Enforced Solitude

Music pounded through 1630 Revello Drive. One of the potentials had found Dawn's CD collection and now there was a miniature rave going on in the living room. No one tried to stop them…. Partly because this might just be their last night to actually be alive anyway, but mostly because none of the command foursome were even in the room. Giles hadn't even stayed past Rona opening the first CD case; he'd high-tailed it out onto the back porch. Buffy had vacated out to the front soon after that. Xander was still puttering around in the kitchen, but his vague comments and movements showed that his mind wasn't on anything. Willow herself was safely ensconced in "her" room with a cup of tea and a book that she hadn't even tried to open. She couldn't help but see the irony that the only people not together here at the end of--well, pretty much everything--were the original Scooby Gang.

Willow would never understand how they could live in such a crowded house and still be so utterly alone.

At first, she'd thought it was just her. She hadn't reconnected with anyone as strongly as she'd wished for after she'd gotten back from England. She'd sort of been expecting it. Because really, how many sleepovers and movie nights could you expect when you'd been away in magical rehab for three months because you skinned someone alive? And that didn't even include the little stage she went through when she beat her best friends into a bloody pulp and tried to end the world. The witch had been determined not to feel disappointed when she wasn't accepted right back into the fold. She hadn't been expecting it to never happen at all.

She missed Tara with an intensity that made her bones ache and her teeth chatter. She missed her hair, her smile, her quiet voice. Only now the feeling was compounded because guilt for thinking that way when she had Kennedy was heaped on top of it. But even with Kennedy by her side at night and the potentials and Dawn and Andrew constantly near her during the day, Willow Rosenberg understood that she was completely, totally alone in her grief and sorrow. And she was OK with that, as long as she didn't remember. Because when she let herself think about the sleepovers and movie nights of years past, then she realized what exactly she didn't have now. Her thoughts drifted to Xander, with his weakened joy and his missing eye. She wasn't the only person that had lost things.

He'd had a rough year: leaving Anya at the altar, nearly getting killed by his best friend, and now having to deal with being half-blind because of some psycho preacher. He had always been their heart. Maybe part of the reason the four of them had stopped being the four of them was because Xander had lost the will to hold them together. But she couldn't blame it all on him, not even if she wanted to. Willow still missed the quirky, naïve best friend she'd grown up with. The Alexander Harris she was faced with now was a man hardened and ragged around the edges, uncertain with himself and completely disillusioned with the people around him.

So she'd come to the conclusion that maybe it was just her and Xander.

But then her thoughts drifted to Buffy, sitting out on the porch with that blank stare on her face and her arms wrapped protectively around herself. Talk about being disillusioned…

Willow's faith in Buffy had held out longer than it probably should have. What's a best friend to do? But in the end, the witch had to admit that her other best friend had been closing herself off for a lot longer than a year. The Slayer was distant at the best of times, completely cold-hearted at the worst. What had happened to the best friend that Willow adored? Where had fun-loving, full-of-energy Buffy gone? Willow knew the answer. That part of Buffy hadn't made it out of the coffin when the Slayer had been forced to tear her way out of her own grave. Maybe it had stayed in heaven and hadn't even come back with her at all.

What had been left of the Buffy they'd all fallen in love with had been destroyed when Giles left them and Spike took over the Slayer's body and Willow tried to kill them all. And finally, after all of that was over and the wounds had begun to heal, Buffy had chosen to withdraw even further. Not because her friends weren't there for her and willing to try. It was because she'd decided that they simply weren't worth the effort. Because really, what good were a guy with one eye, a Wicca who was afraid to use her power and an old watcher when you were trying to defeat the First Evil?

Not much, the practical part of Willow's mind admitted. But if Buffy could remember that those useless people were her closest and oldest friends, she might find that they could be a whole lot more help than she gave them credit for.

Fine. So it was the three of them that were lost, vaguely connected by their solitude just like they used to be connected in so many things.

Oh, but then there was Giles. Quiet, somber Giles sitting sequestered on the back porch with his hands shoved into his pockets and his absent eyes staring up at the waning moon. He had always been the forth wheel, the one that was the hardest to understand. Or maybe they just hadn't tried hard enough. But now, things were different. If the rest of them were falling fast, Giles had already hit the bottom. It was probably what came of being in the fight for as long as he had only to be cast aside as an invalid by the girl he'd poured his life into.

If Xander's love was the thing that held them together, Giles' brilliance had been what kept them hopeful. It almost seemed silly to attach the word "hope" to Giles, with his biting sarcasm and his proper ways, but it was true. Because not once, not in the seven years they had known him and depended on him, had Giles ever failed. He may have been stuffy sometimes, and it even looked like he'd deserted them for a long time there last year. But they'd convinced themselves that it was the right thing for him to do, because it was Giles and he always did the right thing. But now…

Willow wasn't so sure, now. Or rather she wasn't sure because Buffy wasn't sure, and if Buffy didn't trust Giles then what was Willow supposed to do? Deep down she still had an unfailing faith in the Watcher. Yes, he was still the Watcher, even if he hadn't officially held that title in years. But how could she stand behind Giles when Buffy was their leader and more importantly (to Willow anyway) her best friend? There was a rift between Watcher and Slayer now that was worse than any fight they'd had before. The one problem with Buffy and Giles fighting was that it forced Willow and Xander to choose sides. Any other combination of the Gang, and one of the two not in the fight could abstain. No such luck when the two people who formed the core of their mission had a disagreement.

So it really was the four of them. The Scoobies, once united in all things, were now four strangers who barely knew each other because it hurt too much to try and become who they were before. Before this it had been easy and natural and right to be together all the time, to be the close-knit family they had grown into.

Now, it was easier to be apart. For some horrible, vague reason the lines in their love had blurred and grown and become chasms that Willow doubted they would ever be able to fully bridge. So maybe this solitude was not enforced.

Their isolation was chosen.

And even as she realized this, Willow made no attempt to stand and leave her room and find one of her friends. Because she was hiding in her loneliness too, and it was just too hard to try to pretend she was the Willow she used to be.

It was just too hard.

So she would stay sitting on her bed with her lukewarm mug of tea and think about the days when the four of them had loved each other and supported each other and cared enough to go looking for each other when one of them was hurt. And she would do it alone, because that was how it had to be.

Willow was alone. And she was glad.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Author's Note: I felt the need to look at the Scoobies' problems from a different angle. I love the Willow character very much and it was a joy to write from her perspective, mostly because she's smart and sensitive, which I appreciate. Hopefully you enjoyed her perspective on things, even if it was pretty dang angsty.

For the perspectives of the other three Scoobies, read the other stories in this quartet of vignettes: Bits and Pieces (Buffy), Light at the End of the Tunnel (Xander), and Shades of Gray (Giles).