Pity Us, We Wakeful (Prologue)
This isn't about punishment, Will." Buffy's arms are around her, but Willow can't feel them. All she can feel is emptiness – the absence of magic, but worse still, the absence of love.
'Come to me.' She can see Rack beckoning, offering bliss and freedom, and all he wants is…
Buffy is talking again. "A little time away will be good for you, you'll see. And once you get a handle on this thing, you'll be back and everything will be just the way it was."
Xander is nodding. Is that strange tilt of his mouth somehow supposed to be a smile? Anya is just standing there. Willow has no idea what the two of them are thinking. Maybe they're glad to see her go. And Willow? Willow is trying to remember a time when she was foolish enough to believe that there was pie in the sky.
'Strawberry pie,' Rack says softly.
Willow stays entangled in Buffy – tears running down her cheeks. It isn't that she's crying. No, she's just drowning from the inside.
Willow leaned her head against the car window – eyes closed. Watching the lights flash by just made her gorge rise and the last thing she wanted to do was anger Spike by making him stop again for her to vomit. Twice had been enough. A third time and…well, he probably couldn't do anything to her, but she was already so despised that she wasn't sure that one more atom of rage or even just irritation directed at her wouldn't make her explode into a thousand painful pieces - the pieces she should have been sliced into by the windshield of a stolen car.
If she lived to be a thousand, she would never forget the look of betrayal and hatred in Dawn's eyes.
Why had it gone so wrong so fast? Why hadn't she seen? Why had just being good at helping Buffy not been enough? She wanted so badly to find the day, the hour, the minute when the switch had flipped and the lights had gone off. She'd give anything, anything to go back, to be a good girl, to be Tara's girl – the little Wicca-wannabe toddling along at Tara's heels.
But it was all gone now – all of it. No Buffy, no Dawn, no Xander…and no Tara. Willow was nothing now, nobody. No magic, no friends, no lover. She wondered if she'd ever matter, ever be anything ever again.
What would Jesse think if he saw her now?
"Spike, look, I don't want to talk about…that thing that happened."
He smirks as the colour rises in her cheeks. She wants him – needs him – she just isn't ready to admit it yet. That's okay. Wouldn't have expected any different from a Slayer, really. They're always about fighting, even when they're fucking. He knows that for a fact now. It's written in the scratches that even now tell their secrets in faint pink lines on his chest – probably on his back and arse as well, though he can't see those.
"So what is it you're here for? 'Cause you seem all wound up to me. A bit…itchy." His eyes slide smooth and slow down her form, stopping at the place between her thighs – her home. It's where the last, best part of who she used to be lives; it's what he'll use to turn her back into Buffy, the Buffy he fell in love with.
"You're gross, Spike," she huffs, acting as if she doesn't know he can smell the need, wet and musky, already building right where he wants to be. "This is about Willow."
Willow? What the hell makes the Slayer think he gives a damn about the witch? After that stunt she pulled the other night, Willow's damn lucky he didn't rip her head off, chip or no. If his Bit had been killed… "What about her?"
"She…it's not a good idea for her to stay here. There's too much temptation. If she's going to get clean, she has to be away from Amy and Rack and the Hellmouth."
"And?" He's not getting what any of this has to do with him yet.
"I called…I called Angel and…and they've agreed that she can stay there for a little while. But she's not in any shape to drive herself, what with the withdrawal and all and besides, it's probably not a good idea for her to take off by herself and…"
No, no, no! "I'm not a bloody chauffeur. Tell the whelp or his demon bride to drive the pathetic chit to rehab."
Now she turns it on – soft, liquid eyes, quivering mouth. The full 'Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope' treatment. He's a worthless tosser if he falls for this. "They won't," she says. He cocks an eyebrow, waiting for further explanation and after a moment, she caves. "They don't like the idea. They think she can get better here. But she can't, Spike." The eyes now glisten, moist and pleading.
Oh bloody, buggering hell. "Alright," he says. "But don't expect me to make nice with her." He doesn't mention Angel. He won't mention Angel.
Spike had to give the little witch credit for one thing: she didn't raise any objections to the music he listened to. He was blaring the Sex Pistols at top volume and she didn't even grimace. Of course, the sudden sick breaks were a pain in the arse, but… His eyes wandered over to where she sat, leaning against the car window, bleeding pain from every pore but keeping it all to herself. Damn! As much as he hated her for messing with his head (again) and for risking Dawn's life, he was starting to pity her. There was a something he'd seen in her eyes – or really a something that he hadn't – that reminded him of a poet at a party long ago.
Thank fuck she had her eyes closed now. He was free to focus on the road, and on the prize waiting for him back in Sunnydale.
Buffy – definitely a notch on any vampire's belt. But he loved her, too – that was true and pure and undeniable. It burned hotter than even the blazing inferno that was his passion for Drusilla. And now that he'd finally tasted the heaven between her thighs? He was as hooked on her as ever Willow was on magic.
The difference was that this addiction would do some good. He'd fix Buffy; make her well; bring her back to life in a way that Willow had never, could never manage. She'd be his and she'd love him back – see him for what he was – the man who could be, no was, her everything.
He stared into the darkness ahead as Willow fell into fitful slumber in the passenger seat and he stepped on the gas. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a voice whispered: 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder.'
"All I'm saying is that I think Willow needs her friends right now. I don't see what a bunch of people who barely know her and don't care about her can do that we can't."
"They're her friends, too, Xander. And more importantly, they're away from the Hellmouth and magic and everything that will tempt Willow. They can watch out for her."
