Title: Half Full
Author: Beer Good
Word Count: 888
Characters: Willow, Buffy
Summary: While researching the re-ensoulment spell, Willow has a little accident.
She's been reading for hours, her eyes are bleeding (well, metaphorically, despite the hellmouth right under her feet) and the library's getting dark. And she's alone. OK, Buffy's in here someplace, but ever since that thing she's been kinda absent. And Giles is completely useless, which is a really harsh word to use and she feels bad for thinking it, he lost Jenny and... and he needs time. No, this is her job. This is what she's good at, and the library has always been a safe place. She's been in here since she started high school, after all, and it feels good to finally get to use that big noggin of hers for something, knowing she can make a difference. She's taking over classes, she's already getting good at this magic thing, she's going to figure this all out. Yup, Willow Rosenberg, professional stuff-figure-out-er. Then Buffy will beat something up and Xander will do something sweet and everything will be fine.
She rubs her eyes, yawns and reaches out for the glass of water in front of her, takes a few sips and puts it down right on the edge of a book. And it tips and suddenly the priceless 17th century book in front of her is soaked.
"No. Oh no. Oh no no no no..."
She didn't mean to say it out loud, but it slips out. She pulls her sleeve over her fist and wipes at the book, but the water is already soaking into the pages, and she only manages to blur the ancient ink and scrunch up the pages into sodden pulp. Within seconds, despite (because of) all her drying-up efforts, the book is a depressing lump of paper-mâché. "No, no, please, no..."
"Willow? Are you OK?"
Buffy must have heard her, because suddenly she's right there. Her eyes are slightly red, they always are after she's had a few moments to herself these days. Willow wishes there was something she could... "Oh. Uh... I had a little accident. Sorry," she whimpers instead. "It's ruined. Giles is gonna kill me."
"Over a book?" Buffy's got that 'Oh, really?' smile.
"But it's the only one, Buffy! It's been here for ages and now.... OK, sure, it's mostly about growing beets and everyday stuff like that and I don't think there's anything in it about how to stop Ang-" She bites her tongue and puts her hands down in the sogginess; that's the wrong subject. "But who knows? I hadn't finished reading it a-and now it's lost forever and nobody will ever get to read it again because I'm a klutz. A stupid, useless, not-paying-attention klutz."
"You're not. Don't do this to yourself." Buffy puts her hands over Willow's, warming them from the cold mess of no-longer-paper underneath. "You're the smartest person I know, Willow. You'll figure this out."
"And do what? Re-write the whole book from scratch? I can't do that, Buffy! I don't know how! I don't know how it ends! I can't even remember - " She stops, draws a shaky breath. She knows this is important and that Buffy needs her to do this, she's supposed to be the big gun, and everyone's been crying lately and she was supposed to know how to re-ensoul someone. It's what she does.
She lifts one hand from the soggy book and puts it to Buffy's cheek to reassure her best friend and... her cheek is smudged. No, not smudged. Blurred, like the words in the book. She tries to wipe it off and it just gets worse, like she was wet-wiping a blackboard, and that rosy cheek just turns into a transparent smear of gray.
"Uh... Buffy? What are you..."
Buffy stares blankly at her own hands. Hands that have started melting into the pages of the book. "Willow..." She instinctively clasps her hands to her mouth in horror, and her next words are unintelligible as the water soaks from her hands into her jaw, and then she can't talk anymore because the entire bottom half of her face is gone, running like wet ink, melting and falling like sludge, and her eyes keep staring at Willow Please please please please please until Willow can't take it anymore and reaches out and wipes them from her face.
Then she gets to wake up.
She's face-down in a book again, as always. The pages under her eyes are wet (she dries them with a quick spell – modern toner doesn't run, anyway). She casts a quick glance at the picture of Buffy on the desk. Forces herself to remember what she looked like. To see Buffy as she was, as she should be, as she will be again as soon as she figures out what went wrong with Osiris' spell.
To see anything but the unholy, bloodsoaked, screaming mess they found in Buffy's casket.
Then she gets back to work. There's so much left to learn before she can fix this. She was on the right track this time, really, there was just some stuff she didn't figure out. Stuff she wasn't powerful enough to do anything about. Not yet. But even if they blew up the old library, the Magic Box is a safe place too. She knows this. This is what she's good at. And next time, she'll get it right.