it. Not that Willow had bothered to ask Buffy for her opinion. As far as she could tell it was just someone's memoirs and a bunch of letters between that person and someone else. There were over a dozen similar books in the museum's collection. Some even older.
Yesterday, when Willow had returned the book before going to lunch, she hadn't said a word. Maybe today was the day she would gather up her courage and ask Willow to join her in the cafeteria. So few new people came through her doors and stayed for more than a few hours that she wasn't sure how to handle a regular visitor. Especially one who was an outsider and not part of the small world that made up the museums.
She didn't think she'd been caught yet but she hadn't been able to take her eyes from her. She'd already memorized the back of Willow's head and the way her back seemed to be perfectly poised, running gracefully from her neck down, while the rest of her seemed to vibrate with some kind of restrained energy.
It was embarrassing the way her eyes would trace Willow's outline in the air but she seemed compelled to continue. Her day had turned into a perpetual round of typing, reading, and watching. And she couldn't explain it other than as an unresistable tugging feeling the led in Willow's direction.
The soft thump of a book being closed and the faint vibration of a chair being pushed back across the carpet caught her attention during one of the few moments she'd actual been able to work on her current research project. Glancing up, with as much casualness as she could muster, Buffy silently watched Willow approach her desk.
"I need to take a break," Willow said, stretching in a motion that Buffy was sure would have delighted even the most repressed of creatures. It was indescribably enticing, Buffy mused as she surreptitiously watched the woman in front of her. She wondered if it was something learned or if it just came naturally. The unexpected thought crossed her mind that being a part of that stretch might be the closest she ever came to heaven.
"The cafeteria is open to the public," Buffy suggested. "You're welcome to join me for lunch," Buffy mumbled nervously. "If you want to, that is. But you don't have to if you have other plans." She had little hope that the blush she could feel on her heated face was invisible under the harsh lights.
"That would be great," Willow said, giving her a smile. "If you don't mind the company I would love to eat lunch with you."
Buffy returned her smile and quickly releasing the brake on her chair, wheeled around her desk to join Willow. Gesturing for her to follow, she headed towards the door leading into the hallway.
"Is that a normal wheelchair?" Willow asked her as they headed down the hallway towards the public elevator. "Sorry," she apologized, a faint blush gracing her cheeks. "I don't mean to be rude but that isn't what I think of when someone says wheelchair."
"Curiosity isn't rude," Buffy said, smiling slightly. "And no, it isn't a standard chair. A friend of a friend made it for me. I'm not sure you've noticed, what with the constant sitting down, but I'm not a big person."
Willow nodded. "I'd sort of suspected that you weren't. That strange light in your library distorts things a little but I don't think it would make you look larger than you are. Though I think you are just the right size. If that kind of thing matters, though it probably shouldn't."
"Darn. I've always wanted to be taller." Buffy mock pouted for a moment, while wondering if Willow had taken a single breath while blurting that out. "And hey! We have wonderful lights in the library," she said, stopping in front of the elevator. "They're perfect for reading old books, which we have a lot of. And it's better for them than sunlight," she added.
Willow mimed removing a hat and bowed extravagantly in her direction. "I bow to your superior book preservation skills," she said haughtily.
"You better," Buffy grumbled good naturedly, "if you want to ever finish reading that book."
Willow gave her a puppy-dog look that Buffy was sure she'd practiced since she was five. "You wouldn't."
Buffy was saved from her urge to say something silly, and totally out of character for the person she'd molded herself into over the past few years, by the elevator door opening. So she simply smiled in response and waved Willow into the elevator.
Willow watched in amazement as Buffy skillfully navigated the serving line and guided them to a small table against a row of windows. Looking out, Willow could see a small courtyard nestled against the building a floor below them. "Nice," she said, sitting down in a chair facing the courtyard.
"Yup," Buffy said, with obvious pride. "It's too bad we can't get there from here but this is my favorite indoor lunch spot."
"How long have you been in charge of the library here?" Willow asked curiously. There had to be something special about her companion for her to be running the museum library when she was so young. And not just the faint flashes of power that Willow had noticed leaking from her aura over the past few days that she seemed completely unaware of.
