Title: The Rose of Nothing
Characters/Pairings: Willow, Giles, Xander/Dawn
Setting: Between the penultimate and final issues of Season 8.
Summary: We know what Giles left Faith and Buffy. What did he give everyone else? (Focus on Willow. NOT OPTIMISTIC.)
Notes: Just sliding this one in before it gets Jossed by the first issue of Buffy's half of Season 9. Also, please to let me include the notes I originally posted with this story on my own LJ. It tells the tale of a sadly failed campaign:
"I reused the name for Oz's puppy that I made up in my first Season 8 fic. Now, listen. This is important. The comicsverse PTBs are wonderful at listening to us, and we have an as-of-yet untapped power to add to canon. If everyone who reads this sends an email or tweet to Scott Allie asking him to make "Ice Nose" the official name of Oz's dog, Nathan Fillion will buy the rights to Firefly.
Now, with that taken care of, let's move on to some mad angst."
"I just want to get out of London. With quickness. We finished the legal stuff, I got my consolation-less prize, it's time to let Faith settle in. Right?" Buffy looked around at the three other women in the room, her fingertips pressing down hard on the cover of her book that sat on the table before her. She hadn't stopped holding it or touching it for longer than a moment at a time since they had been there, Faith noted, though there was no affection or reverence in the way she handled it. The book was a hostage, Buffy its jailer.
Faith shrugged. "Did everyone else get their stuff?" She began searching her pockets. "I had a list..."
Buffy was instantly alert, looking ready to face a new onslaught of betrayal. "What list? Did he leave something to all of you?"
"Nobody you wouldn't expect," said Faith. "Dawn, Willow..."
Dawn nodded. "I got a book too," she said to Buffy, and pulled the item in question out of the shoulder bag she had left on one of the kitchen's chairs. It was a large, leather-bound volume, on which Faith couldn't make out a title.
"He gave you the Codex?" asked Willow, sounding a little surprised for the first time since they had all convened here at the flat.
"He left me the Codex. Big difference. Don't think I'd be getting my grubby hands on it if he were still around."
Buffy's expression had softened considerably. "That's amazing, Dawnie. He must have really appreciated how smart you are, trusting you with that."
Dawn shrugged, unhappy. Faith made a cautious effort to look neutral. "What is it?" she asked.
"Knowledge obscura," said Dawn. "Secrets of the underworld, gloom and doom prophecies. You know the type. He really loved it."
Faith leaned back against the counter and crossed her arms, imagining Giles' years of relative happiness sharing his life with these much-loved girls. "Yeah," she said, "he was like that with all his Apocalypse handbooks. Was just wondering why he only found a home for that one." She twitched and recovered quickly, gesturing in Buffy's direction. "And that one."
"The Codex was kind of the prize of the collection, though," Buffy explained. "Like, if Giles were a crazy cat lady, that would be the one who appeared on his doorstep as a kitten and has its own basket in every room. Whenever we were researching, there was always a 'Check the Codex, would you?' moment."
Dawn opened it gingerly and turned a few pages as Buffy watched over her shoulder. Faith didn't attempt to come close enough to look, and, she noted, neither did Willow. She could see from her distance some etchings and headers in ominous fonts, none of which meant anything to her. She turned her attention instead to Willow, who had her eyes closed as if in pain, and Buffy, who couldn't seem to handle too much of the book before looking away and then focusing on her friend instead. "Willow?"
The ex-witch's eyes snapped open. "Hm?"
"What did he give you?" Buffy asked.
Faith saw that Willow's skirt still bulged where she had pocketed the item in question when Faith had handed it over earlier, but she didn't reach for it. "Nothing," she replied. "I mean, not nothing, it was something, nothing much, I just, I just don't want to talk about it. I can show you later. It's just a...something."
"Okay," said Buffy doubtfully. "Faith, I was wondering, would you mind if I looked around in here for this one mug he used to have...?"
"The green one?" Dawn piped in.
Faith shrugged in response to Buffy's nod. "Have a ball. There's a lot more stuff in here than I need, so whatever fits in your suitcase is fair game."
Buffy began protesting with overdone sincerity that she only wanted to look and not take, and Faith repeated that taking was okay. She didn't want to have this conversation. She didn't like hearing the same desperate sincerity coming out of her own mouth. She didn't give a shit about whether Buffy took home Giles' favorite coffee mug.
