Title: Tried So Hard

Author: Kendra A. (kendraangelusslayer@yahoo.com)

Rating: PG-13 for now, though I may change my naughty mind

Summary: After I watched "Wrecked", I felt this kind of wave of nausea at the humiliation Willow was put through. I thought Alyson Hannigan did an acting job that surpassed awesome, but it hurt to watch, and I was super upset because Willow is one of my favorite characters. So, "Kendra," I said, "Kendra," says I, "You've got to do something about this." And so, here is what I did. It's not reversing "Wrecked", per se… it's just setting things right… kind of.

Pairing: Funny question, this. It's kind of not really a 'ship, though if I continue it, it'll be Willow/Angel, and fluff. Sort of. I'll send it to some Willow/Angel lists with my wholehearted apologies.

Author's Notes: Look, I have no idea what drug withdrawal must really be like, and even less what magic withdrawal is really like. Don't hold it against me. And any spells or side effects are products of me, me, and only me. Have fun!

Dedication: This is wholeheartedly and without question for Lisa (a.k.a. Firedrake), my Muse, who is patient and wonderful and who thinks that I'm working on "Morning". I'm sorry, Lisa, I couldn't help myself. So here's another angst-fic for you.

January, 2002. Sunnydale, California.

Willow woke up feeling ill.

She'd tossed and turned all night long, the bottled-up magic burning inside her stomach like acid. Her grim resolution had held strong, but the rest of her had not. Her head hurt; her stomach lurched; her limbs shook uncontrollably; the sheets that still remained on the bed after her restless night were soaked in sweat.

The sound of the alarm clock blaring was not one she wanted to hear, but she repeated her little mantra in her head despite her pounding migraine and switched off the clock. Then, steeling herself against the inevitable, she swung her legs out of bed and stood.

It was no surprise to have the room twist as though it was caught in a cross-dimensional spell; there was no shock in the fact that the dizziness forced her to a pathetic pile on her hands and knees as her stomach turned inside-out. Wave after wave of nausea hit her slender frame, and Willow retched and coughed up absolutely nothing for nearly fifteen minutes until she was able to take partial control of her senses and focus on her mantra:

Just get through one more day… Just get through one more day… Just get through one more day…

* * *

It had taken Willow forty-five minutes to walk to the Magic Box. Things were getting worse, and despite her resolution to not bring any of her friends into this, something had to be done. There were no words to describe how sorry Willow was for everything, but she didn't want redemption so badly she'd die for it.

Steeling herself against the dizziness as she forced herself to stop leaning against the outer wall of the shop, Willow stood up as straight as she could and took slow, steady steps to open the door.

The bell tinkled as she entered; the reactions of all of the people inside were well-known. Dawn grimaced, turned her back and left the room; Xander looked after her helplessly, and shot a self-righteous glare in Willow's direction; Anya frowned at Xander; Spike scowled but stayed stalwartly at Buffy's side; and Buffy forced a smile onto her pretty face and refused to make eye contact.

"H-hey, guys," Willow said, her voice crammed with familiar Willow cheeriness.

There were mumbled greetings, and everybody turned back to what they were doing. Instead of inconspicuously joining them, Willow paused at the landing. "C-can we talk? Something's… you know… going wrong. I think."

At that, Buffy and Xander looked up. Their eyes held a measure of 'What's she up to now?' and 'I hope this isn't regression'. Willow sighed. "Something's going wrong w-with me. My magic."

At the word magic everyone stiffened, and the looks in Buffy and Xander's eyes were terrible indeed. Willow made her way to the table, trying desperately to control the shivering in her limbs, and shakily sat down. Nobody noticed that she was nearly falling over; nobody noticed that her frame was growing ever skinnier; nobody noticed the circles under her eyes. Willow figured she deserved it.

"I-I've tried not to pay attention to this," Willow began, "Because I thought it was n-normal, you know, typical w-withdrawal or whatever…" She looked up, hoping to find encouragement in their eyes, but there was only judgment. "I h-haven't been feeling well at… at all, and I had an idea, but I figured I should ask you all first." Willow paused, took a breath, and said: "I was thinking of asking Angel if I could move to L.A. with him for a while."

