When Willow wakes up from the hospital after the attack in the hospital, Xander, Oz and Cordelia all sigh in relief. They are pleased that she is very much alive and okay. The three of them are content in letting Buffy handle what comes next. Not one of them seem to care about the fact that Willow had failed at casting the curse. Until Willow announces her intent to reattempt the curse.
When Xander tries to talk her out of it, even Oz knows its a lost cause. Even when Xander tells her that he has a bad feeling about it. Instead of listening to caution Willow performs the ritual and later on the three of them will tell Giles about the magic and the power that was contained in that private hospital room.
"The power was intense, I thought it was going to destroy the room and us," Cordelia will reflectively say.
"It worked G-man, I know that it did. I felt it wash over me," Xander will say.
"It was like a nuclear bomb, all bright and blinding white light washing over us and for a moment I also felt like my skin was melting," Oz will quietly tell the Watcher.
Giles will surmise that the magic used to case the curse had drained Willow's core and that she won't wake up until he body has healed itself naturally. He will patiently explain to Xander that using more magic won't and can't fix this problem. Giles will explain this over and over again until Oz finally likens it to a rechargeable battery. No one will be happy with the outcome: Willow in a coma, Buffy missing and no sign of Angel (or Angelus for that matter.) And when Giles had asked them separately all three of them were certain that Willow's curse was successfully.
"I can't explain it but I felt it," Oz will answer.
"It was like Angel was in the room with us and then he wasn't and you should have seen the look on Willow's face," Cordelia will explain.
"Once she sets her mind to something, Willow doesn't fail," Xander will say as he folds his arms over his chest.
But in the heat of the moment, when it's just the three of them in a private hospital room and with Willow demanding with her resolve face to retry the ritual, no one can say no. Even when they know deep in their hearts that there's something bad about trying it now. Oz wants to argue that it's too late, Xander wants to argue that it's in Buffy's hands and Cordelia wants to point out how much of a disaster things were the first time but in the end Oz pulls out the bag of supplies he had packed while they had waited for the ambulance.
There's no one there to tell them that Willow is already weakened from trying the first spell and from the attack in the library. There's no one to tell them that this is real life and not some sort of video game or movie where the white hats ride in and save the day no matter how insurmountable the odds. There's no one to tell them there's consequences for casting a ritual like this. Jenny is dead and Giles is near death. When Willow says that she is going to try again, their argument is weak and over-ridden.
And in the end, when the white light fades away and the three of them can see again, it's to see Willow looking pale and washed out, collapsed on the bed and none of them can wake her up. In fact, they barely manage to hide away the evidence of the ritual before a nurse is rushing into the room and rushing the three of them out.
* * *
She is walking down a dark and decaying hallway that seems to stretch on forever. She is trying to find someone but she doesn't know who. The more she tries to think about who she is looking for, the harder it becomes to picture their face in her mind. So she keeps on walking, trying to clear her mind like she was taught to. But she can't seem to do so. Every little detail seems to distract her.
When she steps on a shard of broken glass, she realizes that she's wearing nothing more than a flimsy hospital gown. Actually two of them - one that covers her front and then one like a robe that covers her back. Despite this attempt at modesty, she still feels exposed. And cold. So very cold. And she doesn't think that leaving a trace of blood in her wake, no matter how minute, is a very smart thing to do. But she doesn't have any options.
There's nothing on her that she can use to bandage her foot and all of the doors around her are locked tight. In the end she bends down and pulls out the shard of glass. She winces and bites her lip as she pulls it out. Her foot spurts out a bit of blood that seems bright in the dim lighting of the hallway. When she puts her weight on her foot it hurts but she knows that staying still is not an option. She puts one foot in front of another and does her best to ignore the pain or the trail that she's leaving.
Somehow she might not know anything else but she knows that staying put is far more dangerous than anything else. She has someone to find first and then a way out second.
* * *
"I followed up on that lead," Oz tells Giles.
"And?" Giles asks, worry and hope both written on his face.
"It wasn't Buffy," Oz flatly says. "The girl was too young."
No one knows what to say . The body of a dead girl isn't something to be pleased about but the four them can't help but feel some level of guilty relief that it's not Buffy.
"Thank you Oz," Giles finally says.
Oz nods and sits down at the table where Cordelia and Xander are surrounded by heavy books trying to research something or other. Or at the very least give off the appearance that they are so that Giles doesn't send them home.
"I visited Willow yesterday," Xander says to lessen the tension.