"I'm not really in charge of it," Buffy corrected her. "I'm just the research librarian. My boss, Dr. Pierson, is in charge of all of the museum's libraries. But I've been here for three years. It's a great place to work," Buffy said. "In a couple more years I'm hoping to work in the Paris office. The library there is much larger."
"Paris is wonderful this time of the year," Willow told her, thinking sadly of her last visit before Tara had died. She wasn't sure she would ever be able to go back. Even thinking about it hurt.
"I've never been," Buffy told her wistfully, "but it sounds so romantic."
"It is. But it works best if you go with someone you love. I don't think romantic and work go together well," Willow told her sagely.
"Not really a problem," Buffy said quietly. Willow watched her dig into her salad for a minute.
"Your girlfriend doesn't like to travel?" Willow asked.
"Girlfriend?" Buffy squeaked.
"That woman last night. The tall one?" Willow said. "She seemed a bit protective."
"Dawn?" She gave Willow a confused look. "She's my not so little little sister."
"Oh. Sorry about that," Willow mumbled, blushing in embarrassment at the mistake.
"I don't have one," Buffy admitted.
"A boyfriend?" Willow asked, a small voice in the back of her head inexplicably chanting 'say no!' say no!'
"Not one of those either," she said, playing with her fork. "I'm too busy for that kind of thing. Relationships take more effort than I can spare right now."
"I understand," Willow said, feeling herself relax. "Work keeps me so busy my cat thinks it lives by itself." She winked at Buffy. "Really. It won't let me in the door if I don't come bearing gifts. Only the finest tuna will do."
Finding Buffy's slight smile encouraging, "You never finished telling me..." she said.
"You were going to explain your wheelchair."
"Oh... that." Buffy shrugged. "It isn't that exciting of a story. My father was feeling guilty for the whole divorcing my mother thing. I had a physical therapist at the time with a girlfriend who designed custom wheelchairs. It cost him a fortune, but it was exactly what I wanted. We just didn't bother to tell him that Mom's insurance had already paid for a custom fitted wheelchair." She smirked. "This one is much better. It's perfect for my size, fast, light, and it folds up and fits in my car."
"Oh, and it's stylish," Buffy added with a tight grin. "If I'm going to spend my life in something with wheels, I want it to look good."
Willow nodded, unable to think of anything in response to that. She couldn't imagine such a life. "How long?" she asked curiously.
"The wheels?" She asked, answering when Willow smiled encouragingly. "Ten years going on forever."
Seeing the way her face seemed to close down after answering her question, Willow didn't press her for details.
"I need to get back," Buffy told her, grabbing her tray. "Wouldn't want the books to get lonely."
"Right," Willow said, feeling slightly uncomfortable. Picking up her own tray she followed, hoping she hadn't ruined things with her question.
Buffy looked up in surprise to see Willow standing at her desk. She wondered how she'd managed that without her noticing. "Yes?"
"I have an errand to run in LA tomorrow morning. I won't be by until after lunch," she said.
"Okay." Buffy nodded, wondering why she was feeling slightly disappointed. She watched Willow for a moment, still standing there and watching her as if waiting for something more. "Yes?"
"Nothing," Willow murmured, returning to her desk.
Sitting on her bed after her evening workout and shower, Buffy stared at her closet in annoyance. Picking out what she was going to wear to work in the morning was the hardest part of her day. Selecting something to cover her feet with always reminded her that certain things, like shoes, were now merely a decoration in her life. And she couldn't remember the last time she'd worn a pair out.
"What's wrong?" Dawn asked her from the door to her room.
"I think it's time to go shoe shopping," Buffy muttered in answer. "Something different for a change."
"Sandals?" Dawn suggested, sitting on the floor next to the bed. Grabbing one of Buffy's feet she started playing with her toes. "You've got great feet. Why not show them off?"
Buffy idly watched her sister. She could feel Dawn's fingers poking and prodding her feet, but she couldn't consciously move anything below her hips herself, something that frequently bothered her. She knew her legs, her knees, and her feet were there, but the connection between the part of her brain that made walking work and the nerves and the muscles in her legs that did the actual work hadn't recovered from her accident.
Her feet and legs were like her hair. Something to wash, to take care of, and decorate, but they didn't serve any useful purpose.
"Nobody looks at my feet," Buffy said, straining to wiggle at least one toe, no matter how impossible she knew it to be.