Willow, no help at all, left the room.
"The Codex?" Xander's voice was tinny, his astonishment clear. "Thethe Codex? That's one hell of a pat on the back. Which you completely deserve, to be obvious. Most time I ever spent with that book was trying to get the ketchup off of the index before he found out about it."
"Yeah," said Dawn, allowing her body to relax and unfold on the bed now that she had him on the line and talking to her. "Um, you failed. Anyway, he left you something too."
"Oh yeah? Am I stoked or resigned?"
"I don't know. It's - well, it's his watch. You remember it?" She had the watch in her free hand, and rubbed her thumb along its elegant contours as she spoke. "It's a really nice one. Probably expensive. I'll bring it back for you."
Xander was silent for a moment, making Dawn want to keep babbling into the phone until he was forced to interrupt and supply her with his voice again. Before she succumbed, though, he cleared his throat and said, "Yeah, I remember it. What do you think he was trying to say?"
"What makes you think he was trying to say something? Maybe he just wanted to leave you something nice."
"Maybe." Xander sounded doubtful. "But Buffy with the 'go slay' book, and you with the 'go study' book...don't you kind of feel like this was all about giving us messages?"
Dawn pulled a pillow into her lap and hugged it. "Okay, so what kind of message is a watch? He thought you were chronically tardy? I didn't think you were chronically tardy."
"I didn't think I was deserving of expensive watches."
"Of course you are. He didn't underestimate you, Xander, I know he didn't. He thought you were - oh! I get it."
She held the watch up near her ear as she explained. It was still ticking, but the time was off - it would need to be wound, and Xander would have to figure out how to do that himself, as he had most likely never before owned a watch that needed regular maintenance. "It's a man's watch. If he gave it to me or Buffy or Faith or Willow, we wouldn't wear it. He wanted it to be used. See, he's not giving us messages, he's giving us roles. You're the new patriarch."
Xander made a small sound of surprise, and then recovered in usual form: "Hey, Dawnzer, if you want to start having my babies, you can just say so. It's never too soon to make your man run screaming from commitment."
"Oh, please," she groaned, stifling a giggle at the same time. "I kinda have the next few years reserved for commitment to my own life, remember?"
"Good. Me too."
It wasn't lost on her that he was reserving his future for herlife, not his own, and she didn't need to say it out loud to verify it with him. "So how are things on your side of the ocean?" she asked instead. "Any luck with the apartment search?"
"Maybe. What's more important? Bug-free, or -"
"You don't say." He laughed. "I better go. This is costing us."
Dawn sighed and squeezed the watch, as if he were somehow held within it. "Xander..."
"It's gonna get better, Dawn."
"For us. What about Willow?"
The flat had been lousy with mourners for the last two days - or at least, it felt that way to Willow, who wanted to be alone so badly that even the presence of a few of them seemed unbearable. Buffy and Faith had tried to coordinate open visitation hours so that they would come in groups, and this afternoon it was the distant friends and acquaintances of Giles, all of them strangers to the Sunnydale girls, most of them ignorant of the Giles' real purpose. They were politely sympathetic but clearly suspicious of Faith as the primary heir, and Willow was already exhausted by making up safe topics to talk about.
She was standing by the table now with a rich-looking old man, a sometime colleague who had brought an elaborate fruit basket and didn't seem to know who was the proper recipient of it. "And you're his niece, was it?" he asked Willow.
"No. Just a friend."
"Ah. Then the young lady with the adventurous blouse, she's the closest relation?"
Willow clutched her drink and shook her head. "No, she was just a good friend of his."
"And those two sisters who greeted me at the door?"
Elsewhere in the room, she could hear Buffy and the others having similar conversations. Willow tried to concentrate on her own and not listen in on theirs, but when she heard the doorbell ring once again, she turned her back to it, holding back a wince. "We all met him when he lived in California," she said to the old professor. Maybe they could talk about their respective homelands; that was an easy one.
The sound of the door opening overlapped Buffy's voice, heightened by surprise: "What are youdoing here?"
The voice that replied was male, and American, and full of dry wit. Willow had forgotten that she was waiting for it. "I'm with the band," he said.
"I'm sorry," Willow stammered at the professor. "But, there's, a person, and I have to, because, it was nice to meet you, but, person. Bye."
