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Something (Almost Like) Magic

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The BART is stalled at West Oakland. Willow shoots Dawn a quick text—running late, ugh—then stares out the window at the field of shipping containers that greets her every time she ventures to the Bay Area and away from San Francisco proper.

Dawn was planning on meeting Willow at her place and showing her one of the strange little restaurants she’s made a point of discovering since the move, but then she remembered her Latin assignment, and fun hangout plans became “chill in the Berkeley library with me if you want” plans. Willow’s a little ashamed to admit it, but she’s kind of glad the evening has taken a turn for the geeky. Turns out her web development skills are a little rustier than she made them seem while interviewing for the travel start-up that just hired her. An hour or two spent updating the landing page she was supposed to finish this afternoon is exactly what she needs right now.

The train begins crawling along the tracks once more, and Willow studies the system map affixed to the wall behind her. Five stops to go.

“Oh my god, Willow? Willow Rosenberg?”

Willow turns to see a vaguely familiar looking woman—tall, blonde, with a California tan and a broad smile. Willow tries to remember where she might have seen her before—is she one of her new coworkers? Is she one of the people her parents introduced her to at synagogue when she visited them last week? Is she a witch? (Or should that be, was she a witch? Is anyone a witch anymore? Is Willow?)

The woman’s smile falters slightly. “Alison? Alison Hutchison? We both went to Sunnydale High? We had like four classes together in senior year!”

“Right! Uh, hi. How’s it going?” Willow’s trying to remember the woman in front of her, but honestly, it’s been years. She wonders if Alison was popular. Not that it should matter now, but somehow, when she sees someone from high school, it always feels like it matters immensely.

“Pretty good! Hey—do you ever think about how weird our high school was? Like, most schools don’t get attacked by giant snakes and shit, y’know? And wasn’t there that time when the principal thought you were a witch or something? Like, what was that about? Was it some neo-pagan thing?”

“Something like that?” Willow hates these conversations. She’s mostly avoided them for the last few years, either by surrounding herself with magically-aware people, or with people who don’t know her past. Talking with old classmates about magic—magic that meant the world to her, magic the world no longer contains—is really not one of Willow’s favourite activities.

“So weird, though, right?” Alison continues. The train pulls into 12th Street station. “OK, so, do you have a boyfriend?’

“I’m seeing someone, yeah,” Willow ventures. “But…not a boy someone.”

“Oh. Oh! San Francisco is such a great place for you, then! You know, I went to Pride last year? It was so fun!” Alison pauses, and Willow wills her not to say what it looks like she’s thinking. “Hey, this is maybe a little awkward…” Alison begins, and Willow desperately wants to melt into the floor. “But did you ever have, like, a crush on me?”

Four more stops to go.

“It’s not that I’m worried you’d go dark again or anything, it’s just—how are you dealing? Buffy said you weren’t doing so well.”

Dawn offers her bag of peanut M&M’s to Willow, but not before she drops several into her bottle of cherry Coke. Willow grimaces. She and Dawn are the only two people in the group study area of the Moffitt library this late on a Tuesday night. It brings back UC Sunnydale memories.

“Aw, Dawnie, I didn’t come here for a therapy sesh.” This isn’t something Dawn can make better, Willow doesn’t say. A part of her is gone, and no, she’s not going all scary-veiny, but her footsteps feel aimless in a way there’s no easy solution for. Willow points to Dawn’s Latin textbook, laid open on the desk in front of them beside Willow’s computer. “Tell me about what you’re doing here.”

“It’s just a translation,” explains Dawn. “It’s a poem, so the word order is even more messed up than usual. It’s like a puzzle. Sooo much easier than ancient Sumerian, though. Which, sadly, wasn’t being offered this semester. Latin’s fun, but it’s not actually a super common language for prophesies. And there’s so much to figure out right now about which prophesies have been altered or maybe even annulled now that magic’s gone, so I was hoping—ugh, sorry. No more magic talk.” Dawn holds out the M&M’s again as a peace offering. Willow takes two because it seems rude not to.

“That sounds kind of like what I’m doing,” says Willow, glad for permission to guide the conversation in a non-End of Magic direction. “I mean, ish. I’ve just got this backend code for the hotel search link on our landing page, and it’s full of functions with really generic names getting called 200 lines after they were declared, with no comments, so I’m having to do all this backtracking, and the mystery-solving part is a little bit fun, but it’s taking way longer than I expected.” Willow shrugs. “Sorry, nerd talk.”

“And what do you call what I was just saying? Look at us, spending our Tuesday night deciphering ancient and modern languages. We’re definitely the coolest geek squad around.”

“I’d drink to that,” says Willow raising an imaginary glass.

“Then you’re in luck,” says Dawn, pulling out a thermos. “Wine,” she explains, and although Willow never brought alcohol to a library during her own university years, she feels a pang of nostalgia, more happy than bittersweet for once. She takes a tentative sip of cheap red. Maybe she can do this—just live this life, be this person. Write code, drink wine, never fight another giant snake demon. Be all the other Willows she can be.

The next day, Willow shows the landing page to her supervisor at their ten o’clock meeting. He pats her on the back, hard, and says, “It’s magic, the way you cleaned up this code. Pure magic. I know there was a reason we hired you.”

Willow feels electric anger, black-eyed despair, but she breathes, and swallows, and thanks him. Back at her desk, she types out a text to Dawn: do all these people really not realize that something’s missing? This huge part of our lives is gone, and they just—Willow stares out the window of her office. Outside, people wait for streetcars, a long line of bodies blurred by San Francisco mist.

Willow deletes the text, then writes, want to hang out tonight for real? I still need to try that taco place.