Being a groupie wasn't always all it was cracked up to be. Not that she was really sure who did the cracking, or that anyone had ever said to her, "Be a groupie! It's fun!" Nope, she'd pretty much plunged into this one headfirst, and, typically, she was in over her head and the water was freezing.
She never thought about things like this last year. Last year, when she was younger and wiser, she never thought about appearances or what people would think. Last year, she didn't care about the crude things Devon said, because she was with Oz, and Oz was sparkly and new and loved her, loved her, loved her. Nothing else had seemed to matter.
"Hey," he said. "You still here?" He didn't sound mean about it, or even irritated, but only like he wouldn't mind if she left. It was so hard to tell what Oz meant by anything, and this was the first time she had ever thought something like that, but it was true. She didn't understand Oz. It was disloyal; you weren't supposed to think that sort of thing about your boyfriend. She was in love with him, so she should have been able to get him, only she didn't. Before, she never thought like this. But that was before. Before Xander. Things were different back then. Maybe Oz wasn't as quiet, or maybe she wasn't as distracted, but things were different.
"Look," Oz said, and he held out a hand to her. His fingernails were black with three tiny blue dots on each one. He'd been painting them for ten minutes. Willow didn't even spend that much time painting her fingernails, not unless she was hanging out with Buffy. But that was another thing, lately -- lately Buffy would rather hang with Faith than with her. She got it, of course -- some people were Slayers and some people were like her, just along for the ride.
Oz waved his fingernails, drying the paint. Belatedly, she said, "They look nice." Then, because she felt guilty about not paying attention to him, she added, "Very cool. Like something from the movies, or something. You did a super job with the dots, too. They're very... dotty." She was reaching and she knew it.
Oz gave her a funny look. "You okay?"
She nodded. "Just, I don't know, maybe I'm tired. And I have a ton of stuff to do, and there's an English test the day after tomorrow and I haven't even started rereading The Screwtape Letters yet, and..."
"Go ahead," he said, and the continual flapping of his hand gestured her away from the garage. She hadn't meant to sound like she wanted to go, but now that she had an excuse, she would've felt silly not leaving. She waved to Devon, who was picking at his fingernails with a guitar pick, and gave Oz a kiss on the forehead. His skin was soft on her lips, and she pressed harder, trying to get a reaction, but he didn't look up from the liner notes from the CD he got from the group that played at the Bronze two nights before, Cannibal Princess. He had been muttering, "thistle, whistle, his/her, miser," all evening.
It was a cold night, and of course she hadn't thought to bring a jacket, even though she had spent plenty of evenings outside this month, mostly trying to tag along with Buffy and Faith, so she knew what the weather had been like. It had been stupid to think that it would get warmer just for her. It wasn't like she could control the weather or anything. Heck, she couldn't even control Buffy, and Buffy was only a person.
Her thoughts weren't her own tonight. They were running away, all sorts of exotic places, places where she wanted to control Buffy and where Oz was boring. Her toe hit a stone, and she turned the stumble into a kick. The stone skibbled down the street in front of her, and she pretended that she meant for that to happen.
The moon, she noted automatically, was a week away from being full. There were no stars out yet, and the twilight was deep navy blue, and... it would be full dark soon, and she was out alone without even a stake. Stupid. Maybe nothing would happen. Maybe this would be the one night all year when the vampires decided to sleep in. Maybe she had enough witchy magic to keep all the monsters at bay.
"I thought they were keeping your kind inside at this hour. Wouldn't want anything to happen."
She spun around. The man from the costume shop -- Giles's friend who wasn't his friend anymore -- Ethan.
"You were going to let all those babies die!" she said accusingly.
He smirked. "Possibly. I'm sure they would have had a good fighting chance, though. Only they were too small to hold stakes. I notice that you're out without wooden protection tonight."
"I have other kinds of protection!" she said, and immediately blushed. Ethan continued to smirk.
"Well, what will it be? Shall we have a magical duel? Or would you like to take me to Ripper's apartment? I could be your -- escort."
"What do you want with Giles?"
Ethan looked up at the moon, and Willow followed his line of vision. There was nothing weird about it though. Still the same old moon. "Oh, the usual. A diversion, a delusion, a bit of a laugh. Being a chaos mage is really remarkably tedious."
"You've never been a high school student, have you?"
His voice went up like he was surprised. "Is your life that tedious, Miss Rosenberg?"
Willow started at hearing her name. She hadn't been all that memorable an opponent the last time they'd met. Ethan talked like he had an impossibly large store of knowledge tucked just beneath the surface of his speech. At any moment, it might all come tumbling out, the way it did with Giles when he was explaining something. Or the way it happened with her. Babble.