The person entered the flat, weary and rough from travel, one bag slung over his shoulder and all his attention on Buffy. Both of them turned to look at Willow as she rushed over. "Hey," said Oz.
Thanks to his immunity to the need for pleasantries, it didn't take long for Oz to greet everyone in the room that he knew and escape everyone else. As soon as he had sized up the formal clothing and hushed English voices, he asked to speak to Willow alone and she obliged instantly, showing him to the tiny guest room that she'd had to herself for the past few days. They sat together on the bed, just like they used to in her bedroom in Sunnydale, just like they had in her college dorm when he returned to show how he had changed, just like they had in his home in Tibet when she told him she was nothing without her magic.
"Are all of you moving in here?" he asked.
Willow shook her head vehemently. "Just Faith. We're helping her settle in."
"Nice of you."
"I guess. I think everyone's kinda relieved I'm leaving before they are. I'm not quite helping enough for them to want to endure my company along with it."
"Don't say that, Will."
"Whatever," she said. "So, to quote Buffy..."
"What am I doing here?" He bent down to unlace his boots. "Not a gripping tale. The Yak Express mail came through with a notification that Rupert Edmund Giles had left me a box of vintage records and I could either have it shipped or pick it up here. Thought I'd save someone the postage and come pay my respects."
"You missed the funeral," said Willow, and then her eyes widened as she put it together. "Is that how you found out? Nobody called you?"
The corner of Oz's mouth twitched. "Andrew called me."
"I...I'm so sorry, Oz."
"You had other things on your mind." He clasped his hands between his knees and gazed at her, wise-eyed. "Am I right?"
She knew what he meant. There had been so many things to worry about since Giles died, so many people to console and mementos to distribute, like the secret stone in her pocket now and the Codex in Dawn's luggage. Buffy was right; that Giles had specified Dawn as the book's keeper spoke volumes. Indeed it was the first thing that had given Willow a surge of surprise since she had fallen from the sky and onto the dead earth of the present. What nobody was saying, of course, was that the book was useless. In a world without magic, it didn't need to be in trusted hands any more than Giles' copy of Great Expectations.
Willow had many things on her mind. Oz had not been one of them. Neither had Giles.
She started crying almost instantly, failing to hide it with her hands. "You're right, I'm sorry, goddess, I'm a horrible person..." Oz reached out to hug her, and she sobbed into his shoulder for a few seconds before recovering and flinching away. "I just don't know how to keep living. I can't talk to anyone. I can't believe he's gone, I mean really literallycan't believe it. I can't even think about it long enough to understand how it could be true."
"You're not a horrible person," he said, making no further attempt to touch her. "But Giles is dead. And you're alive."
Willow sniffed back the last of her tears. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I want you to come live with us in Tibet."
The words hung in the air, waiting for her to accept their submission into reality. Oz was sitting on the bed beside her, still and serious. "Why?" she asked at length.
"Why not? You were doing good there. You lived without magic. The baby liked you." He paused. "We're out of the monastery, by the way. We're building a little house of our own. Just me and Bay and Kelden and Ice Nose. You could make it five."
She shook her head, incredulous. "Bay would let you do that?"
"It was her idea." He looked grave. "I won't lie, Will, you've been hell on my marriage. Pulling us into your war was just the audition. Now our sanctuary's done for and it turns out my wife's been lying to me these past years about where our magic was going. She's not your biggest fan. But she still wants to help people, and you're looking like the best candidate."
"But she knows...I mean, you and I used to..."
"Yeah. She knows me too well to worry about that. Plus, the walls of the room where you and Kennedy were sleeping? Not that thick."
Willow squirmed. "Right. Kennedy. She and I kind of didn't so much work things out. It was...you are really not looking surprised right now."
"Never did get habitual with the expression thing," he agreed. "But yeah. I didn't see a happy ending coming on with that."
"I wasn't looking for a happy ending. I never thought there would be an ending. But now that's all there is, just ending, and nobody's happy."
"You could be. I know you don't believe it now, but there's a future for you. We'll introduce you to some chill people, teach you some new crafts. We could use a tech expert in the area, you'd be a real hit."
