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Never Better

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“Mr. Miller?” Willow’s voice was so low and timorous that Greg was shocked to look up from his desk and see her beaming down at him like a kid who’d gotten a rocket ship for Christmas. Her hair and makeup looked professional, her clothed trendy and flattering, almost but not quite too much so for school. She looked more like a Hollywood starlet going on a casting call for a high school student. He found it disquieting in a way that was hard to name. She smelled like a field of flowers, not like she was wearing too much floral perfume, but like the flowers were really all around you.

“Did you need something?” he asked earnestly.

“I just wanted to let you know that we won’t be needing those... models we talked about,” she said morosely. “We finished the project another way.” Her voice was shaking as if she expected to be attacked for her failure to follow through on the purchase. The contrast between the misery in her voice and the rapture of the countenance was disorienting. It made Greg feel something akin to sea sickness. They might as well be at sea.  This kid was clearly drowning. What on Earth had happened to her? Obviously she had also survived whatever battle Cordelia had been a casualty of, and she was very traumatized by it. But he felt in his gut that there was more to it than that.

“It’s okay,” he reassured her warmly. “I’m happy to help any time. I was born in this town.” He added seriously, “I know how things are. ”

Something about this statement struck Willow close to the heart, in the place where all of her pain was. She needed to talk to someone, she needed someone to understand. She needed to let out some of the feelings that were crushing her, making it hard to breathe, and Mr. Miller’s brown eyes were so warm and kind and fatherly. Impulsively, she pulled up a chair next to him at the desk. She looked at the clock. The first bell would ring in ten minutes. It was hard to know where to start.

“I need to talk to someone,” she pleaded, her voice sounding whiny, childish, even in her own ears. “and I don’t think I could talk to Rabbi Mike or Mr. Platt or anybody else; they’d think I was crazy. Normally, I’d talk to Giles,” she apologized, “but things being, you know, the way they are... I think I’d rather talk to... somebody else.”

Greg had the uncomfortable feeling that her revelations were about to get extremely personal. He was tempted to try to avoid becoming her confidant, but it was clear she had no one else she could trust. No safe place to turn. “I’ve been... having a hard time lately,” she said, “I mean, ever since my dad died, really, but especially... with the... battle that happened two nights ago.”

“What were you fighting?” He asked.

She shuttered, burying her face in her hands for a moment. “Vampires,” she whispered hauntedly, looking up again, her face still unnervingly cheerful, “the same ones who killed my father.” Magic was her beauty secret he realized suddenly, to his horror. The poor girl was at least dabbling in witchcraft. He hoped that was all it was. Now was no time to address it he decided. Even his very limited training in psychology and adolescent development told him she needed support, not judgment.

“We fought them,” Willow continued forlornly. “I guess we won. We stopped them. We killed a lot more of them than they did of us, and the survivors had to run away. But it was still...” her voice broke with emotion. She sniffed back invisible tears and struggled on. “I was taken prisoner,” she said, “they chained us up... we were... completely helpless and he—” she stopped abruptly, crying again behind her artificial smile.

“I watched them kill a girl I knew,” she said finally. Greg was certain she was not continuing the thought she had broken off. She was still unable to say something. Something that had hurt her worse than seeing a friend and fellow prisoner murdered by the enemy. Something she specifically didn’t want to talk about in front of a man she had to suspect of being particularly attracted to a girl her age. The oldest and most common of wartime atrocities, he realized, would come all too easily to a savage, soulless enemy, subhuman, but not... inhuman enough to avoid having all of humanities faults. This was definitely nothing his teacher’s training had prepared him for. Stepfathers, maybe, there were procedures for that, but not vampires.

“Have you said anything about this to your mother?” he asked, for lack of anything better to suggest. Evidently it was the wrong thing to say. Willow lay her head on the desk and sobbed harder than ever. For an instant her appearance seemed to flicker. He saw a mass of tangled red hair where her perfectly quaffed locks had been. He smelled stale sweat and despair. But only for an instant.

Mr. Miller patted Willow comfortingly on the shoulder. “Go home,” he advised. “Get some rest. I’ll clear it with Snyder.”

“Are you sure it’ll be alright?” she asked, calming a little.

“I’ll make it alright,” said Mr. Miller firmly. There had to be someone in this town that she could talk to, a professional, who knew how things were too. He’d ask around, Greg decided. He’d start by having a talk with Mr. Giles. He needed to do that anyway, to find out what kind of a war he and these kids were really involved in and how they were going about it. He’d always liked the man, despite recent revelations; and, unseemly as that whole situation was, Buffy struck him as a girl who could take care of herself. But getting school kids involved in witchcraft was a different matter all together. If that’s what was going on, someone needed to put a stop to it.