Title: Afraid of Me

Rating: PG                                                      Spoilers: Through S7, up to Showtime

Summary: It's mid-Showtime. Buffy and Xander are off to find Eve; the SIT's are gossiping and painting each other's nails in the basement; Dawn's sulking in her room; Anya's propositioning a demon to get to Beljoxa's Eye, while Giles seethes with jealousy. But most importantly, Willow has been left alone with Andrew, the one that got away.

Inspired by the movie, The Hours, in which none of the characters are doing quite as well as they want you to think.

"Hey!"

Willow starts, dropping the spell book she is scanning.

It'snotwhatyouthink.IwasjustlookingforaspelltostalltheUbervamp.

I was only trying to help.

"Oh, it's you. What do you want?"

Her voice is pitched higher than normal. She sinks back into the couch cushions, willing her mind to relax. It doesn't work. Meditation reminds her of the coven and the techniques for control they tried to teach her. Thoughts of the coven lead inevitably to the reason behind their intervention. Tara.

Her Tara. Beautiful, lovely girl-woman. Generous curves molding to her own, sparer frame. Generous mouth kissing her breasts. Generous spirit sustaining her.

Generous amounts of life's blood coating her hands as she stares down at the bullet wound that will steal this treasure from her.

And these thoughts point to the thin blond boy standing hesitantly in the corner. The one who had been tied to a chair in the other room.

Two to go. The one that got away.

"Where is everybody?" he whines. God, does he whine.

"Out." She knows she is being short with him, that she isn't the only one, but the Willow who would have felt sorry for Tucker's brother doesn't seem to exist any more.

She stares into the mirror. Her red hair is longer now, her face thinner. Paler. This is Willow Rosenberg. But it doesn't feel like her. Every time she looks she expects to see translucent skin, black hair, shadowed eyes. And she is shocked when Willow Rosenberg stares back at her. Vampires are fortunate—they can live with what they've done because the mirror doesn't throw their mistakes at them.

"Buffy untied me. I wanna help."

"Your particular brand of help isn't really welcome right now, Andrew. What with the murdering of your best friend and all."

"It wasn't my fault. The evil thingy made me do it."

Willow picks up her book from the floor. "Uh huh."

She thumbs the pages, but can't concentrate.

She is too aware of Andrew skulking in the corner. Why is he talking to her? Doesn't he realize that she killed Warren? Does he think that she had just been playing around with that big fireball of doom? Willow envies his self-absorption, the world he has created for himself where the chosen have superpowers and danger is an empty flamethrower and a warehouse full of demons. She frowns. Actually, that's the world she lives in, too.

"Xander seems like a cool guy," Andrew rambles. "We were talking comics the other day. Who do you think Rogue should be with? Wolverine or Gambit?"

Her temples throb. Her fingers trace an idle pattern on the leather cover of the spell book.

"I mean, how romantic is that? To love someone but never to be able to touch them?"

"You killed people. You can't see her. That's just how it is. I'm sorry."

"Tara? Tara, I miss you. I miss you so much."

"She's crying."

"No. No, don't cry. Don't cry, sweetie. Talk to me."

"She misses you, too. She wishes she could touch you."

"Me too. Oh, me, too. Oh, God, Tara, it hurts so much. Everyday, it's like this giant hole, and it's not getting better."

Cassie smiles a Cheshire cat smile.

Willow looks up suddenly, outward. Introspection is too painful. Andrew regards her nervously.

"So back at the place? When we were buying blood? When you said you'd do those things to me? You were just joking. Right?"

I am Willow. I am death. If you dare defy me, I will call down my fury, exact fresh vengeance, and make your worst fears come true.

"As long as you behave, you'll be fine."

" 'Cause, you know, you had me worried. I am, after all, your arch-nemesis—"

Andrew is still talking. She glances involuntarily at the chair abandoned in the corner. The ropes hang loosely, trailing on the ground. It reminds her of the old Spike, the Spike that frightened the old Willow. Back in the days when her eyes were green, not agate, and EvilWillow! was just a crazy vampire from an alternate dimension. Back in the days when Spike was the one they didn't trust.

"You went all Terminator. You weren't gonna give up until we were all dead."

"Mmm." She tries to sound non-committal.

 
"Once he starts something he doesn't stop until everything in his path is dead."
 
"So, he's thorough, goal-oriented."
"We can't run, that would be wrong," Willow says. "Could we hide? I mean, if that Spike guy is leading the attack—" She shudders. "Yeeehehehe."

 
That was, what? Five years ago? But things change. They aren't so different now, she and Spike.
 
She glances at the blond boy, who is picking at the still healing wound on his neck. Not so different … Only, Spike bit straight through the skin of his nerd. Willow preferred to peel hers first.

"I hear," Andrew says tentatively, "that they're making a new Terminator. With a Terminatrix. In red leather. Though in Mexico it was kinda hard to get to see the trailers. I wonder if she'll do that thing that you—"

"Andrew!" She feels like crying, lowers her voice with an effort. "I'm not a Terminator."