There was complete silence, and then Xander hissed, "Trying to find the easy way out, Wills?" The nickname held no comfort.

She had been expecting his reaction, but nothing could have prepared her for the contempt in his dark stare. "N-no. No, Xander! I can explain, if—"

"Can't take the consequences, Willow?" Buffy demanded. "Aren't up to doing the penance?"

This was like something out of a nightmare. "No! No. Buffy, please—"

"And to Angel, of all people," Xander interrupted. Hate dripped from his every word. "Oh, no, can't go off to some AA retreat or something, have to go the Deadboy in L.A., who'll treat you like you're made of glass, is that it?"

Willow tried desperately not to cry—if she cried, they'd think she was weak. They'd think she was feeling sorry for herself. "Xand…"

"—What I want to know," Anya said frankly, with no trace of judgment in her voice, "Is why Willow didn't just go and write to us from there?"

Another bout of silence followed her question. Anya, true to form, seemed not to notice. "I mean, if she wanted the easy way out, Xander, why didn't she just go? She wouldn't have to deal with us at all that way."

Willow let out a long, shaky breath. I never thought I'd be thankful to Anya for anything

Buffy ground her teeth and sighed. "Alright," she said. "Why do you need to go to L.A., Willow?"

Willow raised her eyes from her hands, which were clasped together so hard the knuckles were white. "I… I can explain?"

Buffy set her jaw and nodded once, stiffly.

"O-okay." Willow furrowed her brow and tried to remember the speech she prepared in her mind. "I've gone two months," she said. "Two months, no magic. And I've tried to get my life b-back on track."

She looked around the table at the four of them: Anya, Xander, Buffy, Spike; and she thought she saw Dawn lingering in the door to the exercise room out of the corner of her eye. "This is going to be hard to say right without sounding like I'm trying to take the easy way out," she added with a breathy, nervous giggle. Spike's eyes bored into her.

"Uh… like I said, I don't really know what magical withdrawal is supposed to feel like, or how long it's supposed to go on for," she continued, "and nobody here really does either. And the thing is, I think it might be h-hur-hurting a little too much and going on a little too long.

"And the truth is, it has been hard. I mean, we've all done terrible stuff before, every single one of us, right? Buffy left after she sent Angel to Hell—sorry, Buffy—and she came back, and was forgiven soon enough, even though you relapsed a little, and almost left again. But I haven't," Willow whispered, looking back down at her white-knuckled hands; "I haven't, but every time I walk into a room with you guys, the only one who looks at me like I'm human is Anya.

"I've tried so hard, and I haven't done any magic and I don't plan to ever again, but I feel like I need to be with people who won't judge me for every move I make and who won't hate me. I know what I did was wrong and I've told all of you that I'm so, so sorry, and I don't know what else I can do! I hurt, okay?" Willow said, finally letting the tears come. "I can't tell you how much this all hurts. It hurts to have you hate me—you guys are my family. It hurts to know that there's no forgiveness no matter how hard I try, and it hurts that I wasn't able to tell you any of this before because I was too afraid you wouldn't believe me. It hurts to have nobody to talk to.

"It hurts to not be able to use magic, and I know it's wrong to say that, and I don't plan to use it, but it's true! I went too far, and I know I crossed way too many lines, but that magic was something special and pure and beautiful and it was a part of me, and it wouldn't be so hard if you hadn't turned your heads away every time I tried to talk to you! And what hurts," Willow said, barely daring to breathe, "is waking up every morning."

The magic shop was silent again.

"I can't make you understand the pain," she continued, "but I'll try anyway. Every morning, I get up after a night of no sleep, because I toss and turn and sweat and cry all night long; and when I stand, I fall to my knees because of the pain." Willow looked to Buffy, her eyes pleading. "There's so much pain, Buffy, you can't believe it. It tears through my stomach and my head and it takes me forever to get up. I get up at seven and I'm only ready by nine-thirty, did you know? And I used to be able to be ready for anything in a half an hour."

Willow held Buffy's level stare, afraid to look away. "So that's why I think I should go to L.A., because they won't hate me there. They might be a little worried, but they won't hate me. They'd have to have seen what happened to really hate me. And they'll help—can you imagine Cordelia put up with any crap from anybody?" Willow gave a funny little laugh. "And Wesley and Angel might know better what's happening to me, and why, and they might be able to make the pain stop."

