By Annie Sewell-Jennings
Chapter Seven: The Past
“And I can’t waste a single second
Living in hell like it’s some kind of heaven
And if one truth leads you to five
I still can’t believe in your reasons why”
--Beth Orton, “Feel to Believe”
Shh, Willow’s crying.
Upstairs, where it’s quiet, where no one will find her or bother her, she sits among the teddy bears and lace pillows, the scattered CDs strewn thoughtlessly across the dressing table, the dirty laundry on the floor. Treasures and trash from a teenaged girl. The day is silent outside, the sunlight freely flowing in through the broken window, glass shimmering like diamonds on the carpeting. It is here that Willow sits on the unmade bed, her face in her hands, weeping.
She shouldn’t be wasting her time like this. There are only precious moments left in the day before the storm will begin, the firestorm that was foretold, slamming across the world with its flames and rage. The snows will start soon, and yet when she looks outside the window at the sultry, sleepy August day, she cannot imagine what California will look like under six feet of ice. She should do better things before the world collapses. Paint a picture. Write a poem. Say a prayer. Hug her parents.
But everyone is dead, and Willow cannot bear the pain right now.
Blood is smeared carelessly and artlessly across her clothing, seeping into the knit threads of her sweater and forever staining it rust. She doesn’t know whose blood specifically it is. Could it be Xander’s blood, grabbing onto her arm desperately as his guts spilled from his stomach? Maybe it was Anya’s blood; she had been hugging Willow in grief when the dagger slid easily between her shoulders. It could not be Tara’s, for she had not bled when she was swept away by the sorcerer’s conjured fire, drowning in the flames, surrounded by smoke and screaming as skin peeled off of her bones.
But Dawn had bled so much…
Moaning, Willow tears the bloodied sweater off of her body, not caring that she stood only in a plain white bra in the middle of the girl’s room. She couldn’t wear all of their death, all of the guilt for surviving. She envies them their death, because she is terrified of what will happen now. At least they did not have to mourn.
Below, she hears a scream and knows instinctually that it is Buffy. She has been hysterical for an hour now, while a limping and wounded vampire tries to hold her in his arms and silence her pain. She is covered in blood, drenched in it, and Willow somehow knows that it all belongs to her sister. Terrible jabs of memory stab behind her eyes, and she sees the awful, carmine image of Buffy standing on top of the hotel, wind whipping her hair around her face, holding her sister’s pale, limp body in her arms.
What sense does any of this make? Why did they have to love Dawn? She was only created to die, if not at the hands of a goddess, then at the hands of a demonic wizard intent on creating hell on earth. The blood had flowed freely this time from a thousand tiny, shallow cuts slicing across her freckled skin, and there was nothing that any of them could do to stop it. Spike had tried, tried so hard to make it all end, but he loved her too much and it weakened him. The hell storm that the wizard had conjured had torn them apart, and she had just watched everyone she ever loved fall. Xander, Anya, Tara, Dawn…
What sense does it make to love at all?
Willow thinks that Buffy might have been driven insane. After her sister died, she has done nothing but wail, crying out garbled sentences that make no sense to either her or Spike. He has tried so hard today that Willow finally respects him in spite of everything that she knows. All that she needs to know now is that he loves Dawn and Buffy, and would lay down his life for them. It’s enough to trust him with his broken savior while she sobs uncontrollably for Dawn.
Sticky with sweat and blood, Willow wanders over to the shattered window and looks down at the quiet, unknowing town below. Dawn had dreamed about this, spoke about ice storms in Los Angeles and tsunamis in Manhattan. She said that there would be a sorcerer intent on destroying the world, and said that she thought that she was what he needed in order to do it. It was terrible that she was right all along.
Sunlight streams down openly and warmly from the sky, bouncing off of lush green leaves clinging to branches and shining across the neighbor’s lovely apple tree. She hears the sound of a lawn sprinkler spraying water onto grass and the distant, beautiful noise of children laughing. It’s the most wonderful sound, the uninhibited joy, the innocence, the clean conscience and eternal youth of being six years old and laughing. Willow aches to be that young again.
The door opens behind her and she whips around, startled. Buffy stands in the doorway with hollow, broken eyes, coated in thick layers of her sister’s drying blood. The pain snatches Willow up in its claws and makes her start crying again, at the way that Buffy looks. It is like a chunk of her has been taken away. “Willow,” she says in a shaking little voice.