It's not the best thing to say since Willow is another open wound for the four of them but it does take their minds off the guilt and relief they are all dealing with.
"Any news?" Giles asks.
"There was cut on her foot, no one could explain it but it looked like she had stepped on a piece of glass," Xander says. "In fact they tried to accuse me of doing in an attempt to wake her up. Mr. Rosenberg almost insisted that I couldn't come back, thankfully my Mom was with me."
"What?" Oz asks.
"Why would they think you'd do something like that?" Cordelia says at the same time.
Xander shrugs his shoulders. "The only reason why I am allowed back is that my Mom was with me and the doctor said that it looked like it probably happened when we were in LA with Mrs. Summers."
No one speaks for a moment.
"As it is, I am not allowed to go see her on my own anymore."
"Was there anything else about the injury that you were able to find out?" Giles asks.
"Yeah the wound was all red because it was infected. The nurse told my mother later that it was like someone who had stepped on a piece of glass and then walked in dirt."
"Isn't there something we can do?" Cordelia demands. "Isn't there some magic or mojo that you can cast or get someone to cast that will protect her?"
Giles looks exhausted and Cordelia feels guilty for making another demand on his time. But he nods in response and promises to look into the matter. Worry for both Buffy and Willow has aged him as the summer drags on. Oz finally suggests that the three of them leave him to his research while they patrol.
* * *
Every so often a door appears along the wall. The doors break up the monotony of the dirty, dark grey, decaying walls. She always stops to try the door but she always finds them locked tight. Sometimes she can hear things from behind the doors and she's grateful for the door being locked since there's nothing that she can do. All that she has been able to do is fashion a weapon from two small pieces of wood. If she puts them together she has a cross, which she fervently hopes will keep whatever it is that she encounters at bay. She has tried using her magic but she is unable to call it forth.
There's a part of her that wants to turn around and try to find out where this never-ending hallway began but she knows that there is something following her. She's not sure if it's a man, a beast or a monster. All she can hear on occasion is the heavy footsteps that it makes. She can also feel the dread that it brings as it approaches her. She doesn't spend too much time looking for weapons or investigating the doors. The longer she stays in any one place, the closer it seems to be.
But she's getting tired, her energy is flagging and sometimes it takes everything to turn away from yet another locked door and put one foot in front of another over and over again trying to gain some distance on the thing that follows her. She knows that once it catches up to her, it won't be fun. She wants nothing more but to stop and just rest her body and her mind and to try to take stock of what's happening. Why is she here? Who is she looking for? How did she get here? What is following her? But she can't.
She doesn't dare.
* * *
Giles feels that his days are nothing more than chasing down one lead after another. Some leads are about Buffy whilst others are about Willow. It all feels hopeless. He's certain that Buffy is in LA, it's both far enough away and big enough for her to disappear in. Oz has his hand play several gigs so that he can be the boots on the ground as it were. But even he is coming up empty-handed. Joyce Summers has sworn that Buffy didn't have that much money saved up from birthdays, Christmas and allowances. But what Joyce doesn't understand is how resourceful her daughter is.
And then there's Willow. If it was a simple case of magical exhaustion then she should have woken up after a week or two. But it's been over a month and nothing has changed other than the cut on her foot. He's managed to track down a relative of Jenny's who would speak to him. But the man had bluntly told Giles that Jenny's clan held him responsible for her death and would not interfere. The few witches he has reached out to in the United States have been extremely unhelpful to say the least. And now he's waiting to hear back from someone in Europe who may be able to assist.
All the while, he's aware that time is funning out far faster than he had anticipated. Professor Dormer in Boston has called him and hinted that she and her Slayer may be coming out west to handle the Sunnydale Hellmouth since it's current Slayer is unreliable. And Xander has told him that Willow's parents are talking about moving their daughter to a better facility outside of Sunnydale. He only has so much time and he desperately needs a lead that will give him resolution with either girl so that he focus on just one and not both.
* * *
The hall seemingly stretches unendingly in either direction. She has taken a moment to stop and think about the problem logically. She has long since dropped the two flimsy pieces of wood. It was an accident but her fingers had become numb and it had hurt to continue carrying the two pieces clenched in either hand. And since she dropped them - and realized what she had done - there's been nothing else on the hall floor that can be used as a weapon. No glass, no metal, no wood, just dirt. (And maybe the occasional spider or three but she doesn't think on that.)
