DISCLAIMER: This is a derivative work. All BtVS characters
belong to or were created by Joss Whedon, and Mutant Enemy. Anything
from the Highlander universe that accidentally creeps in (characters,
etc.) belongs to Panzer/Davis. I don't own any of it. I'm just
responsible for the plot and words gluing my story together.
SUMMARY: A thought experiment. What if Buffy had become a librarian instead of a slayer? How would that have worked? And where does Willow fit into this?
Pairings: A B/W shipper tale - eventually - maybe - we'll have to see how it works out. No others currently planned.
SPOILERS: BtVS/AtS - none really. It's too AU to spoil much. Highlander: maybe (It's set in an AU version of the Highlander universe... but it isn't really a crossover. If it does cross that line, I'll move it over to the crossovers.)
Word Count: 4,035
Authors notes: Feedback? Reviews? Love them. Flames? Not so much.
Where The Books Are.
Buffy glared down at the keyboard for the tenth time that day. Someone, may they get lost in the H's in the public library with all those annoying vampire books she thought, had spilled something crumby or sugary into it while she was out of town and hadn't bothered to clean it up. Every time she pressed a key, she winced as the crunching sound bounced off the walls in her small corner in the museum's research library.
She knew the sound wasn't really that loud but ever since the cheerleading accident in high school that had ruined her life, the accident that had shown her who her friends really were, her hearing had been extremely sensitive. Combined with a dull throbbing that had settled behind her eyes after a morning of shading them from the flickering of a dying florescent bulb, it was really bugging her today. It would have driven her screaming from the room, if she were prone to that kind of behavior.
Her doctor still claimed that, ten years after the accident, her extremely sensitive senses and her increased strength were her body's way of compensating for the damage caused to her spine by falling from the top of that pyramid into the cement bleachers. It had been amusing at first but, as far as she knew, she wasn't living in some sort of comic book and only the medicine she needed to keep the pain at bay kept her going back.
She wasn't Spiderman, Daredevil, or anyone like that. She hadn't fallen into a bucket of some secret formula to turn her into a superhero. She was just Buffy, formerly popular girl, now just another loser who lived in books because the real world didn't want her. That she was even aware of such things as comic book heroes still disturbed her to no end. She blamed her sister reading her favorite stories to her when she'd first had her accident.
Buffy scowled back at the message that filled the screen. Someone wanted to borrow one of the recently arrived books in the collection she so diligently guarded. Those books were full of some very strange things. They'd come in as part of the estate of some obscure mystic one of the museum curators had purchased at an auction. The annoying Dr. Pierson was responsible for the appearance of some of the more obscure volumes she was responsible for.
She hadn't had much of a chance to look through them herself, just barely getting them shelved in the climate controlled restricted section while they waited for the museum's archivist to determine where they belonged. She certainly wasn't ready to share them. Looking at the message, she wondered if a straightforward 'No' would work. The perkiness of the request seemed to bleed out viciously as she reread the message. She wondered how they'd even known the books were in the museum's possession.
Sometimes she really wondered what she was doing working in a library. Especially this one. And then she remembered months of lying on her back, hoping for a miracle, as her friends drifted away. Remembered discovering that she could escape into books. Books didn't judge you based on your future or possible lack of it. Books didn't stop visiting you because you made them uncomfortable. They didn't gossip about you behind your back or make fun of your devoted little sister who stuck with you through every crying fit and temper tantrum.
When she'd finally managed to finish high school, she'd looked for something, anything to do with her life that would allow her the freedom to live on her own. Something where people would accept her as a person and not some tragic figure and let her use the one thing she had left, her mind. Not a great student, no matter what the stupid SAT had claimed, she'd drifted through college, still looking for that something, her plans before her accident for a future in fashion seeming so naive and distant.
Her junior year in college she'd been forced to pick a major and focus. She'd spent so much time in the college library, struggling to keep up with all of her classes that becoming a librarian had seemed like a natural progression. Her past, as one of the in-crowd, would never intrude there. She could easily hide away. And you really didn't have to know things or be an expert in much of anything. You just had to know how to find buried or obscure information.
And somewhere along the way, she'd found a hidden talent for researching the obscure and hidden. She'd become fascinated with finding things in books. And she was good at it. What she found wasn't that important, and frankly it was often some boring, musty fact that excited only the true geeks that haunted libraries and museums. But the hunt was everything. The hunt filled some need she hadn't been aware of until then. And people who had her research skills were paid more than she would have ever expected back when she thought spending time in a library was a fate worse than death. Which had come in handy when her mother's life insurance had run out just as she finished college and she'd had to support her younger sister.
Even if her current employers had insisted that she learn at least one new language every year if she wanted to continue working for them, she was very proud of the job she did and the people she knew. Becoming a part of the small fraternity of research specialists had in some small part given her back that feeling of specialness she'd lost after her accident. And if she continued to do well there was always the possibility of a job at one of the private museum's two other branches.