Ethan was still looking at her, waiting for an answer.
"Oh, it's not so bad," she said, looking down, shuffling her feet. "I mean, just yesterday, Giles had me stay after school at the library and we did research on frog mutations in the local population, and we figured out that there was pretty definitely a cross-mating between homegrown frogs and Mantidactylus depressiceps, possibly with mystical interventions, and there are still traces of serum that allow for tiny variations in the potion we were trying to --"
She stopped when she realized that Ethan was laughing silently.
"It's not funny! Of course we were dissecting dead frogs, but I had to go out to the creek and catch them live." She shuddered. "And I don't like frogs."
"It's almost too easy," Ethan said, "but we should do this thing properly, I suppose. Would you come back to my hotel room, Willow Rosenberg? I have such a lovely sweet for you. Don't all little girls love treacle?"
She frowned. "I'm eighteen. You can't treat me like a child."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
"Will you promise not to do anything mean to me?"
"My word as a Watcher's companion."
"When you were Giles's companion, you drove him over the edge into the dark side and he performed dark rituals summoning a demon that should never have left its primordial dimension!"
"So you'll trust me then?"
She shouldn't. She should go home immediately, since it was fully dark now, and then call Giles right away to tell him Ethan was in town, and then read Lewis until it was bedtime. Or run back to Devon's garage and curl up in the red beanbag chair, go back to picking foam beans out of it and making little patterns on the garage floor. Anything except go with Ethan.
"Oh, all right. But I'll be watching you."
"I wouldn't dream of making you close your eyes."
She wasn't sure what she'd expected. Maybe chains all over the walls, or secret potions bubbling behind a Japanese curtain. There wasn't anything exotic about the room Ethan had rented. It was plain and kind of bland, with stripy wallpaper and a tired-looking bed. There were a few books scattered on the dresser, and Willow made a beeline for them, opening a leather volume eagerly. There might be spells here that she could do.
"Mind the books," Ethan said. In the mirror above the dresser, Willow saw him unbuttoning his coat. "They bite."
"Ow!" Willow dropped the book quickly. "You could have told me that before it got me."
Ethan shrugged out of his coat and vanished momentarily, presumably to deposit it in the closet. When he returned, Willow gave him an accusing glare.
"You aren't hurt," he says. "And it was funny."
"Maybe for you."
"In any event, we didn't come here to fight." His voice got lower, and Willow saw his cheekbones clearly illuminated by the stupid plastic hotel lamp. She tried to remember why she did come here, but she wasn't really sure anymore. Something about boredom and the unsafe streets of Sunnydale. Her mouth felt very dry.
"Would you like to do some magic? I can do lots of spells, now. Practically a dozen. I mean, that's probably not a lot, for a sorcerer like you, but it took me practically all year to learn them."
Ethan's lips curled upwards, amused, tolerant. "There are certainly spells we could try. Or perhaps you'd rather sample a potion?"
Willow felt like taking candy from strangers, like crossing the street with her eyes closed, like dancing on the very edge of the cliff. She understood everything Ethan was saying, although he was speaking in a strange language, all silky seduction and half-hints and dark things. She tried to answer in the same language.
"That potion thing could be interesting."
Ethan just laughed without moving his mouth. It was strange, watching his chest move and somehow knowing that it was in amusement. A good kind of strange, she decided. He walked over to his open suitcase and found a small blue vial, which he tossed to her with the words, "Here. Drink me."
She frowned, but uncorked the tiny bottle and took a little sip. Nothing wrong so far, though a hint of burning up and down her throat.
"That should relax us a bit," said Ethan, taking the bottle from her and downing the rest. "Although perhaps this is the time to ask if you've ever been drunk before."
"I'm too young to drink," Willow reminded him. Then, thoughtfully, "Though I have wine at Passover. It tastes kinda skanky."
"Ma'am, I don't think you're in a position to be calling anything 'skanky'." He took the sleeve of her shirt and rubbed it between his fingers. "Unless you're misinterpreting my intentions. I admit, it has happened to me before."
"No, I understand," she said, and to prove it was true, she leaned against Ethan. His shirt was red and as silky as his voice. She wanted to rub against it forever, just letting the lovely soft floatiness of it keep her cool and comfortable and protected. But she angled her head upwards, tilting it to ninety degrees and then past ninety, an obscenely obtuse angle, and he bent his head down so quickly it would have been a jerky movement in anyone else, but he did it as subtly and craftily as he did everything else, swift and sudden, and the kiss was a surprise.