She is standing in the hall facing one of the doors. She has looked down the hall behind her and then in front of her. Her mind tells her that it is impossible to have walked down a hallway without a start and without an end. She can't determine how it the hall is lit as there are no windows and no apparent light sources in the form of candles, bared light-bulbs on the ceiling or sconces along the wall. But she has realized that the lighting is ambient. She feels as if she is in a horror movie. Or a nightmare. (She suspects it's the second one.)
The door in front of her has a rune carved on the blackened wood. This is new. She wishes that Jenny had had more time to teach her more about runes other than telling her that they could be used for divination. And for a moment a smile crosses her face. She has had a memory of something from before this impossible hallway. It's gone before she can grab hold of it but it's okay because she has remembered something. She's a little bit ahead of the game than she was a moment ago.
She raises her hand and reaches out to touch the rune. She hesitates and can't help but think if this is the best thing to do. But she has nothing but a hallway that leads to nothing or to a beast that is following her. She traces the rune on the door and something shifts.
* * *
"You have to wake up Willow," Xander pleads at her bedside. "We need you so much. I need you."
He's her in her room by himself, circumventing the rules that Mr. Rosenberg had laid down. It was easy enough to do. He just had to wait until either Oz or Cordelia were injured and needed to patched up before he came up to Willow's room late at night. He hates how lax hospital security is but at the same time it's allowing him to have a moment with his best friend.
Xander picks up her cold hand and holds it tightly. He wants to give her the strength that she clearly needs to wake up. He knows that talking to a patient in a coma can be beneficial but he doesn't know what to say to her that will unlock the state that she is in.
"Your parents are going to move you. They've been talking about moving you to LA or even Boston. There's no sign that you're not gonna be in this way forever so they'd rather move you to a better facility."
He knows that Giles has made contact with some powerful witch in Europe who has agreed to come to Sunnydale to look over Willow but if she's moved to another facility then there's no way that will happen and maybe Willow will never wake up again. He doesn't believe that it's just a simple case of exhaustion that has her in this state. Xander knows that he should never had allowed Oz to pack up the magic supplies, that he should never have allowed Willow to cast the spell, and he knows that there was nothing he could have done to stop her.
He rests his head on her bed and tries not to sob. He can't lose her.
"Please Willow, just give me a sign of some sort that you're gonna come back to us," Xander begs. "To me."
There's nothing. No miracles happen, she doesn't even reflexively squeeze his hand. He stands up and presses his lips against her forehead. Xander wipes away his tears before he heads back down to the emergency room.
* * *
A sense of warmth seems to infuse her. This is the fifth door that she has opened. She has managed to pilfer a pair of leather shoes and a woollen cloak to keep the chill at bay from the rooms. Each room has opened onto a scene that loops over and over again until she has watched it enough and ends up leaving. None of the scenes have made sense.
The first was of a boy being harshly punished by an older man - she has assumed that the man was the boy's father - for some unknown infraction. The man was whipping the small boy with a leather belt. She had tried to stop it but it was if she was a ghost. Neither the man nor the boy saw her. She had left the room with the man's harsh words and the cruel sound of the leather belt hitting the boy's back ringing in her ears.
The second room was similar but the boy was older. Again she had not been able to stop anything.
The third she can barely remember It had stunk of blood, alcohol and rot. She had left the room quickly unable to make sense of it.
The fourth room was where she had stolen the leather shoes and the cloak. It was a domestic scene. The boy was somewhat older this time and instead of the cruel man it was a gentle woman. A woman who she believes to be his mother. The boy is almost an adult. She couldn't make out what the woman was saying to the boy but her cadence had been gentle and soothing. She had wanted to stay in that room for awhile because it was warm and safe. But something had started pulling her away but not before she decided to try taking something with her.
Now she is in front of the fifth door, dressed in her stolen cloak and shoes. She can feel the cold night air flowing from this room. It smells of the sea, of rot, of human waste, with alcohol and rich perfume mingling over the other scents. She does not want to enter the room but she pulls the cloak around her tighter. And suddenly she feels a bit of warmth wrap around her. She feels love for a moment she is a hundred million miles away from this never-ending hallway. She feels safe.
And then it's gone and she is pushing the door open further. She steps into the outside. The silhouette of the door is still behind her but she is in some old city. She can see something happening in an alley just across from her. It's not wholesome or something she wants to see. The boy has grown to a man. In front of him stands a beautiful woman dressed in a gown that is luxurious. The gown is pale and almost glows as a beacon and she knows that the woman is danger.
She calls out but no one hears her. No one can stops. And she watches as the woman offers up her blood to the now-grown boy. She almost falls to the filthy ground and sobs. But something pulls her back.