The peaceful life that Oz proposed flowed into her mind's eye like a vision. She imagined herself walking with local women, taking care of animals, teaching her friend's sweet child to talk and read. It was an offer of ultimate generosity, far more than she deserved. Oz knew it, and begrudged it not at all, and oh, how she missed his company.
Then she remembered a radiant figure of white and green, telling her exactly how to save the world. She remembered failing. Her eyes filled up with tears once more. "I can't," she whispered. "You don't understand. I just can't."
Oz's voice was urgent. "Willow-"
"I'm not who I used to be."
"Just go back home. Work on your marriage. Tell her I'm sorry about everything."
"What did Giles give you?"
That gave her a start. Her hand pressed her pocket. "What? Nothing."
"He gave something to everyone," Oz said patiently. "What did he want you to have? Who did he think you were?"
Willow stood up and turned away from him. "I'm going out. Talk to Faith if you need a place to stay until your return flight."
She didn't really expect him to stop her. Certainly he would have back in Sunnydale, but he knew that he no longer had that right, didn't he? Apparently not - his hand was on her shoulder before she reached the door, and it stayed there firmly until she faced him.
"Things changed," he said, "for both of us. When I left you I thought I'd find a way, someday, somehow, to make it up to you even if we could never be friends again. Since then I've seen you being slammed with these two huge losses, and I realized, what I did was nothing in comparison, and I can't fix what really went wrong. I can't give you Tara back, and I can't put magic back into the world. But this, I can do. Let me show you who you can be."
He was angry, Tara had once said. But he had a good soul. I could feel it.
She had always been able to feel the soul.
"Oz," Willow murmured. "I can be alone. That's all."
She left him there, disappointment etched across his face, and hurried through the house and the grieving throng to get outside before someone else tried to talk to her. It was sunny and full of the noises of people living their lives. She would have preferred dark skies and silence. Wasn't London supposed to be rainy?
She walked on, subconsciously hoping she might get lost. The city was sprawling and foreign, but she knew she couldn't really get far enough to forget where she had come from. Even Tibet wasn't far enough for that. Oz wanted to turn her into a normal woman, his resident lesbian tech whiz babysitter, as if she had never flown and killed and changed the world. Kennedy used to call her a goddess. Nobody ever would again. Now she was a shadow of her real self, a postscript to her own life, Willow the Wisp, harbinger of death.
There was a park bench on the side of the road, and she sank into it, paying no mind to the other pedestrians out enjoying the warm day. She took a deep breath, and winced - her ribs were still mending. The object in her pocket dug into her thigh, and finally, she took it out and held it in the palm of her hand.
It was a chunk of rose quartz, unpolished but with a hole drilled through so that it could be strung on its slender leather cord. It had virtually no monetary worth, and it didn't make an especially attractive piece of jewelry. Like all of the inheritance gifts, it had come with no note, but she had recognized it instantly, even after all these years. She had first seen it in the drawer of Miss Calendar's desk, after Angelus had snapped her neck and left red roses to mock her lover's pain. Willow had known so little about witchcraft at the time, but she took her pagan teacher's word that the stone had healing powers, and truly believed that Giles needed it most and that even the thought might help him, and so the stone was passed into his hands.
Someone had put red roses on his casket, and Willow wondered if it was her own pain being mocked this time.
Clearly Giles, the greatest mind that Willow had ever encountered, had anticipated that she was the one who would need healing once he was gone. She wasn't too miserable to be touched by that, but the truth was hard and clear: Giles had never imagined that his death would come hand-in-hand with the end of magic. He might not have been able to recognize the effect that the rose quartz had on his heart as he grieved, but he had known, long before she had ever taken up research on the subject, that the powers of crystals were real, and not merely ascribed to them by new-age Wiccans. However subtle or insignificant, this pendant had contained a spiritual salve of true magic, and he had chosen her to receive it.
Now it contained nothing. It was a cold, dead pink rock. There was no healing here.
Willow stood up, slipping the pendant back into her pocket. She ought to go back and say goodbye to Oz before he went home. She realized that she hadn't asked if he and his family were still werewolves, and that she didn't care. She was leaving London herself soon, and she had her own matters to take care of first.
Giles had owned quite a few useless books beyond the Codex, some of which she already knew contained explicit references to Saga Vasuki, and Faith had said that anything that fit in their suitcases was fair game. Quite a few could fit into Willow's suitcase. It wasn't as if her own parting gift was taking up much room.