A good surprise, and very different from Oz, whose kisses were so respectful and so soft that she had to close her eyes and turn off all her senses just to notice that he was there. And different from Xander, who always gave her squirmy, twisty jiggles in the pit of her stomach when he kissed her. Ethan kissed her hard, and he didn't wait for her to open her mouth before edging his tongue out of his mouth and running it against her lips, slick and soft. She opened her mouth and let out a moan without meaning to. It felt so good to be pressed against silk shirt and hard lips, to move her hands up Ethan's back and to touch his neck, to rub circles on his shoulder blades and to touch the spiky beginnings of a beard. He pulled away first and looked at her, hand on her cheek, eyes a bit wild.
"Do -- do you want to make love to me?" Willow reached to unbutton her jeans.
"Oh yes," Ethan said. "But we've only just begun, you see."
When his thumb traced runes on her neck, just so, moving so subtly, the way you had to when doing a spell, so you would get the patterns exactly right, Willow could feel strange, slick dampness between her legs. She wanted to move around, to rub against something, to make the itchy want go away.
"What else is there we could do?" she asked, puzzled. "I mean, there's kissing, and there's, well, making love, and there's... well, there's other stuff, but I'm not reall--"
Ethan kissed her again, taking her open mouth as an opportunity and diving down, plunging his tongue into her without hesitation. She gasped around it and pushed her own tongue against his, her ache growing stronger. There was a spell inside her that was longing to be released into the atmosphere. Magic, though, was never this exciting.
"Now," said Ethan, "perhaps you've got a fantasy you'd like indulged. Would you like me to be someone else, perhaps?" Willow touched his chin again, trying to memorize all its angles. She felt the burn of his potion, and the curl of his lips against her mouth, and even though she sort of wanted him to be Xander and she sort of wanted him to be Oz and she even wanted him to be Buffy, she thought, deep down, that he was too old and rough and sneaky to pretend. He'd get the voices wrong, and then the fantasy would break.
"You could be Giles, I suppose," she said, and then put her hand over her mouth, because the look on Ethan's face wasn't playful anymore. His mouth narrowed into a stiff line.
"There is no glamour in the world powerful enough, my pet," he said, and she knew enough about adults to know it wasn't an issue she wanted to press. "Still," he said, brightening, "there are plenty of games. Did you like to play pretend when you were a girl?"
She nodded, though mostly she hadn't. Xander had been the one who'd given all their Barbie dolls names and told stories about their adventures. She'd wanted to sit quietly and read, or have Xander tell her things, or explain things to him.
"Who would you like to be? A princess, perhaps? Ravished by a dark knight?"
"I want to be a witch," she said. "And fight evil."
Ethan's face was dangerous. "You do realize that most likely includes me, do you not?"
"Oh." That was true. And then she decided that she might as well be outrageous if she was going to sleep with Ethan. "I want to be... I want to be a powerful witch, really powerful, and dangerous. And then you could come to visit me and ask for a spell, to... to give you your heart's desire. And then when I gave it to you, your heart's desire would be me. Could we pretend that?"
Ethan laughed, for real this time, and his honest laughter was the loveliest thing. It tickled and teased her and made her want to make him laugh more.
"You've got quite the imagination," he said. "We could pretend that -- if you'll let me do it however I please."
"Right then." While she sat down on the bed and imagined very, very hard that she was powerful and dangerous and famous, Ethan walked into the closet. When he walked out, he looked different -- smaller, somehow, and less dangerous. He got down on one knee in front of her.
"Oh, Willow, m'lady, I've come a very long way. You must hear my supplication."
"Maybe I will and maybe I won't."
"Oh, I beseech you," Ethan whined. "You have it in your power to grant me my wildest dreams. Won't you grant me just a scrap?"
Willow smiled slowly. "I'll start by eating your babies."
"Haven't got any babies -- at least, I hope not."
"I'll make you have babies -- and then I'll grind them up and feed them to you," she said, her stomach churning.
"Oh, well, in that case - please, have mercy!"
"Mercy? You expect mercy from me? Not so fast, mister. First let's see some groveling."
"Groveling. Right. Oh, Willow, please -"
"Call me mistress," Willow said. She remembered her vampire self sliding a hand onto her thigh. "Or maybe your majesty."
"Whatever your majesty desires," Ethan said with a grin, and Willow's head grew heavy. She reached up and felt the sharp points of a crown with the palm of her hand.
"Fetch me something to play with."
"I am something to play with," Ethan whispered, and he crawled over to her, rested his head in her lap. It felt comfortable, powerful -- she gathered the energy she'd need to cast a spell on him.
"Careful," he murmured lazily. "Don't want to cut off my head, do you?"
