Third Place Winner of whedonland's Oh the Horror! Writing Challenge.
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy. No profit made, no infringement intended.


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Willow stares into her friend's blank face. She focuses all of her energy on Buffy's remaining presence- on Buffy's shallow breathing and her heart beat that echoes in the stillness. At last Willow feels the rush of Buffy's thoughts that rip into the eerie quiet. Willow allows herself to be pulled into their tumbling and crashing journey, making her way into Buffy's mind.

Willow finds herself in a hallway. She can't make out the indistinct voices in the distance, but she can tell the words are foreign. Her eyes fall on the wide curtain, and she cautiously pulls it back. She finds Buffy curled up in a hospital bed, her back to Willow.

"Buffy?" Willow asks softly, moving quietly and hesitantly toward Buffy.

Buffy doesn't stir. Willow moves closer, starting to fear that even in her head, Buffy is catatonic.
fsofter
"Buffy?" Willow asks again. "You in there?" She waits, and then adds softly, "Please, Buffy?"

The blonde slowly turns and sits up, her brow furrowed. She stares at Willow for a second.

"Buffy?" The blonde asks.

"Yes," Willow nods. "You," she says, pointing toward the blonde.

"Karen," the blonde girl says softly, blinking long and slow. "My name... is... Karen," she tells Willow, fighting to speak the words despite her lethargy.

"Buffy?" Willow asks, her voice heavy with confusion and worry.

The blonde closes her eyes, and Willow reaches out her hand, fearful the blonde will pass out. The blonde opens her eyes slowly, studying Willow intently as she stands up.

The blonde raises her hand to Willow's cheek, then twists a red curl around her fingers.

"It was longer," the blonde murmurs.

"What?" Willow asks.

"Your hair, it used to be longer. And you used to dress like... Sears?" the blonde trails off.

"Softer side of Sears," Willow replies with a smile. "You remember?" she asks hopefully.

"You're Wil -Willow. But you're not real," she says, looking up at Willow questioningly. "They said you weren't real, that it was all part of my psychosis... with the girl, and then there was the fire..." the blonde's voice speeds up, trembling slightly.

"You're Buffy," Willow says, capturing the blonde's hand and squeezing it.

"You're here," Buffy whispers as she looks into Willow's eyes desperately. "You're really here," she says, letting out a sigh and throwing her arms around Willow. "Thank god you're here," she murmurs into Willow's hair as she holds her tightly.

When Buffy releases Willow, her eyes begin to dart around nervously.

"You need to help me. You need to get me out of here, Wil. You need to get me out of here now!" Buffy tells Willow, her voice rising in panic. She grabs Willow's shoulders, pleading louder still, "Willow, you have to get me out of here!"

"Buffy, it's okay, we just need to get you back so you can help Dawn and...." Willow replies, trying to calm her down, but Buffy interrupts.

"Please listen to me! I'm the only person who can stop her! I have to go back there! I have to!" Buffy cries out, terror ringing in her voice.

Nurses swarm the room, and Willow watches helplessly as the nurses drag Buffy from her.

"Please, you're my only chance," Buffy cries out as the nurses put her in restraints.

A guard forces Willow from the room and down the hallway. Willow stands awkwardly where he leaves her. She's utterly bewildered, with no idea how they're going to get out of this one. Vampires she knows how to deal with, but this is just weird.

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Buffy flinches as the light above her flickers. She tries herself not to panic, but the light flickers again and she knows. She takes a gasping breath and closes her eyes.

Darkness floods the room and she yanks hard against the restrains, jerking her body as she takes another gasping breath. Her lungs burn from her short, panicked breaths as she tries to tear her arm from the restraint, the darkness flickering over her. She bites back a cry as the pale hand wraps around hers, the damp cold chilling her to the bone. She fights harder, the fabric of the restrains rubbing her skin raw. At last she manages to tear the restraints from the bed.

When the guards open the door to check on her screams, she darts under their legs. Her bare feet slip on the cold linoleum as she runs down the hallway, but she keeps going. When she comes to a corner, she's forced to slow down as she crashes into the wall. She looks up to find nurses staring at her. Buffy edges by them slowly, her eyes locked with theirs. The moment her back is to them she runs as fast as she can. Behind her she can hear the guards' hard shoes hitting the linoleum.

She finds herself at the end of a corridor with nowhere left to run. On the other end of the hall the lights flicker off. Then the next light on the hallway flickers off. The darkness moves closer to her, the girl's ghostly skin barely visible in the shadows. Buffy inches back as the girl moves nearer to her, and a door behind gives way. She rushes into the room. She trips against something cold and metal, and the girl is only inches from her. She rushes forward, trying to stay silent while she searches for an exit. When she finally finds a door and pushes it open, she finds herself on the roof.

The wind makes tangles in her hair as she realizes this is a trap she can't escape. The girl's sudden appearance makes her gasp and lose her footing. Her hands catch her fall, and she crawls backward quickly. The girl moves closer as she finds herself at the edge, the cold wind on her back.

"Buffy!" the cry echoes into the darkness. Buffy turns to find Willow on the other side of the roof.

"I'm so sorry Wil! I can't- she-" Buffy cries out mournfully.

"Buffy! Listen to me!" Willow shouts back. "You can escape, but you have to choose! You have to choose which reality to believe in!" Buffy looks back at Willow, tears forming in her eyes.

"Your life back in Sunnydale isn't perfect Buffy. In fact, sometimes, it kinda sucks. But the Buffy I knew, the Buffy I survived high school with- she would never let herself become anyone's victim. She'd fight, no matter what," Willow says as she moves closer, her eyes locked with Buffy's.

"She sounds like a bit of a badass," Buffy retorts with a smirk as she picks herself off the ground.

"Yeah, she is," Willow replies with a grin.