you set up your place in my thoughts
moved in and made my thinking crowded
now we're out in the back with the barking dogs
my heart the red sun your heart the moon clouded
--Indigo Girls, Mystery
Willow floated through a bright blue sky, through perfectly symmetrical clouds, above white spun-sugar castles. She moved quickly, but the air felt still against her skin. Translucent things that looked like jellyfish surrounded Willow, wrapping her in warmth, and touching the edge of her mind.
The jellyfish plucked out memories: Pouring vino de madre on Buffy's grave. Sitting in a hospital bed, chanting an ancient curse. Slayers waking up all over the world. Lethe's Bramble. Warren. A chill ran through her. If the jellyfish found her unworthy of this task--
--but before she could finish that thought, the jellyfish moved away, and something heavy materialized in her hands--the Vratinar Text.
Her task complete, Willow willed her soul back home.
Willow awoke in her bedroom at home, clutching the Text to her chest, still disoriented from the astral plane. She focused on her non-magical senses to ground herself in this dimension. She smelled coffee brewing, and could hear dishes clattering and water splashing somewhere nearby.
She kicked the off the blankets, murmured an incantation, and teleported the Text to the coven. After a quick telepathic message to Buffy, her immediate apocalypsy tasks were complete, and it was time for some self-care. She headed down the hall. The kitchen had entirely too much granite and chrome for Willow’s taste, but so did every other kitchen in high-end apartments in Sao Paolo, and there was no way Kennedy would settle for anything but the best in living quarters. Kennedy was at the sink, attacking dirty dishes with her usual ferocity. “Hey,” Willow chirped. “I thought you’d be doing something more frivolous while I was out.”
Kennedy grabbed a dishtowel and mopped water off the kitchen counter. “I was going to, but you’re up earlier than I expected. You’ve only been out a couple of hours. Did you get Expedited Astral Plane service?”
Willow shrugged. “I don’t have a sense of time while I’m there.” Was that just happenstance, or was there some reason that she’d come back earlier than she had on previous trips? But that was just her brain doing the wheel-spinny stuff. For once, they had a head start on the latest apocalypse. Why not enjoy the downtime? She put a hand on Kennedy’s waist, and spun her around so she could kiss her.
Kennedy wrapped her arms around Willow, then pinned her against the countertop. Willow moaned as Kennedy’s ran her hands under her shirt. Kennedy’s still-damp hands soaked through the lace of her bra, sending chills down Willow’s spine. Kennedy pulled Willow down to the kitchen floor, and the intensity of her desire sent a little thrill through Willow. Feeling desirable still felt amazing and new to her; she never took that for granted.
As Willow fumbled with the zipper of Kennedy’s jeans, her phone rang. Willow moaned again, this time in frustration. Kennedy pulled back. “Goddammit. The apocalypse can’t wait an hour or two?”
But when Willow picked up the phone, it wasn’t Buffy or Giles or the coven. It was Cordy.
“So what’s the big deal?” Kennedy asked. “We go to LA, you mop the floor with this god-king, save the intrepid scientist, maybe recruit her away from the evil law firm. Just another day at the office for you.” She took a sip of coffee and looked at Willow expectantly.
Willow ran her fingers through a tangle in her hair, gently teasing apart the strands, fighting a surge of frustration. It wasn't fair to compare Kennedy to her memories of Tara and Oz. Or more accurately, Willow's idealized memories of them. Tara and Oz hadn’t always completely understood Willow either.
Kennedy rolled her eyes. "I know if I were sensitive, I'd have figured it out on my own. But I'm not, so use your fucking words, and then I'll get it."
Willow treasured these moments of aggravation, kept them close to her heart. From the very beginning, Willow had suspected that she'd inadvertently cast a love spell on Kennedy. In many ways Kennedy was too good to be true: fierce and loyal and utterly devoted to Willow, right from the start, before they’d known anything about each other.
These frustrating Kennedy moments were proof that their relationship was grounded in reality. Surely Willow's subconscious wouldn't magic up a relationship with so much friction. (Some nights, when Willow couldn't sleep, she couldn’t shake the conviction that Tara's love for her was some remnant effect of the Thy Will Be Done spell Willow had cast to try to get over Oz. Tara was far too good, too kind, and too wise to fall in love with Willow without some magical assistance.)
“C’mon, Will. While we’re still young.” Kennedy’s words jolted Willow out of her ruminations.
Willow started counting to ten, decided she was calm enough at five. "Remember what I told you about fighting Glory?"