"Not if you hide them," Dawn grumbled.
"I work in a library," Buffy reminded her. "Cold feet are not fun."
"What about that redhead?" Dawn asked, winking at her.
"Willow? She's there for a book. She'll be finished in a couple days," Buffy told her. "And you're making a couple big assumptions."
Buffy started counting out with her fingers. "One, assuming she's even gay, she might not like me. What if she can't get past the whole wheels thing? Two, I don't do relationships, especially with women. And three, even if I did relationships, my life is complicated enough already. Why would I intentionally make things even more complicated."
"Did you ask?" Dawn murmured.
Horrified at the thought, Buffy looked at her sister. "Ask her what? If she was gay? When would I do that?" Buffy shuddered at the potential for massive embarrassment. "Here's your book, Willow, and by the way, are you a lesbian?"
"Mitzy says she sets off her gaydar," Dawn mumbled.
"Is that even a real word?" Buffy wondered aloud before adding, "Mitzy says a lot of things. She thinks all women are closet lesbians and just need a little encouragement. And what are you doing hanging around her anyway? I hope it isn't at the museum, you'll get her in trouble."
"I think she's funny," Dawn protested. "And I'm not going to get her into trouble. She's in a couple of my classes."
Buffy shook her head, not sure what to say to that. She would never admit it to her sister but she found Mitzy amusing also, when she wasn't trying to play matchmaker. She returned to staring at her closet.
"I had lunch with her today," she murmured absently a few minutes later, no closer to picking out a pair of shoes.
"What did you think about her?" Dawn asked excitedly.
"She's smart." Buffy said. "We didn't talk a whole lot."
"Oh..." Buffy could hear the disappointment in Dawn's voice. "Maybe next time?"
"I don't know if there will be a next time," Buffy said. "She has a life somewhere else. A cat even."
"Where's she from?"
"I didn't ask," Buffy said.
"You let some random person look at books in your library?" Dawn said, surprised. "Even the library at school doesn't do that."
"She isn't some random person," Buffy protested. "The museum checks out everyone who wants to use our facilities. She must be on file somewhere. They wouldn't have allowed her up to see me if she wasn't okay."
"Even the museum's museum?" Dawn giggled.
"Well... I don't actually know," Buffy admitted. "It's open to the public. It would be a lot of work to check everyone who walked in the door."
Sitting on her bed, Willow stared at the wall in her hotel room. She couldn't seem to concentrate. This trip wasn't turning out anything like she'd expected. And it wasn't just the librarian.
She was halfway through the book and it felt like it was leading her nowhere. She'd certainly taken a large number of notes, and it had been strangely compelling reading, but it wasn't what she'd wanted. She could think of at least one Coven Elder who would have been in heaven over it, but for her purposes it was useless.
There were no true spells, no real mention of magic, and no mention of vampires or anyone who killed them. Just observations about the training of healers and the things they could cure, and letters from the early twelfth century written by one healer to another.
How it related to slayers and why it had been referred to by that mystic was still a mystery. One that she hoped to solve in the next day or two. Somewhere in the remaining pages must be the answer she was looking for, she thought.
And tomorrow she had to go to LA. Someone had requested a sanctuary spell for some club and she was the closest person with the power and skill to do it. She was sure someone in the Coven would laugh when they heard about this one. The Wicked Red Witch of the West doing a spell that would protect people from someone like herself. If she were lucky the person at this Caritas place wouldn't have heard of her and she could go in, do the spell, and head back to her Buffy without causing even a ripple in the underground.
Her Buffy? Willow flopped back on her bed with a groan. She so did not have time to become attached to someone like this. She could just hear Tara chiding her for her presumption. She'd known Buffy for less than three days and they'd really talked only once in that time, at lunch. And in a couple days she would be gone. She could really use her advice right now, she though sadly, ignoring the fact that if Tara were around this wouldn't be an issue in the first place.
Willow frowned in the early morning light, staring at Caritas in surprise. The feeling she was getting from it wasn't exactly evil but a large number of very dark, demonic creatures had passed through the spot it occupied in the last year. It seemed to be a little late to place a sanctuary spell on it. She could see why they'd insisted she do it though. Why have one of their pure, white magic virgins be tainted by exposure to it. And there was no easy way to do the sanctuary spell in a place like this without risking it.
