The carpet was rough against her cheek as she came back to consciousness. Willow groaned, pushing herself onto her knees, hand coming to rest against her head. Everything was spinning.
Had she passed out? Collapsed? Fell asleep?
Reaching out to a chest of drawers Willow used them to help steady herself as she got shakily to her feet.
She looked around her when the room stopped spinning, a wave of panic washing over her; she had no idea where she was. She didn't recognise anything at all.
Breath coming in short, sharp bursts, Willow lurched across the room to where a telephone sat on the bedside table. Her hands were shaking so badly she dropped the receiver and it swung on the cord knocking into her shin. Willow fumbled for it, bringing it to her ear, finger poised over the buttons. Then it hit her; she had no idea who to call. She didn't know anyone.
Slamming the phone back into the cradle she hurried from the room. Tripping over her feet as she stumbled down the corridor Willow finally found herself at the front door. At least she assumed it was the front door. She yanked at the door handle but it was locked. Biting her lower lip Willow looked about her, back pressed against the door, heart beating a tattoo in her chest. There was a purse and some keys on the hallway table and she grabbed them, trying the door, relief flooding through her when the keys fit the lock.
She almost jumped down the steps of the porch, backing up the driveway to look up at the house. It didn't look familiar to her.
She ran out into the road, head jerking from side to side as she examined the street and houses around her, but she couldn't put a name to any of the neighbours or even recall the name of the street she was in.
For a moment she considered knocking on a neighbours door and asking for help, but she didn't know who to turn to. She didn't know what to say to them.
Shivering, with no idea where she was going Willow headed out of the street at a light run, hoping something would click inside her head.
A short while later Willow found herself in town. She passed by a bar the sign above the door telling her the place was called The Bronze; but it rang no bells for her. People were milling about outside the bar, but she didn't recognise any of them. No-one seemed to recognise her either.
A sudden, terrifying thought occurred to her; she had no idea what she looked like. Willow went to the nearest store window, unsure as to what she would see. Panic stricken green eyes stared back at her, set in a pale face framed with fiery red hair. Fighting back tears she touched the face with light fingertips, the refection was a stranger.
Waving a hand towards the window in a sharp, dismissive movement, Willow turned away, hurrying down the street away from the half familiar stranger who looked terrified beyond words. She had a sudden mental image of herself running and stumbling about forever with no-one to help her. There must be someone in the world who would be looking for her. Dread plucked at her heart strings, if there was someone looking for her, how would she know? How would she recognise them?
Finally, she came upon the police station. Willow paused and stared at the building with its windows bright with warm, welcoming light. She let out a breath, eyes closing for a moment as she clenched her hands together, and then she hurried to the big double doors.
Xander checked his watch with sigh. "Where's Willow? She should have been here by now. We're going to miss the movie if she doesn't hurry."
Buffy frowned and glanced at the back door. "Of all the times for Willow to be late. We never get a night off."
"Can't we just go without her?" Anya asked.
"Of course not, all of us are going for a night out and that's that," Buffy said firmly.
The phone suddenly trilled and Buffy got up from the sofa. "I bet that's Willow."
Footsteps sounded on the stairs and Dawn appeared. "I'll get it." She snatched up the phone. "Hello? Yes, yes she's here. Hold on a moment please." Eyes wide, Dawn held out the phone towards Buffy. "It's the police for you."
Buffy blinked. "The police? Why?"
Dawn shook her head. "They didn't say."
Buffy took the phone, her throat constricting in panic. "Hello? This is Buffy Summers." She paused, listening, eyes growing round her mouth popping open. "Yes, yes I know who that is. That's Willow Rosenberg, she's my best friend. Yes, yes she lives here with me. What's happened? Where's Willow?" Buffy listened, nodding along to the deep voice on the other end of the phone. "Yes, alright, I'll be right there. Thank you, goodbye."
She turned, smacking straight into Xander who was hovering behind her. Buffy made a humph sound, retreating from Xander's chest.
"What's going on?" Xander demanded. "What's wrong with Willow?"
Buffy shook her head. "They didn't say. All I know is she's at the police station. For some reason they described her to me and asked me to identify her over the phone. This address is on her driver's license so they rang here. That's weird, right? I mean, why wouldn't Willow just give them this number?"