"Yeah, hellgod, you kicked some major ass. End of story.” Only Kennedy would reduce the endless, soul-crushing war against Glory to two sentences.
"It wasn’t that easy. I had to cast some really powerful spells against her, because nothing else worked.” Willow took a shuddering breath, steeled herself for the next part. “I got so powerful to fight Glory that I nearly became her. I messed with Tara's mind and tried to kill Dawn and end the world, just like Glory. I'm afraid of what I might have to become to fight this god."
"So when I called you a goddess--" Kennedy’s voice trailed off uncertainly.
Willow touched Kennedy’s hand gently. "I know you didn't mean it like that.”
Kennedy nodded, then changed the subject. “What do you need from me?”
“--for the hundredth time, Giles, I talked to Buffy and Althenea, and they’ve got this apocalypse covered. Faith has ever Slayer in the Eastern Hemisphere armed with jade daggers, and Buffy’s wearing the sacred pendant, and the coven’s got witches around the world ready for 24/7 spell coverage.”
Kennedy drummed her fingers on the kitchen table as she listened to Willow try to appease Giles.
“We’re going in with our full Slayer team, and, yes, I’ll be careful if anything looks the slightest bit like an evil plan. But I’m going, and that’s final.” Willow slammed down her phone and sighed. “He’s really mad about this.”
Kennedy hated to see Willow getting worked up this way right before some major spellwork. Unlike Kennedy, Willow didn’t find arguments enjoyable or energizing. “Why didn’t you just go first, and tell him once it was over? It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”
Willow had opened the chest of magic ingredients and was scrounging around there for something. She scrunched up her face in a self-deprecating grimace. “Kinda used up my lifetime supply of forgiveness already.”
And there was nothing that Kennedy could say to that, so she busied herself in the logistics of their mission: getting the private jet ready for the trip, and assembling their Slayers and some local witches in case Willow needed magic backup. She could have used a team in LA, Kennedy was more comfortable with their team; she knew every woman on it understood Willow’s importance and would to die to protect her.
Willow’s face lit as soon as she walked into the hospital room and saw Fred. Fred was vampire-pale, with some faint patches of blue on her skin, and she smelled half-dead. But she grinned right back at Willow. A weird and uncomfortable knot twisted in Kennedy’s chest.
“How’re you feeling, Fred?” Willow asked.
Fred rubbed a hand over her face. “I’ve been better--I’m a little scared.”
Willow put on her best Resolve Face, and took Fred’s hand in hers. “Nothing’s gonna happen to you.” Willow’s tone was confident and cheery; no one would ever guess how frightened and doubtful Willow had been just a few hours ago. “You still need to show me those bits of the Pergamum Codex--”
“--that are funnier in Latin,” Fred finished. Something about the little-girl voice and the twangy accent were nails-on-the-chalkboard annoying.
Kennedy would have never thought a fight with God-King could be boring, but Willow had been sitting there for hours, just holding Fred’s hand, and there didn’t seem to be much in the way of magic pyrotechnics.
Wes kept droning on, reading some hokey children’s book about a rich chick who lost her dad and her fortune, but insisted on being all sweetness and light no matter how shitty her life got. The sledgehammery moral of the story: be a good girl, and Daddy (or a convenient daddy substitute) will reward you in the end. It was total bullshit. But Willow seemed enthralled by the story too, which was bizarre. The world would have ended multiple times if Willow had chosen to be a passive little princess instead of a badass witch.
Maybe it was her imagination, but was that a patch of blue on Willow’s skin? It didn’t really matter--Willow’s hands were trembling. Kennedy texted Emilia, one of the backup witches they’d brought to LA. When Emilia appeared, Kennedy touched Willow’s shoulder. “Hey, I think it’s time for you to get some food and a nap. Emilia can handle her for a couple of hours.”
Wes jumped to his feet. “Absolutely not! Fred’s too important to risk it.”
Oh, good. Someone was going to give her a fight. “And Willow isn’t? Do you really wanna see what happens if she gets exhausted and passes out?”
Fred murmured, “Stop, please.”
“Kenn, you need to stop pushing,” Willow said. “I can’t really hand this off easily, and this magic is making me jumpy. I don’t think I could sleep if I tried. Maybe someone could bring me a sandwich, or something else I can eat one-handed.”
Emilia said, “I’ll get it,” and ran from the room as if demons were chasing her.
Down the hall, someone was shouting. Kennedy eased closer to the door, while keeping her eyes on Willow for any sign of distress.
The yelling continued. “Cordy, why the hell is there a Slayer team in my building?” That had to be Angel.