Taking a deep breath she murmured a quick spell to shield herself from any dark magic in the area. She hated doing it, the affect on her supernatural senses was the equivalent of stuffing cotton balls in her ears and nose, but she didn't have the time to detoxify before she had to return to Sunnydale if she accidentally absorbed more than she could safely handle, especially after her last dark magic binge.
Bracing herself and swinging her bag up on her shoulders, Willow pushed open the door and entered. Following a short hallway, she found herself in a large room. A large portion of the room was taken up by a clear space she assumed was a dance floor. Along one wall of the odd shaped room was a bar, and on the opposite wall was a stage and microphone that reminded her slightly of the karaoke bar Tara had convinced her to go to once. Booths lined the rest of the walls and tables filled any remaining space.
"Hello?" she said loudly, wincing as her voice seemed to echo in the open space. When there was no response, she walked out into the room.
The club seemed to be empty. Not surprising given the time of day but she'd been assured that she was expected. Reaching the physical center of the room, she spun slowly around, seeing several doors. Before she could walk over and knock on what felt like the most appropriate one, a door she hadn't picked opened behind her. Turning at the sound, she stared at the strange figure outlined by the door.
"Aren't you the cutest little thing," the garishly dressed creature said softly. "What brings you to my humble establishment?"
"Are you Lorne?" Willow asked as she watched it saunter towards her. "The Coven sent me."
"Hmm..." it, no... obviously he, walked around her several times, making her nervous. "Why would they send you?"
"Me?" Willow said, getting a nervous feeling in her stomach at his tone.
"Wicked Red," he said. "You're well known in some parts."
"I don't go by that anymore," she told him as firmly as she could under the circumstances. As much as she wished she could forget her short foray into the dark arts, her vengeful alter-ego had made quite an impression, even here apparently.
"I would rather you not do the sanctuary spell. They can send someone else," he said abruptly, turning around and walking way. She stared as the door closed behind him with a solid thunk.
Willow counted to ten before walking to the door. Raising a hand, she knocked only once before it was opened.
"Go away," Lorne told her, closing the door in her face.
She knocked on the door again. "Why!" she demanded.
"I don't need any spells you can do," he yelled through the door. "Tell them to send someone else."
"They won't," she yelled back. "I'm all you're gonna get!"
She jumped back when he threw the door open. "Why?" he asked.
"Hello! Demon? Pit of dark magic? Any of that ring a bell?" Willow said. "I'm the only one they have who can do the spell under these conditions."
"And you're modest, also," He said with a grimace. "What conditions?"
"This place is steeped in dark magic," she told him. "If you want anyone else from the Coven to do the Sanctuary spell you'll have to tear it down and have it cleansed first."
"Why should I trust you?" he asked.
Willow shrugged. "If you want it done any time soon you have no choice. And you need to decide quickly. I have plans for this afternoon and the rest of the month."
"Sing something," he demanded abruptly.
"What?" Willow raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
"Sing," he repeated.
"I don't sing," Willow said, waving a hand dismissively.
She stared at him for a moment, waiting for an explanation. "What the heck," she mumbled when none was forthcoming. She started to hum a song she'd heard on the radio on the way to LA that morning.
"Good enough," he told her with a sigh half a minute later. She squeaked in surprise when he leaned forward and gave her a long hug. "Go ahead. Do it."
"Oh... Kay..." she mumbled, wondering what had changed his mind. "What did you want exactly? There are all sorts of sanctuary spells. Anti-violence, hiding from your enemies, holy ground. That sort of thing." She started walking around, trying to get a good feel for the club.
"Just something to prevent violence sweet-pea," Lorne said, watching her wander around the club. "I just want my clientele to get along and enjoy themselves while they are here. Maybe sing a song, have a drink. Without worrying about getting hurt or attacked."
"Got it." She returned to the center of the room. "Once I begin no one will be able to enter or leave until the spell is complete."
"Sure thing," he said, watching her intently.
Putting down her bag, she began pulling out the few things she needed for the spell. Taking the small brush from her pile she carefully cleaned a small circular area several meters from what she'd determined was the mystical center of the building. Once that was done she began the part she really hated about this particular kind of spell.