The silence was like a long black hole. It was like driving through a tunnel in a car alone, or sitting next to a person you've just had a fight with, so the silence is infinite, but you'd never hear a pin drop.

Buffy said, "Maybe the pain is normal, Willow." Cruel.

Xander looked ill.

Anya looked at Spike; Spike looked back. Finally, he said, "What's this pain like, then?"

Willow furrowed her eyebrows. "I… I said—"

"Yeh. You said it hurt. But how? Is there any physical effect?" The questions were direct, callous, but Spike's eyes held a bit of sympathy and a bit of… worry?

Willow thought, and her head began to ache. "I get up every morning, and I've got a migraine—it's like I'm being stabbed in the skull," she said slowly, her eyes far away. "And my stomach hurts, because I'm so hungry. I can't keep anything down, I throw up before bed every night. And I get out of bed and I can't stand because I'm so dizzy so I fall down, and I cough and choke and I'm so nauseous but I can't throw up because my stomach's so empty…"

"Normal drug withdrawal side effects," Buffy cut in. "This might be something you just have to ride out, Willow."

Spike looked like he could contradict, but didn't. Xander turned an interesting pale shade.

"B-But Buffy…" He swallowed. "She says it hurts." For him, that was enough reason to forgive anything, no holds barred. Willow could have kissed him for looking like he cared.

"This is something Willow brought upon herself," Buffy said, looking away. "And she needs to accept the pain that comes with it."

Even Spike looked shocked.

"I cough up blood, Buffy," Willow said in a tiny voice, knowing she had lost, knowing it was all for nothing. They'd follow Buffy, all of them, and they'd hate her until she died one morning, retching on her knees, coughing up blood and silver.

Anya seemed to sit up straighter. "Blood?"

A tiny nod. "Blood and silver."

Anya jumped in her chair and reached across the table to pull at Buffy's sleeve. "Buffy, this is serious. Blood is one thing, silver is quite another. But I've heard of witches who go without magic and without help, and blood and silver is a bad sign."

Buffy flinched, and darted a quick look over her shoulder towards the back room, where everybody knew Dawn listened. "Willow did some bad stuff," Buffy said, and left.

* * *

"Angel Investigations, we help th—"

"Yeah, I know, you help the hopeless, Cordy," Xander's impatient voice interrupted. "But this is an emergency—is Angel there?"

Cordelia never thought to argue. Xander hadn't called Angel 'Deadboy'; something was definitely wrong. "Yeah. One second." She pressed a button on the phone and yelled, "Angel! Line 3!"

The phone clicked as Angel picked up, and he yelled back, "I got it, Cordy, thanks."

"Angel? Angel, man? You there?" The voice on the other end of the phone was so panicked that it took Angel a moment to realize who it was.

"*Xander*?"

"Angel, look, I know we've had our disagreements before, and I'm not sorry at all, but this is an emergency and we need to forget about our personal troubles," Xander said quickly.

If Xander was ready to apologize (sort of), he wasn't kidding. "Fine, Xander. What's wrong?"

"Willow's been coughing up blood and silver," Xander said with a break in his voice, "And it just got worse, and we don't know what to do."

* * *

An hour and a half later, Spike's black DeSoto pulled up in front of the Hyperion and Spike strode in, followed quickly by Dawn, Anya and Xander, who carried an unconscious Willow in his arms. Even in her death-like sleep, Willow's body jerked as though possessed. Her lips were dry and cracked, and a thin line of blood-laced liquid silver trailed from her mouth and down her cheek.

Angel got up from the desk and went around to help. Cordelia stood and fidgeted nervously, biting her newly-short nails even further to the quick. Fred and Gunn came out of the back office, and Wesley charged up from the basement with a musty book in his hands. "Is she alright?" Angel asked, lifting Willow's limp body from Xander's arms to his own.

"Does she bloody look alright?" Spike demanded.

Angel winced as Willow's slender frame shivered in his arms. "We can use my room," he said, and walked as quickly as he could up the stairs. Wesley followed close at hand, explaining in a hushed tone that he'd found the cure, but it would have to be used soon or not at all. Xander and Spike came at their heels, while Anya and Dawn held hands tightly and worriedly at the foot of the stairs.