"Maybe not today."
"What would you like?"
"I'd like to stop playing this game," Willow decided, pushing Ethan away.
"What?" His voice was dangerous again.
"Stop," she said.
Ethan looked up from her lap. "Done with the game, then?"
"I'm bored of it," she said. "I mean... you're funny and all, but aren't we supposed to be, you know, doing... dangerous stuff? Stuff that Giles wouldn't approve of?"
"That is the general idea. You think Ripper would be down on his knees for you?"
Willow closed her eyes and tried to imagine that, and bam, just like that, squirmy, uncomfortable itchiness was back. "Can you -- can you tell me more about Giles?"
"I'd really rather prefer to talk about you," he said. "Or me, even. Anything but the old set."
"I'll do anything you want," she whispered. "Just, please, tell me what it feels like to kiss him." She didn't know until she was saying it, but everything clicked into place then. "Tell me what he said when he was in love with you."
Ethan had gotten up and was sitting beside her on the bed. He took her hand, but he was serious this time. He gently removed the crown from her head and pressed a little gold coin into it and said, "Breathe." She breathed on it, and suddenly the world went pale, and Ethan bobbed in and out of her field of vision. She figured out how to focus her eyes, and suddenly Ethan was there, sharp against the pale fuzzy hotel room, leaning into her.
"We were very young," he said, soft, smooth, and he kissed her once. "He'll tell you we were stupid. Stupid little prats trying to be something we weren't. I'll tell you it was when we were wisest. No obligations and no commitments, nothing but each other and the magic and the drugs." He kissed her again. She tried to focus on everything, his kisses and his eyes, which were dancing with strange colors, and his words, which contained so much more than they were supposed to, whispery and powerful and cutting. It was too much, though, and eventually she started to fade into his stories, catching a word here or there, about London streets and stained sheets and rainy days when they did nothing but paint on each other's skin and periodically try spells to get the sunlight back.
She felt the memories flowing into her, black and inky, and she was very white and pale. The words twisted around her skin, black, so very black, curlicues and Ethan's smirk, like he could engrave it on her skin if he talked quickly enough. She couldn't close her eyes. A shiver went through her body, and then another, and then she was shaking hard, and climbed into Ethan's lap and kissed him, because he had loved Giles once, and because Giles didn't love him anymore.
"Or you could just let go of the coin," he said, loosening her fingers. At once the world returned to normal, green and gold and subdued.
"Oh," she whispered, then "oh." Ethan touched her hair, and said a few words in Latin, and her hair was on fire. She could smell it, smoky and smoldering. He breathed onto it, and ran his hands through it, not flinching though she knew it was terribly hot. He took a piece of fire between his thumb and finger and gave it to her to eat. She swallowed without thinking. Her throat burned horribly, but when it was inside her, she could feel only a delightful ache, like something had ripped through her and taken away everything except the fire, fire and her desire.
"Would you like more?"
There was more, so much more, fingers in her hair and on her shoulders, Ethan plucking words and whispers and desires from her heart and making them tangible, tangles of hair and magic and twisty spider webs of hot and cold. She didn't understand how he could do so much, so many spells, and not get tired, but he didn't give any signs of slowing down. Then, when she thought she couldn't take anymore, he plunged them both into a rainbow world, and, as a psychedelic molecule of dust landed on her nose, he finally started to undress. By this point, she'd thought she wouldn't be shy anymore, but somehow, despite the rainbows and the magic and all the heat and power that had been building up inside her, she was still scared.
"I... yes," she said, and she took her shirt off, quickly, to get it over with.
Ethan smiled, and unhooked her bra, and then said, "There now. Would you like me to go first?"
"What do you--?"
He put a finger on the place where her breast stopped being breast and started being just skin, then oh so slowly, and looping back every so often to begin again, he worked his finger closer to the center. She was definitely breathing heavy now, and it felt so good, and he didn't touch her too much or too hard, but she could feel him with every inch of her skin. She squirmed under his touches.
When he finally got to the button of her jeans, she wanted them off, but he undid the button and then kissed her, tongue flicking in and out of her mouth, then digging a little deeper, then flickery again. He undid her zipper halfway, then kissed her again, then all the way, then another kiss, then the world, still a little stripy from the rainbow effect, tilted on its edge, and he had her jeans all the way off.