Turning her back on Lorne, she began removing her clothes and putting them in the spot she'd just brushed. If she could she would ask him to leave but it was his club. He had to be in the building while she did the spell itself. But she could pretend to ignore him.
Using a small piece of white chalk, she drew a pentagram around her clothes and a circle around that. She then used another piece of chalk, this time yellow, to write several symbols between the circle and pentagram. Looking at it critically for a minute, she sprinkled a handful of sea salt around the circle and whispered a prayer to the Goddess.
Grabbing the brush again, she carefully cleaned another circle, this one several meters in diameter, this time directly in the center. Taking several pieces of chalk, her small vial of salt, and several herbs, Willow began preparing a circle similar to the one surrounding her clothes. The entire process took an hour before she was completely satisfied.
Picking up the herbs, she stood in the center of her circle. Holding out her left hand, she whispered a simple fire spell. A small ball of flame appeared several inches above her hand. With her other hand, she began to sprinkle the herbs into the flame. As she did so she could feel the power building in the circle around her.
"Goddess, I beseech thee, bless your daughter in this endeavor," Willow spoke, pitching her voice to fill the entire room. "Protect all thy children who enter this place." A warm breath blew through her hair as if signaling agreement. Sighing in relief, Willow tossed the ball of flame high into the air where it hung for a moment before fading away, taking the power in the circle with it. "Done," she said in a stage whisper.
Stepping out of the circle, Willow once more picked up her brush. With quick, sure motions she swept up the circle into a small pile of dust. Underneath she could see that a very faint silver shadow of the symbols she'd drawn appeared to be embedded into the floor. Taking a small empty vial she swept the dust into it. Once she was satisfied she erased the circle surrounding her clothes and put them back on.
Putting everything back in her bag, Willow headed towards the nearest table. Pulling out a chair she ungracefully collapsed into it, sitting with her eyes closed, exhausted by the amount of energy it had taken to complete the spell.
"Here," she heard Lorne say, followed by the sound of a glass being placed on the table. "You look like you could use this."
"Thanks," she whispered, opening her eyes to see a large glass of something cold on the table in front of her.
"Do you do all of your spells like that?" Lorne asked.
"Sky-clad?" He nodded. "Not if I can help it. But this is one of the spells that absolutely requires it."
"And the Coven knows this?" Lorne asked her.
"Oh yeah," she grumbled. "They're very much with the teaching of humility to those of us who stray from that pesky path of potential perfection. That was my dose for the month."
"Sorry," he murmured.
"Not your fault," Willow said. "It could have been worse. The last time they did that to me was when they needed a stone circle purified right before the summer solstice. They neglected to tell me it was used by the local pagan group for their solstice celebrations and that I would have an audience. I think I was still blushing a week later."
"And your clothes?" Lorne asked curiously.
"Learned that lesson the hard way," Willow told him. "When going sky-clad, protect your clothes." Sighing, she took one last sip before standing. "I have to get back."
"You're welcome to bring her the next time you come," Lorne said.
"Her?" Willow looked at him, slightly confused.
"The little blonde." Standing, he added, "I see things."
"What kinds of things?" Willow asked.
"Possibilities. She's full of them but she doesn't know that yet." He looked down at her as he escorted her to the door. "Give her time and don't run away when your past comes looking for you."
"That's a bit cryptic," Willow said. "Can you be any clearer?"
"No," he told her bluntly as they reached the exit.
Reaching her car she could see him still watching her from the door, his green face visible even in the morning shadows. Putting his words in the back of her mind, Willow climbed into her car and began the long drive back to Sunnydale.
A quick note or two: At this point it should be very clear that this story takes place in a very alternate universe. One where Buffy never knew she was the slayer; where Dawn is real; where Willow didn't grow up in Sunnydale and she met Tara somewhere else. Several other BtVS regulars will eventually show up but they too will have lived slightly different lives.
The character "Mitzy" is a complete OC. Her part in this story is very minor. She'll show up occasionally as the plot requires.
Also, as mentioned in the notes to Chapter 1, this story DOES take place in the Highlander universe but it too is AU - the major change being Adam/Methos was never outed to the Society of Watchers as an immortal. Which leads to all sorts of changes that won't matter because very few, if any, immortals will appear in this story.