The Hardest Walk

NOTES:

1. This was the first "serious" fic I ever wrote. I'll rewrite it some as I repost it – especially the ending – but some newbie mistakes will probably still show. But all in all, I'm quite proud of it.
2. The first few chapters stick pretty close to canon. After that everything goes very different.
3. Ratings and such: well, if you can watch season 6, you can read this. Some cussing, some violence, some non-canon deaths.
4. It's all the property of mighy mighty Joss Whedon etc. Any faults are entirely mine.

Chapter 1: The Hardest Walk
In which Willow goes to LA to break the news.

Yup, this was Los Angeles.

She wasn't exactly sure how she'd found it. OK, it was LA, not like you'd miss it and drive right past until you hit Honolulu and had to turn back. But she'd hardly slept for days, and she barely remembered the drive; she knew she'd turned on the radio at one point, trying to find something to break the silence, but everything was either too cheery or too sad. So it had been a long, lonely drive until she found herself downtown driving on some sort of internal GPS she hadn't known she had. Hadn't had, probably, until about a week ago. So much had changed in the last week she couldn't be completely sure.

The door was locked. Aperi. The door was open. She'd called before she left, only gotten the machine, and hung up after failing to find a way to say she'd be stopping by just to say hello, no biggie, no reason really, just doing the cheery hello thing. After all, she was the one who had insisted it had to be done in person... knowing she would be the one who had to do it. Who else? Giles was certainly in no condition to drive, even if he had been sober. Xander, who spent most of his time at Anya's bedside, hadn't exactly liked the idea – she knew him well enough to know what that look and that tone meant. "Yeah, right, Will. The guy can't be bothered to show up to help us fight a god, I say let him read it in the papers." She was angry with him for a second, but not more; he was in pain, he was trying to keep it together by focusing on Anya... she couldn't hold it against him. Spike? Oh, there was a thought. "Hullo Grandad, slayer's dead. Almost saved her, but I had a bit of a stumble and – hey, put that stake down!"

Still, she had to, Buffy would want him to know, and so here she was. Certainly a fancy place for a small, fly-by-night demon hunting operation thingy... she thought back to the mansion he used to haunt back in Sunnydale and couldn't suppress a sad smile; yeah, this was him, all right. Only not actually him, of course, because it was obvious no one had been here for at least a couple of days. Again, she wasn't exactly sure how she knew, it was just that the hotel was... quiet. She could tell people had lived, fought, loved, cried here recently, only not TOO recently... like it was a pool of water that no one had disturbed in a while, where the surface was still and all the mud had settled on the bottom... Willow sighed. She'd have to come up with some better metaphors if this was going to go on for much longer, she'd always had enough trouble putting words to what five senses told her, let alone a sixth. The answering machine had a bunch of messages she didn't play, and the milk in the office fridge was four days past its date. Where the hell was everybody? She sat down on the couch in the middle of the Hyperion lobby to think. Locating spell? Sure, she could try that, but really... if Angel and whoever he was working with these days had been gone this long, they probably weren't anywhere near. Say the spell told her they were in Cleveland, what was she going to do, teleport? If she could do that, she might have been able to...

...and once again, it all came rushing back. The pain, the guilt, the sorrow. They'd fought and beaten Glory, she herself had gone way beyond what she'd ever dreamed she could do, she'd brought Tara back, they'd saved Dawn and the world... only to lose Buffy. Willow felt like she'd spent the last few days on a rollercoaster, wanting to laugh and throw up at the same time... or just lie down and cry her eyes out. There were moments where she'd be furious, with Buffy
(You gave up, you left us alone)
with Dawn
(You for the slayer? Yeah, GREAT trade)
with Spike
(Big bad vampire, defeated by an old man...)
and of course with herself. She'd brought Buffy back from near-psychosis, only to watch helplessly as she plummeted to her death - yeah, you're one mighty witch, Rosenberg, making your best friend healthy enough to kill herself. Then Tara would look at her, and she'd be bubbly with joy... for a few seconds, before the guilt of being happy kicked in and was promptly followed by that crushing sixteen-ton grief.

In a way, she figured, it was a good thing Tara seemed to need so much sleep in the days after the fight; it gave her a chance to take care of all the other stuff that seemed to be her responsibility by default, without having to feel guilty about not being there for Tara too. There'd been so much she had to do, and who else was going to do it? Anya laid up with a broken leg, Giles with a broken heart, Xander taking care of Anya, Dawn hysterical whenever she was conscious, Spike out cleaning up the demon mess... so what was left for Willow? Working on the Buffybot. Looking after Dawn. Coming up with excuses when the school called. Demon-locating spells for Spike. Arranging the funeral... or well, burial was probably the correct term. Running everything, calling the shots, deciding on strategy... She teared up again. This wasn't what she signed up for, she didn't ask for this, Goddamnit, this was Buffy's job and she wasn't here anymore. Willow had done her part already, she had every right to just curl up with her beautiful, sane Tara and snuggle for days... only right didn't really apply here, did it? No, nothing about this situation was right anymore. Except...

She reached deep down inside herself and brushed against it with her will, like you touch a sore tooth. Yup, still there. Whatever it was she'd picked up from the dark magic books and from the fight against Glory, it was still just as powerful as it had felt when she used it... Before, magic had always seemed so easy, so natural, as much a part of herself as speaking. This was different. It felt... good. Badly good. Like she had this force that she just had to point and it would do whatever she wanted it to do... She'd used it to fight Glory – twice – and she had a feeling it hadn't tapped her out one bit. It felt strong, and more than a little scary. It felt like... a possibility.

"Can I say it? I wanna say it!"

"Say what?"

Uh-oh, someone's coming. Yup, it's them. Better get in character... and despite her best efforts she felt the tears start to rise again.

"There's no place like...

..Willow?"

Here we go. On your feet, Rosenberg.

"It's Buffy."

She nodded.