"And we can't?" Xander's furious; he truly is. It wasn't a week ago that Buffy was pooh-poohing his warnings that Willow was headed for a meltdown and now that it's happened, she's acting like she knows everything.
So why is he letting her?
"I think what Xander is saying is that you're really not the best judge of what to do for Willow. Seeing as how you thought she was just fine a couple of days ago." There are times when Anya's lack of tact is embarrassing and painful. And then there are times when it's what he loves best about her.
He gives her a soft look…but he doesn't back her up. Instead, he lets Buffy have the floor. "I get that I underestimated the extent of her problem, but I think that as her best friend, I still know her better than you do. And what I know," she's addressing them both now, "is that Willow needs someplace safe. Someplace where she won't be reminded of doing spells. Someplace where she can get back to being our Willow again."
Xander caves in. All these years and he realizes that he'll always defer to Buffy. No matter who he loves, no matter what he knows, he'll always doubt that she can be wrong. "Okay," he says as Anya stares cold fury at him. "But I'm not happy about it." That's as close to defying Buffy as he's come since the day he threatened to kill her if Willow died.
"And we're not taking her to L.A.," Anya adds.
Of course, Buffy hadn't expected that. "But…"
"No." Anya is emphatic enough to hold Xander at bay. "If you think it's such a great idea to pack Willow off to stay with your ex-boyfriend who barely knows her and a girl who probably still hates her for stealing Xander, then you can drive her there yourself. Xander and I have wedding plans to make and they need to be made here." Anya decides she needs to clarify that. "In Sunnydale, not in the Magic Box."
That's that, and while a part of Xander finds something disturbingly positive in his willingness to let Anya order him around instead of Buffy, lost in all of this is his connection to Willow. He misses it, all the more so because he can't remember when he lost it and he's terrified that if she leaves, she'll never come back and they'll never find each other again.
But he says nothing.
"She's gone." Xander had probably said those same words before – several times – but that didn't stop him from saying them again.
Amazingly, Anya didn't chide him. Instead she stayed nestled in the crook of his arm. "I know." Her voice was soft and gentle in a way it only was when they were alone together, when she was willing to let go and be human – completely and utterly human. Looking back, he knew it was during the very first moment like this that he fell in love with her…and that she had loved him before that.
"Did I…was it okay to let her go like this? To just send her off with Spike in some rental car?"
"That Willow had to pay for. I can't believe they made Willow pay for the car. It's bad enough that she's being packed off to a bunch of people who don't even like her, but…" This time, Anya stopped herself. "I'm sorry. I just… No, I don't think it was the right thing. But it's not as if Buffy was interested in my opinion." She looked up into his eyes. "Or yours. I know what you're thinking, but when Buffy has an idea… I mean it's not like she respects… You know what I mean, right?" She tried to dull the blow at the end, but Xander knew exactly what she meant, and he knew she was right.
That was the hard part.
Buffy sets the phone back in the cradle. It's just as well, she supposes, that it was Wesley she spoke to and not Angel. How could she talk to Angel after that…thing she'd just done with Spike? And anyway, it's harder to talk to Angel every time they do end up in contact. They have less and less to say to each other and it's harder to remember that he's the same Angel that…
No, what they have is forever and true even if they can't actually have it anymore and she's just confused right now, that's all. And anyway, he isn't what she should be thinking about. She needs to focus on Willow. Because Willow is in trouble; Willow is in pain…
Willow ripped her out of Heaven.
That has nothing to do with this and what Buffy's setting in motion isn't some sort of punishment for what happened to Dawn either. Because Willow's sorry, and she means it, and she's trying so hard to do without the one thing that…
Buffy loves Willow. And that's what this is about – loving Willow enough to do whatever it takes to get her better; even if it means putting up with Wesley's disdainful attitude; even if it means admitting defeat; even if it means doing without Willow.
She loves Willow and this is what is best for her. It is.
"I don't see why Willow's going to Los Angeles." Dawn was petulant; Buffy wasn't quite sure why.
"I thought you were still mad at her."
"I am, but…"
"So this is about you wanting to make her do your homework for you or something to pay you back?" The look on Dawn's face told Buffy she'd hit the bullseye. "Look," she said, sitting down and pulling Dawn down on the couch beside her. "I know you're mad at her, and…and, you have a right to be."
"I'm gonna be stuck with this stupid sling thing forever," Dawn interrupted.
"Like I said, you have a right to be angry. But, Dawn, she's sick, okay? It's not like she meant to hurt you. The magic was just too strong for her and she forgot who she is, she forgot the people she loves, she forgot…"
"Tara. She forgot Tara."
"No…and I think maybe forgot was the wrong word. She lost sight of things, that's all. And that's why she's going away. So she can get better and she can see again."
"Because it's so much easier to see when you're surrounded by smog?"
"No. Because it's so much easier to learn how to resist temptation when it's not all around you every day." Truer words, she was sure, had never been spoken. Her own itch throbbed painfully, knowing that the way to relieve it would be back soon…so soon.
Dawn grumbled wordlessly and Buffy stroked the head that now lay against her shoulder. "It's gonna be okay, you'll see," she said, wondering if she was talking to Dawn or to herself. "It's gonna be okay."
The Toyota Rent-a-Wreck pulled to a stop in front of the Hyperion Hotel. It was almost two o'clock in the morning. "We're here, Red," Spike said, reaching out and shaking Willow gently to wake her up. "Time to check into rehab."