The door slams shut and she realizes that it was a man that had pulled her back. A man who looks like the one she had just watched in the alleyway. Her mouth forms an O of surprise but nothing comes out.
"Quite the little voyeur aren't you?"
She shakes her head in denial. She didn't want to see that. She just wanted a way out.
"Maybe I should have left you there."
She whispers. She hadn't wanted to see that.
"Maybe you would have liked watching them fuck."
His words are cruel and harsh. She shakes her head in denial. No she wouldn't have liked that. She gets uncomfortable watching kissing scenes in movies with her friends. She wouldn't have liked watching that pair in the alleyway doing anything. She wants to tell him that she just wanted a way out. And that she wasn't there to watch.
His hand reaches out and grips her bicep. She winces in pain. His brown eyes flash yellow and she knows that he's not safe and that maybe he's dangerous like that woman in the alley was.
"You're not as pure as you like to pretend you are."
His words are like stones thrown at her. She knows him but she doesn't. She can't quite place who he is. And then she realizes that she can't quite recall who she is.
"And you're a little thief, aren't you? Stealing my sister's cloak and shoes."
"I didn't mean to but it's so cold."
Her words fall out without her meaning to. But they are the truth. He shakes his head at her and grips her arm tighter. She gasps at the pain.
"And a little snoop. Who gave you permission to open doors? Who even gave you permission to be here."
Before she can answer, there's a blinding white light that causes him to shout in pain. He lets her go and stumbles to the ground. Before she can stop herself, she's kneeling down and trying to help him. If someone were to ask her why, she wouldn't be able to tell them why she's not running away in fear from him. She just knows that she needs to help him.
* * *
"Hurry up! The nurse is going to come here because of that stupid machine."
"Be quiet, we can't rush things."
"This is so creepy."
"I'll go stall the nurse."
"She's not in a hallway, dark one. She is not alone."
"Stop this at once!"
"It is a man. They are bound together."
"I said stop this nonsense at once."
"She is lost."
"Get away from my daughter!"
"She is desperate to find her way but she needs to guide him to safety as they are both lost."
"Get away from my daughter before I call security!"
* * *
The bright, white light fades away into nothingness. She is cradling his body in her own. He is trembling. She is terrified. Eventually he manages to pull them up so they are standing.
"It isn't safe for us to stay in one place for too long."
She finally tells him. He is about to stay something and then the sound of heavy footsteps are heard. She shivers in fear.
"We can't stay here!"
She grabs his hand and pulls him with her as she starts to run down the hallway, desperate for a door. Desperate for a way out or even just a respite where she can ask him who she is and who he is. He seems to know more than he does.
He stops and grips her hand tighter. She falls backwards into him and he holds her up.
"We can't keep running from him."
"Yes we can."
Her words come out so that it sounds like one word instead of three. He shakes his head at her. She tries to pull away from him but he wraps his arms tight around her, holding her still.
"Please let me go."
The footsteps are closer than they ever have been before. And she sees a door just in reach. She reaches out and traces the rune mark. The pair of them are sucked into the room.
"You foolish girl."
The room smells of blood and sex. On the bed there are a pair of lovers entwined. It's is the man and the woman from the alleyway from the other room. They don't notice the pair watching them. It's not clear if it's because they are invisible or it's just because they are so wrapped up in one another.
She looks away, her cheeks enflamed at the sight of the pair on the bed. And she sees another person. For a second, it seems as if the person on the floor is staring right at her until she realize that it's the corpse of a girl. And the girl's face is locked in rigor mortis and it only seems as if she is watching them.
"Do you like what you see?"
The man who is still holding her asks.
"But you chose to be here instead of the hallway."
"He was coming."
"Yes he was."
She wants to leave the room but the man holding her grips her chin and forces her to look at the pair on the bed before them. She shuts her eyes after a moment or two of watching the erotic site that does strange things to her tummy.
"Do you really think that you could come between that?"
"I don't know what you mean."
The words fall off of her lips in a whisper.
"Open your eyes you foolish little girl and see what you thought you'd stop from happening."
Her eyes open and she watches them. The woman moans as she cuts the man's chest and spills blood on her and the bed. The man on the bed laughs and leans down to lick some of it off of the woman. She doesn't like what she's seeing so she closes her eyes.
"As if you could come between them. A little mouse like yourself."