“Because I invited them.” Cordy’s voice was a bit softer than Angel’s, but she sounded just as pissed off as he was.
Kennedy heard footsteps heading their way. “You’ve made it very clear you aren’t happy here. No one’s stopping you from going back to Buffy. You don’t need to call in Slayers behind my back--”
“Hello? Fred is dying. While you guys were beating up demons in England, slapping Eve around, and shooting associates to prove which one of you had the biggest case of testosterone poisoning--”
“Demons don’t have testosterone.” Angel interrupted. This guy used to be Angelus, who led a vampiric reign of terror? He was getting hung up on biological trivia?
Cordy huffed, “Pedantic much? Fine. You demons just love hurting people, and love it even more if you can come up with some noble reason for it. Anyway, while all of that was going on, I called the one woman in the world who could actually help Fred.”
Kennedy could hear Angel stagger a bit at those words. She drew herself up, ready to chew him out if he said one ungrateful word to Willow, who had risked her life twice to give him his stupid soul back.
Angel reached the room, saw Willow and seemed to deflate a little. “Oh, um, hi, Willow. Thanks for helping out.”
Kennedy scowled. She was hoping to beat the living shit out of something, and Angel was a total disappointment on that front.
Angel’s team was one big sausage party. Kennedy watched dudes of various species wander in and out of the room in to visit Fred; After the Deathwok demon left, an all-too-familiar figure showed up.
Kennedy raced across the room to throw a punch. She knew it wouldn’t land, but at least she’d remind Willow that this was The First, before “Spike” could start trying to fuck with Willow’s mind.
To her surprise, the punch landed with a satisfying thump in Spike’s gut.
“Ow! What was that for?” Spike yelped.
Willow gaped. “Spike--you--you’re alive!”
Spike straightened his jacket. “Oh, right. You lot didn’t know that.”
Willow’s look of happy surprise shifted into a glare. “Does Buffy know?”
“Well, it’s kind of complicated--” Spike began.
“Call her.” Willow said. “Or I’ll have Kennedy deliver the news.” Kennedy gave Spike her best bitchy smile, just to remind him that she didn’t like him or Buffy that much.
“Right,” Spike backed out the door. “Getting on that right now.”
Hours passed, and very little changed, except both Willow and Fred looked more and more fatigued, and Fred’s breath kept hitching.
Suddenly Fred started thrashing on the bed. She sobbed, “Everything hurts! I don’t know how much more of this I can take!”
Wes yelled into the intercom, “Cordy! We need pain meds.” Cordy came running down the hall, high heels clacking against the floor.
Wes held Fred until she was calm enough to swallow a pill. She sat still as Wes continued to hold her. After a minute or two she dozed off.
Willow whispered to Kennedy, "Something's holding me back. It feels like something besides Illyria. Like something doesn't want me to drive her out, and keeps pushing back every time I’m close to saving Fred.”
Kennedy knelt in front of the chair and put her hands on Willow’s shoulders. “Whatever it is, you’re stronger than it.”
Tears filled Willow’s eyes. “But I’m not stronger than it plus a God-King.”
Wes looked like he was about to say something, but Cordy beat him to it. “Oh, that’s just great!” she snapped. “You’re giving up without trying anything but magical brute force? What was the point of being the biggest loser on the planet if you aren't going to use that mega-brain of yours to come up with a Plan B?"
Willow’s shoulders hunched up, and the look she gave Cordy was just short of murderous. But a moment later she turned to Kennedy with determination in her eyes. “I need more power.”
Kennedy understood immediately what Willow was asking for. She nodded.
Then Willow did that life-force sucking thing. Kennedy flinched as every muscle in her body tensed up and her Slayer energies were ripped away. All of the colors in the room seemed to fade, and there was a bitter, sulphury taste in her mouth.
Willow’s eyes turned dark as she shouted something in Latin, and magic pulsed through the air. There was a deafening roar, from Willow or from the magic or maybe both, and a flash of light, and then there were two Freds on the bed.
One of them had blue hair and eyes. The Ordinary Fred gasped, “I’m still here. It didn’t get me.” Willow moved in and whispered something in Ordinary Fred’s ear. She nodded in response, a serious expression on her face. Then Wes and Cordy swooped in to fuss over her.
Blue-Fred stared at her hands and said in a cold, somewhat stilted voice, “This will do.”
Blue-Fred was a definite improvement over Ordinary Fred.
Cordy insisted everyone stick around for a celebratory party. Willow slumped in her chair at one of the tables in the conference room, gazing at Cordy with barely-disguised hostility and gazing at Fred with a mopey expression on her face.