He ran his tongue up and down the inside of her thighs, and she could feel sticky saliva wetness on her legs and between her legs was more wetness; she was so wet and she wanted so badly for Ethan to be there too, to be everywhere, for his tongue and fingers and --
He took off his own pants quickly, no teasing, no kisses, and she stared, fascinated, and wanted to touch him, but she was shy all of a sudden, wanting and not wanting him, wanting to grab all her clothes and run down the hall, away from him. But she was ready. If he plunged into her right now, without even trying to... without even touching her... she would have an orgasm. She thought about her own fingers between her legs, sometimes, last summer, before Xander had actually kissed her and banished her fantasies forever. She squirmed again, and wanted so badly.
Ethan kissed her. He kissed her everywhere, starting with the underside of her left foot and ending with her mouth, and his tongue was just as strong as ever, and while he kissed her, he finally looped his fingers under her panties and pulled them down, so slowly, and then, hands underneath her, he lifted her up and then slid her around him, so carefully, she felt it, but in a detached, dismal way. She was losing her virginity, she realized, and then it started to rain, right there, the way it had been raining the first time that Ethan kissed -- Ripper. The first time they'd kissed, it had been raining outside and they'd left the window in their flat open and let the rain come in, and they were soaking wet and drenched and didn't care, and she didn't care either, how full she was, how deep the ache was. She only cared that it was Ethan, and that there was magic swelling all around them, and she was catching rain in her hands, then wrapping them around Ethan's back. His fingers lifted her, and his penis filled her, and his tongue took her to a whole new level of wanting, and then he started to thrust.
She had not, ever, in her entire life, felt so complete and yet so terribly, terribly empty. More, more, more, please Ethan, more. She quivered and squirmed and begged with her body and thrust hard and he touched her deep and then shallow, and then rolled them over so she was on top of him, then he was on his side, and they were everywhere; she thought they might even be floating. The rain had turned to snow, but she wasn't cold at all, but deliciously, delightfully warm. Her blood had rushed away from her head and was dwelling everywhere else, achingly good warmth, wonderful like the sun after a long winter.
"Ethan," she murmured, in between kisses, and then "Ethan!" and then a rapturous "EthanEthanEthanEthan..." as she realized that his fingers there and his penis there were together the key to making her feel like that, and then he muttered something low.
He growled when he climaxed, deep down in his throat, and she knew it was real, not a game he was playing, because she could feel his whole body vibrating against hers, and it was good, low and rumbling and wild, and felt like making him laugh, but better, deeper, truer.
They fell asleep because they were exhausted, not because it was nighttime, and Willow thought dreamily, before reaching true slumber, that she wouldn't have to go to school in the morning. Like a snow day. Life with Ethan would be an endless succession of snow days, never Christmas break, never legitimate vacations. They would make their own days off, and it would be always winter and never Christmas... that should have reminded her of something...
When she woke up, she felt more truly rested than she had in ages, and she rolled over to find Ethan to thank him, to kiss him, but there was nothing but an empty bed. Her heart sank into her stomach as she scrambled around to find her clothes -- there they were, tossed onto the floor exactly like they had been last night when she'd been so desperate to get out of them. She didn't know what she was hoping for, but she scoured the room, looking for a relic of Ethan's. She finally went into the wardrobe, and there, in the furthest corner, she found a note, carefully sealed, labeled, "For your Mister Giles."
Since she'd first read the principal's email four years ago, Willow had had no qualms about other people's mail, so she tried to pry the letter open, but she realized that the wax holding it closed was impressed with Ethan's own emblem: it was magically sealed and only Giles would be able to open it. She frowned deeply. The beginnings of a headache where her tiara had rested twelve hours ago were getting worse.
She kept the note pathetically unread in her pocket for three weeks. She ran her finger over the seal when, two days after Ethan, Oz greeted her with a kiss on the forehead. "We painted them green," and he showed her his nails.
She traced the grain of the paper when, a week and a day after Ethan, Xander jumped up on a chair in the cafeteria and started announcing their lunchtime. "Summers is going for the carrot stick... she chews... she swallows! It's another victory for the veggie family!"
She rolled the note into a ball -- it would always unroll itself -- when, two weeks and four days after Ethan, Giles cleaned his glasses and asked Willow if she would mind staying after school to continue their amphibian project.
When she finally gave it to Giles, shrugging her shoulders and shuffling her feet, he took his glasses off, cleaned them, looked hard at her, and then carefully broke the seal with his fingernail. He read the note, frowned, then read it again. Willow wanted to run, but more than that, she wanted to know what it said, what he had said. She wanted to know why Ethan had left, whether he would come back for her.
When Giles finally peered over the edge of his glasses to look at her, she lost the tiny ball of hope she'd been hanging onto. Anger, shame, perhaps a shred of guilt played over Giles's face. Then he smiled at her, and the smile hurt more than his disappointed frown had. She waited, and he spoke first, refusing to look her in the eye.
"So now you know."