The words cause him to let her go and she falls to the ground. She almost screams as she comes face to face with another corpse. The room is apparently littered with them. And even though she knows that the pair on the bed are also dead since they are not living like she is, she knows that the woman is also dead. Dead like the corpses in this room. That there is nothing animating her body like it once did. The man who had come into the room howls in anguish.
He reaches for her again but she's crawling away from him, away from the couple on the bed, away from the corpses on the floor and towards the door, towards the hallway and maybe she'll be better able to face what's out there than what's in here.
She makes it out of the door and she can't help but vomiting when it slams shut. The stench of blood, rot, and decay still clog her nose.
"Already tired of Liam's pathetic memories? At least he didn't show you how he killed his family."
She looks up in confusion. The voice is the same as is the man but at the same time he's not.
The words tumble off her tongue as she tries to compose herself. The man makes no effort to help her to her feet. He just looks down at her like she belongs there, like she's nothing more than a piece of filth that he can barely be bothered with.
"Get up or don't."
The man tells her in a bored tone. He looks away from her and looks down the hall.
"You can wait for Liam to leave that room but I don't think he'll be a good guide for what comes next or even appreciative of you in general."
"Who are you?"
He looks down at her in disgust.
"If you can't figure that out, well that's your problem. I have a bargain to uphold so get up."
She struggles to her feet. Being sick has taken a lot out of her. He wrinkles in his nose in disgust before handing her a flask.
"It'll clear your mouth."
It's a foolish thing to trust a stranger but she still drinks a mouthful of liquid that burns it's way down. She wants to gag at the taste and at the burn Instead. she swallows it down and hands him back the flask.
"Come on them, there is much to show you and we're running out of time."
* * *
"She is trapped in a place that is in-between."
"What does that even mean?"
"Please let her finish speaking."
"She's just spewing a bunch of riddles."
"She is trapped in a place that is in-between."
"Yeah we got that."
"She was too young to cast the ritual, too connected to the recipient, she has bound her life to his and she is trying to bring him back."
"From where he was sent."
"She is in Hell?"
"Of course, and let me guess there's nothing you can do for her."
"Cordelia, please be quiet."
"No the girl is correct. I can't help either of them."
"Will she make it out?"
"It all depends on how strong she is."
* * *
Every room that she has been dragged into is a tableaux of death and sin. The pair enjoy bringing about ruin and destruction. They revel in it. And then there is a pretty dark haired mortal girl that the man enjoys breaking apart and the man at her side seems to enjoy taking her into room after room that is full of corruption. She can barely move down the hallway anymore. He drags her from door to door He forces her hand up to the door and something compels her to trace the rune each and every time.
"Do you like what you see little girl?"
Her voice is weak and tired. The only thing that seems to break up the monotony of the hall and the endless rooms are the voices that she faintly hears. They are arguing over something. And every so often she catches a snipped of what they are saying. She somehow thinks that they are arguing about her. Every now and then she can't hear anything but the steady beeping of something that is keeping track of something. She knows that she knows what it should be but she can't quite place it.
"Maybe I need to show you something else, something that will be sure to excite you."
She trembles at his words. The things that arouse him, that excite him just horrify her. They make her ill and they make her feel like she's losing grip of something. She starts to struggle in his arms. She feels like an insect caught in a spider's web. Somehow she manages to break free and she falls painfully to the ground on her knees. She forces herself to crawl away. She doesn't want to see what he wants to show her.
Somehow she manages to pull herself up form her hands and knees and she starts to run.
"Do you think you can escape me little mouse? I have so much to show you."
His malevolent laughter rings in her ears as she blindly runs away from him. She's not sure if she's running away from where she's been or towards it. She doesn't care anymore.
* * *
"What do you mean she's in a coma?"
"I would think Buffy that it would be obvious," Giles tiredly explains.
He had thought that finding the Slayer and bringing her home would be a reward but Willow is still gripped in a coma. The two witches he had brought from Europe at great expense had been unable to help. Other than sending her parents off on an academic trip in the belief that their daughter was perfectly safe and healthy. All they could determine was that something about the ritual had bound her to Angel. And Jenny's clan still refused to become involved in the affair.
"But why can't you wake her up?"
He sighs before taking a sip of ice cold tea. He wonders if it makes him a bad person for wishing that he hadn't finally found Buffy. It probably makes him a bad Watcher. It's Cordelia who finally answers.
"Get with the program Buffy," Cordelia angrily snaps. "It's a mystical coma. She has to wake up on her own."
"But you said something is holding her back," Buffy says.
"Yeah something is," Cordelia replies as she rolls her eyes. "That's why we can't wake her up."