She'd long ago given up any real hopes of ever having a social life that didn't involve either her sister or the museum. But she still dreamed. Buffy had fallen in love with the idea of living in Paris the year before while learning French. And when her sister graduated from college in the spring she was letting her bosses know that if they ever needed her skills in the Paris branch she was ready.
Not surprisingly, she didn't recognize the name of the person making the remote book request. If it had been one of her colleagues they would have suggested a rather elaborate trading of favors in the usual manner for some bit of information, not the whole book. If it had been one of the museum staff or someone from the nearby university they would have visited her directly. It also wasn't one of the museum's extensive cadre of field staff. They would have requested her help in researching something only they found valuable through proper channels.
Looking up at the clock, she decided to put off answering the request until morning. She needed to hurry if she wanted to pick up her sister on time for their weekly dinner. Quickly logging out and making sure everything was locked up, she grabbed her keys and purse out of her desk and wheeled herself out of her small corner towards the private elevator that would take her down to the parking garage.
Leaning against her rental car, Willow looked down at the piece of paper in her hand, looked back up at the imposing edifice in front of her, looked at the paper again and frowned. It was not anything like what she'd expected. In her experience, libraries, especially those containing obscure old books, did not reside in buildings that looked like they were some futurist's wet dream. Marble, with ornate Greek columns, maybe, or weathered Victorian mansions, but not something shaped with at least five stories of glass and steel.
She'd been searching for a copy of the book for almost a year now. Until she'd run across a mention of it in a slim volume of writings of the late eighteenth century mystic Eckhart Koertig, she'd thought its existence was just a myth. It had been over a millennium since the Watchers had found a spell that had enabled them wrest control of the slayer from the Covens, in defiance of the Goddess.
Willow had been given the task to find a way to break the Council's control and release the power of the slayer back into the service of the Goddess. She wasn't the first witch the Coven had given this task to. She was well aware that they didn't expect her to actually succeed.
It had originally been given to her as a punishment, an impossible goal to teach her humility after she'd dared to use the power given to her by the Goddess to avenge the death of her lover. But it had become something more, an obsession. She couldn't forget what she'd done but the search had given her an outlet for her grief. And now she thought she might have found something. If she could just get past the harpy who seemed intent on denying her access to the book.
The message she'd received the week before from the oddly named librarian had been blunt. The book she wanted was in the restricted section of the museum's research library, waiting to be evaluated by the head archivist. It was not expected to be available for public use any time soon. Willow could almost hear the cackles of glee coming from some chain smoking, skinny old harridan as she typed up her rather officious denial of the request. Who or what was a Buffy and why didn't they want her to have her book, she'd wondered.
So she'd packed a bag, arranged for someone to feed the cat, and taken the first flight she could find, hoping that by showing up in person she could shake the book loose from this Buffy creature. Researching the museum itself hadn't given her any insight into how to do that. It was privately owned, with its North American branch here, in a small town just north of LA, another much larger branch in Paris, and the main one in Naples. Although ostensibly open to the public, their collections, of both historical artifacts and books, seemed very eclectic.
Who really owned the museum's collections had been buried so deep and skillfully that she'd been unable to find any clues to who they were. The only consolation was that it definitely wasn't the Watcher's Council. Not only were they very unlikely to allow public access to their collection of mystical artifacts, but they were so reliant on using magic and money to protect those assets that they seemed completely oblivious to the things someone could dig up on them using computers and other modern research techniques. Something that had delighted the Coven Elders when she'd pointed it out to them years ago as a novitiate, before her life had fallen apart.
The town itself had set off all sorts of alarms in her head when she'd entered it just after noon. She wasn't sure what it was but from the moment she'd seen Sunnydale nestled between the desert and ocean she'd felt something old and faintly dark in the background. It wasn't something active but when she'd found what she'd come for she would have to remember to let the Coven know so they could research it and do something about it if necessary.
Stepping into the museum building, Willow stared in amazement at what she was seeing. More glass and steel. And floors so shiny she was glad she wasn't wearing a dress. It looked more like a small slice of corporate America than anything having to do with a museum. Looking back at the door in an attempt to make sense of it, she noticed a very hi-tech looking metal detector surrounding the doors. Surprisingly she hadn't felt anything resembling magic as she entered but otherwise their security seemed a bit heavy for a small museum.
Sitting between a bank of elevators and a set of double doors below a sign saying 'Museum' was a large receptionist desk, manned by two very professional looking young women. The kind she expected to see in a spy movie, working for the sexy, but deliciously evil, villainess. Wondering what she'd stumbled into, and if they were actually armed, Willow strolled over to them with all of the confidence she could muster.
"I'm here to see Buffy Summers." she said. "About a book."