In an instant, Willow disregards all of the blood that has soaked into her best friend’s skin and embraces her tightly, the two women holding onto each other for dear life. “Oh, God, Willow,” Buffy wails. “It’s all my fault. I killed her, I finally killed her. I can’t believe this happened. I can’t…”
Flinching in pain, Willow clings tightly to Buffy. “It’s not your fault,” she whispers. “We all should have done something, anything. We’ve beaten so many of them that we should have been able to save her. Buffy, I promise that it’s not your fault.”
“But it is,” Buffy’s voice says softly, dully. “Something happened to me, Willow. When I came back… I think that I came back wrong. The sunlight hurts when I get too close to it. I dream about killing things in my sleep. And the fire…” She swallows hard and looks at her best friend. “I caused the fire, Will. I’m so sorry.”
A ghost of a scream passes through Willow’s memory as she remembers her former lover, her beautiful Tara, raising up her hand as her blonde hair was set aflame. Willow doesn’t understand, and she pulls back long enough to see Buffy’s face. It’s dull, her eyes averted from the light pouring in through the broken frame, and her mouth is trembling, a little weak. “What are you saying, Buffy?” she asks, and the girl shakes her head, looking out the window at the sunlight that she claims pains her so.
“When the sorcerer touched me, he said that he had tainted me from the beginning,” she murmurs. “I’m not human. And then I wanted the entire world on fire, and I reached out with my hands and touched my sister, who was clinging to me because I was supposed to protect her. But all I did was kill her, Will. I caused those cuts. I made her bleed. And I drank her blood and it made me feel powerful and strong, until I realized…”
It is terrible, everything that has happened to her, everything that she has become, and Buffy knows it. She sinks to her knees and covers her face with her hands until the pure sunlight starts to turn her skin red. To Willow’s horror, the Slayer’s skin begins to blister and peel before her eyes, and she quickly runs to the window and shuts the blinds, the linen draperies billowing underneath the slow breath of the summer breeze.
“I can’t go on like this, Willow,” Buffy says, her eyes wide and terrified. “What good am I to the world now? A Slayer that wants to kill? A hero who lost the entire world? Oh, God, I killed my own sister and I remember it so vividly. I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t.”
Willow is terrified of what Buffy will say in that hoarse, hushed voice, ragged and roughened from crying and screaming. “I asked Spike to kill me,” she confesses, “but he won’t do it. He loves me too much to do it, just like I always knew.” Her voice darkens and strengthens, and she grabs Willow’s sweater. “You do it.”
Mortified, Willow shakes her head in a panic, pushing Buffy’s grabbing hands away from her. “No,” she whispers. “I can’t do that, Buffy. I won’t.”
Spite and rage rush across the woman’s face and she sneers hopelessly at Willow. “You had the courage to bring me back, didn’t you?” she snaps. “Had the fucking balls to make me suffer again. Do it for me, Willow. Just do it for my sake.”
There is a scream, and then Buffy’s shoulders start to shake. Even though she has her face concealed in her pink hands, Willow knows that the woman is crying again. It’s all too much, all of these tears spilling on a dead girl’s carpeting and dirty blue jeans, the sprinklers spraying water onto moist blades of grass, the mirth of unaware children playing happily in the streets. All of this will be gone soon, and they will be forced to suffer continuously until they blessedly die. Maybe she should murder Buffy. Maybe it is merciful to do such a thing. But Willow can’t ever kill. It’s just not in her to do it.
Slowly, the cries cease, and Buffy’s eyes crawl upwards to look at Willow’s face. “There is something you can do,” she murmurs. “You can make me forget.”
Shocked, Willow steps back. “What?” she stammers, and Buffy grabs Willow’s hands, clutching them inside of her own hot palms. Very hot, like they’ve been electrified somehow. What is this thing now?
“You can make me forget what I’ve done,” Buffy says. “I know you know the magic, Will. Take all of this away. I won’t be dead, but I can’t live with all of this anymore.” Her voice rises and the lights flicker again, the ceiling fan spinning madly above them. “Everything I’ve seen, all of the people I’ve lost, my mother on the sofa, my sister sliced to pieces, all of my friends slaughtered… And I still remember what it’s like to be without pain. Without worry.” Her voice wails. “I can’t go back, but I can’t stay here.”