"Then send me there and I will get her out."
"It's not that easy," Oz quietly says.
"Buffy we can't send you to where she is," Xander says.
"Even if we could," Giles tells her. "It's not something you can fight."
* * *
She's finally at the end of the hallway. There is a door in front of her. A door made of blackened wood with a tree and a rune on it. She knows that whatever awaits her in this room will be the end of things. She's afraid to trace the rune. She's afraid to end this. It feels like a pop quiz that a teacher has just announced. She feels ill-prepared for what awaits her in this room.
The footsteps are getting louder and she wonders how long she has been standing here in front of this door, powerless to raise her hand and to trace the rune. Powerless to gain entry through a simple course of action. She sighs and raises her hand. She shakes as she touches the door.
She realizes that she can't stop now. She can't pull her hand back from the door. She can only trace the rune and hope for the best.
* * *
"Willow is missing!"
Xander's cry breaks the silence of the library. Giles drops a book and everyone looks at him. He tries to catch his breath but he feels like he's going to be sick. He had run here from the hospital with the hot summer sun beating down on him. Oz is the one who guides him to a chair and Cordelia places a bottle of water into his hand. He drains the bottle quickly.
"What do you mean missing?" Buffy finally asks.
"When I went to visit her, she was gone, like she had just gotten up to go to the bathroom but when I asked the nurse, she told me that she was still in the coma. No one knows where she is. It's like she was there one minute and gone the next."
* * *
The room is a stone room with an altar on it. A familiar man lays upon the altar. She knows him from before this room, from before the never-ending hallway. She has seen his many faces - the abused boy that grew up into a selfish man, the monster and then the man who was just trying to find redemption.
She has a choice. She can leave him here and leave as there is a door behind the altar. Or she can try to wake him up and make him leave with her. She sighs. Part of her just wants to leave him here. Let him deal with his own demons but she can't. She owes it to ...
For a moment she thinks that she owes it to a pretty blonde girl but then she realizes that she owes it to herself. Whatever she had done before she came to this place may have been for someone else but now it's about her. She can't leave him here alone. It'd be like leaving a part of herself behind. An essential part that she needs. She sighs. Even not knowing things, she knows that this is bad.
She steps up the altar and the door behind her slams shut. She realizes now the previous version of this man who had guided her into room after room were just mirages. They were traps to make her want to leave without him. Something in the room makes a soft sigh and she shivers. They are not alone. The sooner she figures out how to wake him the better.
But she stands by the altar and doesn't know what to do. What name does she call out to wake him up? Shaking him and shouting wake up, wake up in his ear seems inappropriate. And the fragment of the memory of the blonde girl makes it seems even less appropriate to kiss him. Plus despite his beauty, she's no Prince Charming. She sigh in frustration. She knows that he needs to be awake. That he needs to be able to make the decision to come with her or to stay.
She places a hand over his hand and wishes the answer was spelled out for her. She shuts her eyes as she tries to think of the best way to solve this problem.
She opens her eyes at the sound of her name on his lips.
"Where are we?"
"I don't know."
She wants to tell him about how hard it was to get here but she doesn't think he'll understand especially when she can barely understand it al herself. Instead she helps him to sit up.
"Can you stand?"
"I think so,"
She tries not to rush him but something in this room is creeping her out and she just wants to get out. He stands and almost falls. She wraps an arm around his chest and he places more of his weight on her. They manage to make it to the door.
"Are you sure?"
She looks up at him. And she nods. She just wants to leave this room. He nods back at her. She raises her hand and touches the rune. She begins to touch it. And it hurts. It's burning with icy coldness and she can barely stay standing. He catches her and places his hand over her, conveying strength. It's barely enough but she manages to finish tracing the rune. Something screams and howls as the door swings open into blinding white light. She shuts her eyes and grips Angel tighter.
"Together," Willow whispers over the screaming.
And then she's falling with him, falling through the blinding white light and everything hurts.
* * *
When she opens her eyes, she's confused as to where she is. Everything hurts. She is cold and bruised. And then she hears groaning, she moves until she sees Angel lying on the floor across from her. She has done it. She has saved him. She reaches out to him and when her fingertips graze his skin, he quiets. She feels a connection to him that she has never felt to anyone before.
And she knows it was the curse. Somehow the curse has bound them together in a way that shouldn't be possible. She closes her eyes when a bunch of noise enters the room a moment or two later. The noise is painful and sharp but familiar.
She can figure out everything later.