"No, you're more like the Crow. Stalking the night, taking revenge on the scum who killed your—Uh. Oh. So—"

She doesn't look up at him. She is afraid to. Back in the days when her eyes were green, not agate. Back in the days when Spike was the one they didn't trust.

There is silence for a while. She can hear Andrew scuffing his foot against the floor. A sigh.

"I need to pee."

"So go pee. You're not tied up any more."

"There's probably a line-up for the washroom." He makes a face. "So many girls."

"Xander and Buffy'll be back soon. Better go now."

She opens her book and looks again at the table of contents. Tara would know what they needed.

"So what's with you and that tall chick? She's pretty."

Willow stiffens and hopes he doesn't notice. Maybe if she ignores him he'll take the hint and leave. Imagine her surprise when it doesn't work.

If only she hadn't sucked those other books dry. They'd be so much better than the stupid beginner's texts she has left. Levitate a pencil? Gee, that'll be useful against the Ubervamp.

"And Buffy? Why does she want to rescue Spike?" Willow hears the pout in his voice. "Sure, he's got the hair and the black leather thing going for him, but—" He trails off. "That's a good reason, I guess."

"We have to get Spike back because he knows about the First Evil. He can help us. He's strong," Willow tells him.

She thinks of that time in the desert, fleeing from Glory. Xander and Dawnie and her poor insane Tara. Giles and Spike fighting for the wheel. Buffy sword-fighting on the roof of the camper. Only on the Hellmouth.

There is irony there. A parallel. Buffy had been so certain that Spike was the only one who could help against Glory. Only he was strong enough to protect the Key, but it was Willow whose magic stopped the Hellbitch, time and time again. Yet it was taken for granted, then. Willow's magic, nothing special—always there when called for. No thought to the consequences.

And now, they thought they needed Spike again. But what they really needed was Willow. That barrier spell she had used against the Knights of Byzantium—that spell would hold back the Ubervamp. But did she dare?

"What's with Buffy and vampires anyway?"

"What do you mean?"

"Super villains always do their research. Because knowing is half the battle. Warren—" Green. Green eyes, not agate. "—said that the slayer was with some vampire named Angel before she was with Spike."

Angel was Tuxedo Mask to Buffy's Sailor Moon, she finds herself thinking. Then she bites her lip because she's starting to think like him and she can't believe she's letting the thin blond boy in the corner get to her like this.

"Andrew, what's your point?"


His eyes dart to the floor. Her tone obviously frightens him. "Just wondering why she needs vampires when she's already got Gabrielle and Joxur."

The question cuts alarmingly close to the place where her own doubts lurk. "We need all the help we can get."

He brightens. "I can do stuff."

"We've been through this. You killed Jonathan, remember?"

"It wasn't my fault. There were … there were extenuating circumstances."

Was that an excuse? Willow wonders. Was it really that simple? Could one simply say, "I'm sorry I flayed Warren, but there were extenuating circumstances"? Could poor old Faith, moldering in some California jail, say, "I'm sorry I killed the deputy mayor. I thought he was a vampire"? Could Spike, who had looked so sick with remorse, say, "I killed again, but I didn't want to"? Had Anya, for a thousand years, simply been "doing her job"?

I thought she was in a hell dimension. He killed my heart's love.

Would they be forgiven because of extenuating circumstances?

"Do you guys have a Playstation?"

Willow sets aside the spell book and stands up. Maybe she'll go down to the basement.

But no—Kennedy is there with her dark eyes and long fingers and questions. Her smell like cinnamon.

That isn't a place where Willow can be.

Because meditation can't help right now, she reverts to her old technique, from the days before Buffy came to Sunnydale, before she was a witch, when things were as simple as a Chem test on Monday and unrequited Xander love for eternity. She names the digits of pi. Three. One. Four. One. Five—

As she counts, Dawn comes into the room and starts bickering with Andrew. Willow retreats to the dining room table. She studies them, the self-assured young woman and the baby-faced young man. How innocent he looks with his tousled blond hair, his one-track mind, his easy hero-worship. Is this what is meant by the banality of evil?

She rests her head down onto the cool surface of the wood.

"Willow?"

"Yes, sweetie?" Her hair is a curtain, obscuring her face. Hiding her from the thread of bitter fear that still creeps into Dawn's voice when they speak. Not even the morning after the night of visitations has mended the rift.

A broken arm. A threat to her life. But there were extenuating circumstances. An addiction. A death.

"Do you think everything will be okay?"

Do you think I'm okay?

She raises her head.

The door slams open. Buffy and Xander race into the house; panic stains their faces.

"Buffy," Willow says.

Whatever it is, it's starting again. She climbs wearily to her feet. Buffy says something and they all run downstairs to the basement, Andrew too, looking like he is part of the group, one of them.

Willow follows, but more slowly.

She needs to look in the mirror. She isn't sure what colour her eyes are.