"Is she expecting you?" the older of the two asked, picking up a phone.
"No..." Willow shrugged, as if it wasn't a big deal. "I was passing through and I thought I would visit." It was a flimsy explanation but, expecting to be able to just sneak in, she hadn't prepared a cover story for her appearance.
"Your name. And ID." the woman asked. "Please."
"Willow Rosenberg." Willow supplied, handing over her driver's license to the woman. She watched nervously as she typed something into her computer.
"Mitzy will take you to her." the woman told her after a quick phone conversation. "Please wear this at all times." She handed Willow a 'Visitor' badge and returned her license.
"Thanks." Willow mumbled, pinning it to her jacket as she followed the other woman towards the elevator.
"She doesn't get many visitors." Mitzy said, leaning back against the wall as the elevator took them silently up to the fifth floor, giving Willow a brief glimpse of something gun-like under her jacket. "Have you known her long?"
"No." Willow kept her answer short, following her out of the elevator and down a long hallway to a closed door adorned with just a number.
"Wait here." Mitzy told her, opening the door and slipping through. Willow could hear several voices arguing about something but couldn't understand what they were saying. "She'll see you." Mitzy told her. "Have her buzz us when you're done and someone will see you out."
"Thanks." Willow said, shifting nervously.
"Don't worry." Mitzy told her, giving her a smirk. "She won't bite. Unless you ask nicely." Willow stared after her in surprise as she walked jauntily back the way they'd come, leaving Willow to enter the library on her own.
Buffy grumbled to herself in annoyance. After noticing that she seemed to ignore even the most benign invitations to socialize by the male members of the museum staff, Mitzy, the self-professed token museum lesbian, had taken it upon herself to try and find Buffy someone of a more feminine nature. No matter how much Buffy had protested that she wasn't interested in a relationship with anyone, no matter what their gender happened to be, Mitzy simply refused to let the idea go.
And now this Rosenberg woman had shown up. To see her. Giving Mitzy all sorts of ideas and ammunition. Having someone other than her sister actually care about her life outside of the office still seemed strange to Buffy. In the ten years since her accident she'd never gotten past the idea that no one could possibly want her like she was. Who wanted to love someone who couldn't dance or any of the other things she assumed couples still did? Who could love someone who based their leisure time activities upon whether there was room for their wheelchair?
She sighed and waited for the door to open. Mitzy's enthusiastic description of the 'cute redhead' who wanted to see her hadn't done much to endear Willow Rosenberg to her. She would help the woman get what she needed and then get rid of her. However long it took. Which, considering the book she claimed to be interested in was in some form of early Latin that Buffy could just barely understand, might be a while.
Willow cautiously opened the door and stepped inside the room. The faint smell of musty books, overlaid with the unique atmosphere of a climate controlled space, filled her nose. And for the first time since entering the building, she felt a faint tingling at the back of her neck that signaled she was in the presence of something supernatural. Mentally reaching out, Willow tried to detect whatever it was without disturbing it. Whatever it was, it was just there, permeating the room, unaware, almost as if it were asleep.
"Can I help you?" a soft voice asked, catching her attention.
Remembering why she was there, Willow shook her head. Dismissing the strange feeling, she headed through the stacks, towards the voice, stopping in surprise at the sight that greeted her. Seated at a large desk near a corner of the room was a small, delicate woman, possibly her own age, her long blonde hair hanging in a single braid draped over one shoulder before disappearing below the edge of the desk.
"I'm..." Willow began, speaking to the woman whom she assumed was Buffy Summers, momentarily surprised at her appearance, which didn't come close to what she'd imagined.
"Willow Rosenberg. Yes, I know." The woman looked at her intently for a moment. "You wanted to borrow a book."
"Yes. I'll bring it back as soon as I'm finished with it." Willow said hopefully, giving her a warm smile.
"No." the woman said firmly. "It doesn't leave this room."
"Why?" Willow asked, though taking in her surroundings she suspected it wasn't anything personal. It seemed to be more lab than library. The books here were obviously intended to be used. Surely borrowing one wouldn't hurt. Already thinking of the blonde by her first name, Willow wondered idly why Buffy seemed so intent on being contrary. First her reply to Willow's original request, and now in person, it was almost as if Buffy were intentionally standing in her way; an idea she dismissed quickly as Buffy continued.
"It hasn't been examined by our archivist yet." Buffy told her. "Until it is it isn't officially part of our public collection and can't be leant out."
"Can I look at it here?" Willow asked hopefully. If she couldn't take it with her it didn't really matter where she read it. It was just harder to perform some of the magical tests that would confirm its authenticity if she had an audience.
"No food near the books, and we close at six. You can use that desk. It'll take me a minute to get it." Buffy told her bluntly, pointing towards a desk in clear view of her own. Willow tried to hide her surprise as she watched Buffy push back from her desk and silently wheel herself to a large door in another part of the room, disappearing inside.