A low, keening wail sounds from Willow’s chest and she clutches her hair in her hands, wanting to tear it out from the roots with the maddening force of her situation and anguish. “I can’t, Buffy, I can’t do that,” she cries. “It’s wrong. I don’t do that anymore, and I can’t ever do that again… You have to try, have to cope…”
But what’s the point? Everything is futile, everything is hopeless. They have mere hours before the thunder will start and the town begins to freeze. No more sprinklers, no more children, no more summer grass. The vision of Xander’s face as the demon’s talon sliced down his stomach, eviscerating him before her eyes, sweeps through her mind. She doesn’t ever want to remember that, either.
“Oh, God,” Willow moans, swaying on her feet while Buffy pleadingly clutches at her sweater, begging her with her constant flood of words.
“Please, please, please,” she chants, her voice broken and shameless. All of the woman’s great dignity has been shattered, stripped away like the transparent shell of an onion until there is nothing left. “I can’t go on anymore, Willow, and I don’t know what I am anymore. I need someone to kill me, someone to erase me. I can’t, I can’t fight anymore. I don’t want to. I give up. I surrender. Just please, take this away. Willow, Willow, please, you brought me back. Send me away again. I never wanted this. Please…”
It’s that last masked accusation, that terrible reminder that makes Willow stop. She is responsible for her best friend’s suffering. She remembers that she was the one who slid the dagger into the young fawn’s flesh and stole its blood. How long has Buffy resented her for forcing breath into her lungs and a pulse into her heart? How long has Buffy suffered?
And what does it matter now anyway? What matters anymore? They have nothing. All of their loved ones are melting flesh and sizzling bones. The little girl who once wore faded denim and listened to pop music has lost her lifeblood, and Willow thinks that it is Buffy who is making the electricity jump and skip. Everything is over. There are no more battles to fight. They have lost. Failed. For the very first time.
For the very last.
Tears slide slowly down Willow’s cheeks, and she slowly, dazedly walks through the hallway into her bedroom, to the cabinet with the metal lock where all of her abandoned magic supplies reside. The roots and their pungent smells. The sticks of incense with exotic aromas. Parchments, books, herbs and candles. She can sense everything through the rosewood cabinet. Everything calls to her. Numbly, she lifts her hand, not even noticing that she is crying, because she is always crying now. Maybe that is how she will die. Drowning in her own tears.
When she returns to the room, she sees Buffy standing naked in the room, and she is shocked by what she sees etched into the Slayer’s body. A tattoo, bold and haunting, etched into the sensitive skin of her lower back. Slowly, the girl turns around, her eyes dark and pained. “I did it before I killed her,” she says in a small voice. “Spike went with me and held my hand while the ink went in my skin. It hurt so bad, but I knew that it would never hurt as much as me losing her. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to love someone so much that you’d feel incomplete without them.”
“I understand,” Willow whispers, the tiny little apothecary jar shaking in her hands. Buffy just smile sadly, enigmatically, looking around the bare walls of her sister’s room.
“You know that I slept with Spike,” she says, touching her sister’s plain curtain with her fingertips. It surprises Willow.
“No,” she says, blinking a little. “I didn’t know.”
The smile fades a little as she turns her face away from the sunlight, her cheeks instantly turning a bright, oddly beautiful shade of crimson. “He loves me more than anyone’s ever loved me,” she says then. “I don’t know if I could have ever returned that. I don’t think that I could have. But… He’ll take care of me. And I think I owe him something for fighting.”
Buffy startles Willow with her request to be left with Spike. It is a strange, unexpected sort of idea, to be placed in the care of a vampire who is obsessed with her, but she thinks that she understands. She just wants to be loved for a while. She wants to go back to heaven, and since she is forced to live in hell, she may as well be loved.
Now her lovely, bottle green eyes turn to Willow’s, and she says everything quietly, her naked body streaked with sunburn and blood. “I love you, Willow,” she whispers. “Now please, lock the door.”