“What’s the matter?” Kennedy asked. “You just saved her from a horrible death.”
Willow fiddled with her champagne glass. “I tried my best to modify the Tothric Clan spell, so they’d split completely apart. I don’t think they need each other to survive, but there’s still a lingering connecty bit between them. I told Fred that, and she didn’t say much. I don’t know if that’s something she can live with, or something worse than letting her go.”
Kennedy got up, crossed the room, and grabbed Fred by the arm. “We have a question for you.” They walked back to Willow’s table. “Are you happy to be alive with a connection with Smurfette over there, or would you rather be dead?”
Fred’s eyes widened. “What? No, I wouldn’t wanna be dead. I had so many wasted years in Pylea, and there’s so much I wanna do still.” She glanced over at Wes. Kennedy felt the tight knot in her chest relax a little. “We’ve got a good team here, and we’ll figure out how to deal with whatever the connection is.”
She walked back to Wes. Willow sipped her champagne, and smiled for the first time in hours.
Later that night, as they were settling into bed at the Four Seasons, Kennedy asked, “So what was all that tension with Cordy?” Then she realized she probably knew the answer to the question. “I bet you guys wanted each other in high school but were both too chickenshit to do anything about it.”
Willow wrinkled her nose at that. “Ugh, no. She’s homophobic--”
“--which closet cases never use as a cover,” Kennedy said. Willow could be so dense about this stuff.
Willow huffed out an exasperated sigh. “Look, even if had been attracted to girls back then, she was about the last girl I would have been interested in. She was--awful to me.”
“Because she thought you were hot, and that was the only way she could express herself.”
“Oh, for Goddess’s sake--nobody thought I was hot back then!”
Willow’s self-deprecation was just so fucking ridiculous. “You had a boyfriend--”
“--and he cheated on me as soon as a hotter girl showed some interest. Cordy was right about one thing. I was the biggest loser on the planet!” The shocked look in Willow’s eyes suggested that she’d surprised even herself with that outburst. Then she looked warily at Kennedy, as if she expected some major reaction to that revelation.
“So?” Kennedy said. “What’s the big about that? You told me about the murdering and mind-wiping and near world-ending, and I’m still here. Why would high school you make a difference?”
Willow wrapped the blankets tightly around her. “Everybody has their deal-breakers.”
And then Kennedy could practically see the new thoughts working through Willow’s brain, because she rolled onto her side to face Kennedy, and her brows furrowed as she stared. In an instant, she switched from vulnerable girlfriend mode to shrewd investigator mode. “Why were you so fixated on whether I had a crush on Cordelia?”
Willow’s eyes hadn’t changed color, but her stare was still unnerving. Instead of making some light-hearted joke about her talent for pushiness, Kennedy blurted out, “She’s blunt and opinionated and doesn’t take crap from anyone. She reminds me of me. I thought--maybe you had a type.” What a fucking stupid thing to say. Of course Willow had a type--and Marie Curie Junior was a lot closer to it than Kennedy would ever be.
Willow touched her hand and said, “Hey, I picked you. When I came to LA last year, Fred got a little flirty, and I told her that I was seeing someone.”
Kennedy fought the urge to run back to the law firm and wring Fred’s scrawny little neck. It didn’t matter that she’d dared to flirt with Willow. The important thing was that Willow hadn’t jumped at the chance to dump Kennedy, the way everyone (even Kennedy, sometimes) expected her to. So what if Fred and Willow had that kindred spirit compatibility? Willow had still chosen Kennedy.
Willow continued, “And ok, maybe you’re kinda like Cordy in some ways. But there’s a big difference. She picked on everyone indiscriminately. You only go after people who can handle it.”
That hadn’t always been true (Push-ups, maggot!), but Kennedy liked to think she’d learned a few things since--Chloe. No point in bringing that up now. Instead she said, “Also, I stuck with my natural hair color.”
Willow’s giggle turned into a yawn. “Sorry, not a commentary on the conversation. I’m just really tired.”
“That’s ok, this was a long day.” Kennedy gathered Willow up in her arms, and barely a minute later, Willow fell asleep. Kennedy lay awake watching her.
Loving Willow wasn’t as simple as sweeping Scarlett O’Hara off her feet. Willow had problems that Kennedy couldn’t fix by flirting or arguing or slaying. It was confusing and complicated, and every time Kennedy thought she had All Things Willow figured out, something new and different would come up.
Willow mumbled something about anteaters in her sleep. Kennedy smiled and snuggled closer to her. She told herself that she could live with Willow’s complications, and settled in to sleep.