"Great." Willow muttered to herself as she arranged her small tablet PC and other items on the desk, feeling guilty for her earlier unflattering thoughts about Buffy before she'd even met her. "Let's try not to embarrass ourselves any further by apologizing for staring. You run across beautiful women in wheelchairs every day."
"Here you go." that soft voice interrupted her thoughts. "You'll need to wear these."
Turning around to see her holding out a pair of white cotton gloves similar to ones she was now wearing herself, Willow wondered why Buffy was blushing. "Thanks." she said, quickly putting them on before gently taking the book from the librarian.
Her attention focused on her prize, Willow only vaguely noticed that Buffy simply nodded in response before returning to her desk.
The book's smooth leather cover felt odd in her hands. Carefully laying it down, she silently invoked a spell to reveal any possible protective magic on the book. Anxiously holding her breath, she waited a minute for the spell to take effect, letting it out as noiselessly as possible when nothing happened. Whatever power the book held was in its words, not its substance.
The sound of a different, younger voice, almost whiney in tone, broke Willow's concentration. And for the first time that afternoon, she sat back in her chair away from the book. Glancing at her watch in surprise, she wondered what had happened to the time. Any minute now someone was sure to arrive and chase her out of the library. She wasn't even close to finished with the book. She was going to need at least a week, she thought in dismay.
A quick glance down at her tablet told her that she'd somehow managed to fill it with pages of notes and drawings without realizing it. Reaching forward, Willow gently closed the book and shut down her tablet. Taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, Willow attempted to clear from her mind the oppressive feeling of single-mindedness that often consumed her after such intense study.
Feeling slightly more centered, she turned around in her seat and noticed a tall, statuesque brunette leaning against Buffy's desk, gazing at her curiously. Keeping her expression blank, Willow nodded in silent greeting before sliding out of her chair. Picking up the book, she walked the five meters to Buffy, laying the book silently down on her desk.
"All done?" Buffy asked her, as Willow removed the cotton gloves and placed them beside the book.
"No." Willow shrugged. "I'll need several more days. Unless you can let me take it now?"
"Still no." Buffy told her firmly. "I'll let the front desk know you'll be back. Just check in with them in the morning."
"Thanks." Willow smiled at her before returning to her desk and packing away her things. Nodding towards the two women who were watching her with eerily similar expressions, Willow slipped out of the library and headed towards the elevator. She wasn't in a great hurry but she still needed to find a hotel somewhere nearby. And dinner.
"Who was that?" her sister asked, after Willow left the library.
"She wanted to read a book." Buffy said, returning to her desk after putting the book away..
"Well... duh!" Dawn huffed. "What do you know about her?"
"Nothing. Other than she drove here when I wouldn't send her the book." Buffy said. "Why?"
"Just curious. She seems kind of young to be hanging out in a library."
"Hey!" Buffy grumbled, taking a swing at her sister. "I hang out in a library!"
"Exactly my point." Dawn smirk, dodging Buffy's hand. "Did she just wander in off the street?"
"Mitzy brought her up here." Buffy said. "They don't allow anyone in this part of the building without checking them out."
"Mitzy?" Dawn shook her head. "She would let any cute young thing with tits in. The more femme the better."
"Dawn!" Buffy gasped in mock shock. "Where did you learn to talk like that?"
"Umm..." Dawn gave her sister her best 'I'm innocent' look, Something she'd perfected years ago that Buffy liked to think she was now immune to. "All the kids talk that way now-a-days?"
"I don't think so!" Buffy frowned at her sister while grabbing her purse, sure she was trying to pull a fast one. "Do they?"
"I'll never tell." Dawn told her, laughing.
"We can always skip the movie." Buffy told her repressively.
"Buffy!" Dawn whined. "I've been waiting for weeks for this. I need my Miyazaki fix!"
"Race ya!" Buffy blurted out mischievously, putting her chair in motion before Dawn could react.
"Damn it! Buffy!" Dawn said, reaching her side as she rolled into the elevator. "You cheated."
"Moi?" Buffy batted her eyelashes at her sister. "Cheat? You accuse the girl with wheels for legs of cheating?"
"Yes'm." Dawn scowled at her smirking sister.
"What if I'd gotten another flat?" Buffy wondered aloud.
"Triple-A?" Dawn suggested with a straight face. "They cover chair flats, don't they?"
Buffy shook her head with a laugh. "Come on." She waved Dawn ahead of her into the parking garage and towards her car. "You win. For now."
"Yes!" Dawn screeched, dancing up and down excitedly like a little kid before climbing into the car, Buffy watching her with a fond smile. She really didn't know what she was going to do when Dawn finished college and inevitably moved away she thought as she went through the complicated process of getting into the car herself.
Continued in "The Witch"