"I don't know." Xander frowned and scratched the back of his neck. "We should head down there, right?"
"Of course," Buffy agreed. "Tara you come with us, Anya will you take Dawn to The Magic Box and let Giles know what's happened? We'll meet you there later."
"Yeah, when we get Will's out of the slammer," Xander said, a sudden grin crossing his face.
"That's not fair," Dawn exclaimed. "I want to see Willow. I want to help if she's in trouble."
"She's not in trouble," Tara said quickly, biting her lower lip for a moment. "It's Willow. She can't be in trouble with the police. Maybe, um," she trailed off and shook her head. "I don't know. I don't know why she'd be at the police station."
"Well, let's go and find out." Xander strode towards the door with Anya trailing behind him, gesturing to Dawn to hurry.
Xander almost broke the sound barrier driving through town, his anxiety evident in the way he clutched the steering wheel and it transferred itself to both Buffy and Tara. Buffy fidgeted in the passenger seat and Tara took calming breaths from the back seat which began to grate on Buffy's nerves.
Pulling into a parking space just outside the police station Xander glanced around at the police cars. "I hope I haven't taken someone's parking space. Like a Detective or something. I don't want a ticket or come out and find my car towed or something. You'd think they'd have visitor parking spaces, wouldn't you?"
Buffy let out a sigh. "Shut up, Xander."
She led the way into the station to the front desk and announced herself to the policeman standing there, handing over her identification.
"Oh yes, they're expecting you, Miss Summers. She's in with Detective Hess. Come this way."
"It's alright if my friends come, isn't it? We're all here for Willow."
"The more the better," said the policeman.
Buffy's forehead wrinkled. She found it an odd thing to say, like he had deliberately not used the proper phrase of "the more the merrier". With Xander and Tara behind her, Buffy followed the policeman through a glass door and down a corridor to a door on the far left. He knocked once and poked his head around the door.
"Miss Summers is here, Sir."
"Thank you. Show her in."
The policeman stepped aside and Buffy entered the room, a wave of relief washing over her to see Willow sitting at a wooden table. The detective was watching Willow carefully and a feeling of unease crept along Buffy's spine.
"Wills, are you ok?" Xander pushed Buffy out of the way stepping towards Willow.
Willow's chair scraped along the floor as she stood up, hand outstretched as though warding Xander off. "No. Stop. I don't know this person."
"Huh?" Xander paused and stared at his best friend in disbelief. "It's me, Wills. Xander. Are you alright?"
Detective Hess closed his eyes and rubbed at his forehead. "I was hoping she'd remember her friends."
"Remember?" Tara echoed. "What do you mean, remember?"
"She came in here earlier this evening terrified out of her mind. Don't blame her really. I'd probably be terrified if I didn't know who I was or if I didn't remember a single thing from my life."
"Willow," Buffy took a tentative step forward. "Do you remember me? It's Buffy, I'm Buffy. Remember?"
"No," Willow said sharply. "I don't remember you." She looked appealingly at the detective. "I don't know them."
"Oh you do," Xander insisted. "It's me. Xander. You're best friend in the whole world. I've been your best friend since kindergarten when you were crying because you broke the yellow crayon, remember?"
Buffy exchanged a glance with Tara, she could see the other girl shared her disappointment that the only reaction to Xander's story was Willow looking at Xander as though he were completely mad.
"What happened to her?" Tara asked.
"She doesn't know," said Detective Hess. "She doesn't appear to be disorientated or hurt in any way. Has she had an accident of some kind? Does she suffer from short term memory loss?"
Buffy shook her head. "No to both of those. Well, I mean, I haven't seen her for a few hours, but she was fine then. I guess maybe she could have had an accident since I last saw her. It's possible, right?"
Tara looked dubious. "I suppose."
"We are who we say we are," Xander said fishing his wallet from his pocket. He flipped it open to show a picture of himself, Buffy and Willow taken at school. "See. That's us there."
"Are we allowed to take her home?" Tara asked. "She doesn't have to stay here, does she?"
Willow huffed. "I'm standing right here. You might want to ask me if I even want to go with you." Still, she took the offered wallet from Xander, staring hard at the picture a feeling of frustration welling inside her when no memory stirred.