* * *

Xander clutched Willow's long-fingered hand in his own larger one and tried not to cry. She looked so small and pale lying there on Angel's crimson bedspread, and the unnatural blood and silver trickling from her mouth made it hard to believe that she wasn't already dead.

Please don't die, please don't die, please don't die…

Wesley held her other hand, her left one, and was carefully painting runes on the back of it with reddish-brown henna, muttering in some unknown language the whole while. Spike paced back and forth, from the left side of the bed to the right; Angel, too, paced back and forth, but from the head of the bed to the foot.

Willow no longer jerked or tossed where she lay but shuddered slightly, perpetually, and blood and silver still dribbled from her mouth as she breathed.

* * *

It was around one o'clock in the morning when the doors of the Hyperion were thrown open with a loud bang and Buffy stormed in. "Where is she?"

Cordelia, who had fallen asleep across her keyboard, looked up drowsily. "Wha…?"

"Willow! And, and Dawn! Where are they?"

Dawn stepped out of the office, where she'd been sprawled across Anya's lap on the couch. "I'm right here, Buffy," she said.

Buffy rushed towards her and swept her into a hug. "Oh, God, are you okay?"

"I'm not really the one you should be asking after, but I'm fine," Dawn said distantly.

"Wha—oh, you mean Willow? Where is she? I need to talk to her." Buffy scowled. "We'll figure something out, but I really don't think there's anything to worry about…"

At that moment, an exhausted looking Angel, Spike and Wesley descended the stairs. Angel held an armful of bloody towels. Dawn jerked away from her sister and ran to Spike. "Will she be okay?"

Spike looked as though he was considering lying a little to soften the blow, but the desperate look in Dawn's eyes changed his mind. "I dunno, Li'l Bit," he said after a moment. "She coughed up a lot of bloody silver, not to mention just plain blood. I know the Watcher's spell stopped whatever it was from eating her insides out, but we don't know if it was in time…" He trailed off when he saw Buffy standing there. "Buffy."

Spike had always looked at her with such unconditional love that the ambivalence in his eyes was like a stab to the gut. "Spike? What happened?"

"The 'penance' your witch had to pay really was killing her," Spike said softly. "She's upstairs."

Buffy looked to Angel, who stood by his office door, and to the heap of formerly pristine white towels that were now covered liberally in blood. "That's…" The Slayer swallowed. "That's all Willow's blood?"

Angel nodded and went into the office, presumably to dispose of the towels.

"What happened?" Buffy asked quietly.

"Not really sure," Spike told her. "Ask him." He jerked a thumb towards Wesley.

"Wes?" Buffy looked to him expectantly.

"Ahem," said Wesley. Buffy was annoyed at him for a brief moment until she realized he was actually clearing his throat and not being pompous. "Uh…" He flipped through the book he'd brought down with him. "The—the magic that Willow had been practicing was inherently natural to her being," he began.

"Natural," Buffy repeated.

Wesley coughed and rubbed hid tired eyes. "Un—unlike the magic that Mr. Giles or Willow's girl—ahem, girlfriend Tara might have practiced, Willow was a natural-born witch."

"Like Amy?" Dawn asked in a small voice.

Wesley looked slightly lost.

"Amy's the girl that turned herself into a rat senior year," Buffy clarified rather unclearly.

"Into a… into a rat," Wesley said blankly. "Well, transfiguration would be quite a feat for an eighteen-year-old…"

"But Tara's mother was a witch," Buffy said, frowning. "Doesn't that count?"

"Inherited witchcraft doesn't necessarily guarantee a natural aptitude at all," Wesley said, turning a page of his book. "Your friend Tara may have had witch blood, but the talent her mother possessed wasn't passed down. The magic she performed was most likely effective through pure force of will, or something to that effect."

"But Willow's a natural witch?" Buffy muttered.

"If she wasn't, she would not have been expelling blood and silver," Wesley said impatiently.

"All of that blood she coughed up?" Buffy asked hoarsely.