Somewhere in the middle of it, as the words fly from her mouth and the naked girl in the circle closes her eyes, she hears beating and knocking at the door, yelling and pleas for them open up, but she ignores it. Their hands clasp inside the small circle of crystals, and a vibrant, cold blue wind starts to rise from the scattered precious stones. The candlelight jumps and flares up, and Buffy’s eyes flutter open, blank, forgetting, forgetting…
When Willow finally opens the door, she sees Spike standing there with a desperate look on his face, his knuckles bloodied from banging endlessly on the door. She knows that he wants to speak, but his entire body freezes when he looks beyond her, to the girl pooled on the floor amidst smoking candles and surrounded by crystals and polished stones. Somewhere in the middle of it all, her hair went white, and the look is shocking, stunning. She looks like something blank, her red skin baking slightly in the heat of the summer sun.
Spike’s voice is dark, bleeding. “Is she dead?” he asks, and Willow knows that is what he expected to find. Her body dangling from a rope tied to the ceiling fan blades, cuts in her wrists, a bullet in her skull. A stake through her heart.
Willow shakes her head. “No,” she whispers. “She’s sleeping. She’ll probably be unconscious for a while. Maybe a day or so.”
His eyes are horrified. “Cor, her hair,” he says in shock, and she knows that Buffy was right. He will love her because he can’t help but do so. He’ll take care of her like she wants. Teach her. Worship her. Love her. “What happened in here?”
Before he can enter the room and go to her, Willow stills him with her hands and gives him a dull look. She knows that she must look like a bloodied urchin, and for the first time in a while, she is aware of the fact that she is only wearing her bra and her best friends’ blood. She does not care.
“Listen closely, Spike,” Willow says, trying to keep herself together long enough to do this. Just long enough to finish things. “There isn’t much time… We both know that. She’s gone, Spike. Buffy’s gone. She said… She said that she couldn’t take all of this anymore. She’s done nothing but suffer since…” She takes a deep breath, owns up to it. “Since I brought her back. I can’t kill her. Neither can you. But she can’t live with it anymore.”
A scared note enters the vampire’s voice as his hands dig into her upper arms. “What did you do, Willow?”
Wearily, she bows her head. “I did what she wanted me to do. She doesn’t want this life anymore, so I took the memories away from her. When she wakes up, she won’t remember any of this, and it’s up to you to give her a new life. You have to keep her safe, Spike. It’s what she wanted. She’s your last gift. I know that it’s hard to understand… God, I can’t understand it, but she wants you to have her. She says that you earned it. Don’t ever tell her. That’s the only condition. You can’t ever tell her. It would… I think it would just break her.”
She watches from the doorway as Spike pushes past her and walks to the center of the room, to the naked, sunburned woman that he loves. All of her golden curls have faded into colorless locks twirling down her back, all of her innocence returning to her face as she sleeps dreamlessly. Willow has to look away as she speaks to him next. “Take her away from California. If she ever… If she ever finds out, I’ll know. Just come back here and…” She laughs a little shakily. “Fuck, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
How soft his touch is, how the fluent the gesture as he brushes errant threads of pure alabaster away from her unlined face. “Go, Spike,” Willow orders, her voice snapping at the end. “Hurry.”
“She needs clothes,” he says softly, and Willow throws him a quilt, giving him a desperate look.
“There’s not enough time,” she whispers. “You have to take her and leave before it all falls to pieces. Before the air gets cold.”
It breaks her heart to watch him cover her with the quilt, carefully making sure that none of her skin will show, protecting her against the last light of June. The last summertime feeling. As he passes Willow in the door with the sleeping Slayer tucked in his arms, he stops and looks at her. “What about you?” he asks, and she wonders why he bothers asking.
“I’m fine,” she says, her voice a little dreamier than she intended it to be. “Just go.”
After they disappear and the house is abandoned, Willow walks to the bedroom which now reeks of burned Lethe’s Bramble and extinguished candles, burning wax. Gently, she rearranges the pattern of the gemstones arranged in a circle, changes a couple of the candles, and empties the ashes of the herbs from the small ceramic jar. There is a new spell to do. A new trick to perform.
It doesn’t matter anymore who sees her do this, who sees her light the candles and call the corners. No one is left to care if Willow Rosenberg dives headfirst into the surreal abyss of enchanted ecstasy and never resurfaces again. Glitter and warmth start to fill her system, and she collapses on the floor, writhing in self-induced rapture, free from the aching responsibility of being cared about.
Free, like Buffy is free.
(end part seven)
Continued in Chapter Eight: The Future