It took some persuading from Buffy, but eventually it was decided that as Buffy could prove who she was, she could take Willow home.
Willow listened to the exchange between Detective Hess and the people who kept staring at her with worried eyes and puckered foreheads. She didn't know them. Nothing about them was familiar even though it was evident that they knew her. She didn't really want to leave the safety of the police station with total strangers, but on the other hand, she knew she couldn't stay there indefinitely and maybe the Detective was right and going home with her friends, or alleged friends, would spark some memories.
Willow submitted to being led to the car.
"Why don't you sit up front, sweetie?" Tara suggested. "You might feel less crowded that way, being in a small space with people you don't remember."
Willow didn't argue the point, her lips pursing at the soft endearment. It rolled quite naturally off the other girls tongue. She found she still felt crowded by the way Xander get glancing over at her.Sshe could feel him willing her to recognise him.
Xander pulled up outside The Magic Box. He turned hopeful eyes to Willow. "You remember this place, though, right?"
"Well yeah, it's The Magic Box and you're..."
"You like it here," Tara interrupted quickly. "Why don't you go on inside, Willow. It might jog your memory."
Standing on the sidewalk Willow gave the shop the once over, a doubtful look creeping across her face. "It looks weird."
"Some people think so," Tara said.
"But not you," Xander insisted "You're..."
"Open minded about things," Tara said.
Willow shrugged and pushed open the door, looking up as the little bell jangled announcing her entrance.
Xander scowled at Tara. "Why do you keep interrupting me?"
"I don't think Willow knows she's a witch," Tara said softly. "She doesn't remember us or anything abut her life. I don't want to give her a shock or overwhelm her with too much at once."
Buffy nodded. "I think Tara's right, Xan. Let's not freak Willow out any more than she already is. Do you think it might be magic, Tara? Do you think someone or something did this to Wills, to make her forget she's a witch?"
"It's possible," Tara said. "We probably shouldn't rule anything out at this point."
"I'll get Giles to hit the books," Buffy said, heading into the store. Her hopes disappeared a little more when she saw Willow with her hands on her hips flatly denying ever having set eyes on Dawn.
Giles looked up as Buffy entered. "What's happened?"
"We aren't sure," Buffy admitted. She took a seat at the table and explained what had happened at the police station.
"This must be awful for you," Tara said sympathetically, touching Willow's arm lightly.
Willow pulled back, noticing the flash of pain in Tara's eyes. She looked around the little store, her nose wrinkling at the odd smells of candles and incense. The whole place felt dark and pokey and completely unfamiliar. Willow wanted to cry. Her mind was like a dark abyss and she longed for just the tiniest ray of light to break through.
"Is nothing familiar?" Giles asked softly.
"No. It just makes me feel all ooky."
Buffy figured Tara was right, Willow had no idea that she was a witch. It really made her feel that Willow's memories had been wiped on purpose.
The bell above the door jangled again and they turned as one to see Spike enter the store. A joyous sound left Willow and she hurtled across the room to him. Before Spike had time to even glance around the room his arms were full of Willow, her arms wrapped tightly around her neck.
"Oh, Spike. Spike, you're here."
Spike didn't have the chance to form a response. Willow's lips were on his, warm and soft and desperate. There was a zing in Spike's gut and his eyes closed in spite of his surprise, fingers flexing against the small of Willow's back.
She pulled back, rocking back from her toes on to her heels. Her arms loosened around his neck but she didn't let him go, slipping an arm around his waist instead.
Spike stared at her as she smiled up at him, fingers touching lightly to his cheek. "Ah, you wanna clue a bloke in, Red?"
"What the hell!" Xander exclaimed.
Willow snuggled into Spike's side. "It's alright. Everything is going to be alright now. I remember."
"Remember?" Spike echoed, brow furrowing as he took in the mixture of emotions around him from complete disgust warring with excitement from Xander to confusion from Dawn, worry from Giles, amusement from Anya and hope from Tara and Buffy. He'd quite clearly walked into the middle of some sort of problem.
"Willow," Tara spoke slowly. "Do you remember Spike?"
"Of course I do," Willow's smile deepened. "I'd hardly forget my own husband."