Wesley shot a cautious glance at Dawn. "Not per se, Buffy," he said stiffly. "Dawn, I know you are concerned for Willow's welfare, but I feel that fully explaining Willow's condition to you would cause you undue distress."

Dawn pursed her lips and sighed angrily. "Right. Of course. Little Dawnie can't handle anything."

Buffy looked from her sister to Wesley quickly and shook her head. "Forget it, Wes. We can hear it later. Where's Xander?"

Wesley moved around the counter and sat down at the front desk next to Cordelia, who had fallen asleep again. "He's upstairs, with Willow," he said.

* * *

Buffy found Angel's suite without much trouble, and paused at the doorway to take a deep breath. Then she pushed the door open and entered.

The door to Angel's bedroom was open still, and she could just see the light from a lamp inside. What she saw in that room gave her pause again.

Willow lay on her back in the center of the bed, breathing raspily through her nose. She was as white as paper, and she still bled, though only from her cracked lips and not from her mouth or throat. There were streaks of blood on her cheeks and forehead, and her hair was sweat-soaked. Xander lay next to her, curled on his side, clutching her hand like a lifeline. He looked so alive next to Willow's pallor that it was alarming, and there were streaks of white under his eyes that Buffy knew were dried tears.

Buffy moved forward and sat down lightly on the unoccupied side of the bed and took Willow's left hand in her own. She ran her thumb over the complex brown designs on the back of Willow's hand and sighed. Her friend was so pale, so dead looking, and her hand was so thin and light. Bird's bones.

There was a stirring, and Xander coughed a little and opened his eyes. He met Buffy's own worried ones calmly, and said, "Buffy. Decided to care a little?"

Buffy bit her lip as her own eyes filled with tears. "Xander, you don't know how sorry I am."

"Willow wouldn't want me to antagonize you, especially after how we did her, but I think you need to know exactly what we did to our best friend," Xander said. His voice was trembling.

"We," Buffy said.

"*We*," Xander agreed. "All that blood—she coughed up a lot of it, Buffy, but… Oh, God."

Buffy lay down next to Willow, holding the unconscious girl's hand to her heart.

"The magic she used… it was natural to her. She might have abused it in the end, but it was something built-in, and when she stopped using it, for our sake, it was like… not breathing for her." Xander stopped and ran a hand through his hair. "All this magic was building up inside her like carbon dioxide, but she wouldn't let it go, both because she didn't know what was wrong, exactly, and also because she wouldn't have anyway, to keep us happy. But all of this magic took up room inside her, and it needed more space the more she stored it; so she threw up everything she ate—that room in her stomach, the magic took it up.

"And it took all of her energy, and when there was nothing more to take, she started coughing up blood. Her own blood wasn't welcome in her body, Buffy, because the magic needed space. And the silver—that's an advanced stage. The silver was the magic itself. It was compressed into a physical form, that's how much everything had been forced into so little space." Xander glanced at Willow's prone form and stroked her damp hair away from her forehead.

"She would have died one morning, coughing up blood and silver," he continued, unknowingly repeating Willow's own predictions, "Because we were too busy blaming her for everything, for channeling all of our personal anger at her over something that should have been forgiven a long time ago."

"But all of that blood, Xander?" Buffy asked, hardly daring.

"When Wesley did that spell… it released a lot of the magic inside of her, and it kind of… I think exploded is the operative word here," Xander whispered. "And that pressure inside forced her blood out. So when Wesley finished the spell, she bled." Xander swallowed and silent tears slipped from beneath his eyelashes. "From everywhere. From her eyes, like tears. It looked like she was crying blood. From her nose, from her mouth, from beneath her fingernails… slowly. It was horrible. And then I guess it wasn't going quickly enough, because suddenly she was covered with blood, and once we'd gotten her cleaned up, Wesley said it was because her pores were bleeding."

Buffy clenched Willow's limp hand tighter in her own and let go a muffled sob. "Oh, God…" She kissed Willow on the cheek. "I'm so, so sorry…"

Xander shifted his hold on Willow's hand and reached across her torso with his free hand towards Buffy. She took his offered hand in an iron grip and together they relaxed against Willow, and slept.

END?

Tell me what you think, guys… I know I keep writing these TBC fics, but I want to know if you think I should continue this. It's not my bets work, but I can fix it up.