When Giles calls and asks her to investigate some unusual magical activity in another dimension, Willow is relieved. She's visiting Kennedy's family in New York, and Kennedy's Aunt Elena makes her nervous. No matter how tactless or downright rude Kennedy can be, Aunt Elena always says something like Oh, how clever of you to notice that, with what seems like complete sincerity. Willow worries that she may be unwittingly violating lots of secret etiquette rules, only Aunt Elena is just too polite and gracious to point it out. Sometimes she's tempted to do a little mind-reading to find out for sure, but that would be definitely in the Magic-For-Selfish-Reasons territory. She doesn't want to fall back into those kind of habits again. She never thought she'd miss Cordelia's caustic wit or Anya's bluntness, but at least she knew how much those two disliked her. With Aunt Elena, she'll never know.
Traveling to another dimension to scout out a possible threat to Earth sounds relaxing in comparison.
Lyta's sitting in her shuttle poring over the reports of the latest attack on Psi Corps.
In the corner of her mind, something colorful catches Lyta's attention.
There's someone swirling through space nearby.
The magical energy is radiating from a group calling themselves Technomages. The term sounds familiar, but Willow can't quite place it. When she reaches out to their minds, they seem harmless enough. Definitely not thinking about invading another dimension. Maybe at some point she can come back and study the energies, which seem a bit weird and off-center compared to the ones she knows, but the portal between the dimensions will be closing in a few minutes. Time to go home and fill out the paperwork.
Most of the time, Lyta ignores travelers from other dimensions (most of them are just tourists), but this one might be interesting. A witch? That's certainly different than the usual gawkers. She reaches out.
As she crosses back home, Willow feels something tugging on her.
It's a hitchhiker-she's got to change her trajectory, head someplace relatively unpopulated. She briefly considers some spot over the Pacific Ocean, but she might need all of her energy to fight, it'd be foolish to waste it on flight.
She picks a lonely spot in the Nevada desert, and braces herself for whatever the hitchhiker has in store for her.
Then she realizes that this hitchhiker looks awfully familiar.
The witch recognizes her-in the witch's dimension, Lyta's joy and pain and sorrow (and Sheridan's and G'Kar's and poor Zach's) have been neatly packaged for entertainment. How . . . odd. Lyta gradually lowers barriers to her mind, to let the witch know that she means no harm to the witch or her world. She says, "I didn't mean to scare you, I just wanted someone to talk to." Her voice sounds rough and strange. How long has it been since she's spoken to another person? Months, at least.
Willow wonders if this is some sort of trick or trap, but when she touches Lyta's mind, she can't sense any ill-will.
Still, this is deeply weird, even for the decidedly weird life she's been living for the past few years. "Isn't there anyone in your dimension that you could talk to?"
Lyta says, "Not anyone who could understand me, or relate to me. They're all afraid of me, even the other telepaths." She knows the witch-Willow, she plucks the name from her mind just like that-will understand that.
Yeah, Willow gets that.
It will be a few more hours until the portal between their dimensions will open up again and she can send Lyta back, and Lyta seems harmless enough, so there's really no reason not to have a conversation. Besides, Xander would never forgive her for turning down a chance to talk to Lyta Alexander.
She decides to take Lyta to the apartment in Rio-no chance of being interrupted, and it's warded to the nth degree, so that should minimize any chance of Lyta or anyone else trying any magical funny business while Lyta's there.
Lyta asks, "Are there a lot of other telepaths here?"
"I know a couple of other witches who can do it, but not many. It's pretty advanced magic." Lyta catches a bit of pride in Willow's thoughts, but it's quickly replaced by guilt, as if she shouldn't be proud.
Willow's nervous, and Lyta figures out why before Willow does. Willow's used to being able to control whether other people hear her thoughts, and doesn't know how to deal with someone who can hear them without her permission.
Willow would love to talk shop, compare abilities with Lyta. She thinks maybe she'd be better at telekinesis and Lyta would be better at telepathy. There are lots of fangirl-y kinds of questions to ask-like, Did you know that Susan Ivanova was a latent telepath?- but Lyta looks pretty serious and intense, and maybe not interested in that kind of conversation.
She asks, "Were you always able to block people out? I have a friend who developed telepathy after being touched by a demon-kind of a weird way to develop telepathy-and she had a really hard time blocking people out."
Lyta shrugs. "It always seemed intuitive to me. Never had to learn anything."
Willow, says, "Yeah, me too. And I guess there probably isn't a non-weird way to develop telepathy-I mean, I got mine from some pretty advanced magic, and you-you were born a telepath, and it's part of your DNA, right?"
Lyta nods. "But I wasn't anything special until I touched Kosh's mind-and then later, the Vorlons changed me even more."
Lyta chose to let her lover change her body, give her supernatural powers, to help fight a war against an ancient and despised enemy. Willow wonders if Lyta should have talked to Kennedy if she wanted someone she could relate to.
Too many thinky thoughts. Maybe if she breaks out some ice cream, it will feel more like hanging with a friend.
Lyta has a doubtful look when Willow hands her the carton and spoon.
Willow says, "It's ice cream. Um, cow's milk that's been mixed with sugar and chicken eggs and coffee and chocolate, because coffee and chocolate make everything better."
The look must still be on her face, because Willow continues, "They're made from beans-just trust me, it's much better than that makes it sound."
Lyta shrugs. She's eaten vat-grown yak meat on that space station near the Beta Colony, and that pink and chartreuse-colored fungus native to that little backwater planet outside of Syria Planum. This can't be that much weirder.
Willow thinks about her own DNA. Has her magic altered it? If she had a baby, would it have a bunch of weird mutations? She remembers what she thought when Buffy had telepathy: She's hardly even human any more.
Lyta's not used to eating anything so rich and sweet, and it feels like something's pressing down on her stomach. "You start off just wanting to help. And there's always one more thing that they want you to do, something to save the world, and it doesn't matter how much it costs you, or how much it changes you. You get more and more powerful, and then one day you're too powerful, and suddenly you're the problem."
She asks, "So when did it happen for you? When did your friends start fearing you?"
Willow looks thoughtful for a minute. "I think was the same as it was for you. When the eyes started changing colors. I mean, it was a lot more complicated than that, but humans are very visually oriented. A big obvious visual thing is kinda unsettling. Makes you seem less human, or maybe more than human."
Willow stares down at the now-empty tub of ice cream. "And then it's like what's the point of all of the power, if I couldn't save her or prevent it?"
It occurs to her that it's happened to Lyta twice: Kosh, then Byron. She remembers watching those episodes, back when she could see someone else's grief in sort of a detached way. Willow's not sure she could survive twice.
Lyta asks, "So you're trying again, with the love thing? Think you can make it work this time?"
Willow thinks of Kennedy, fierce and brash, Kennedy who adores her, probably more than Willow deserves. "I hope so. I really do."
"I've been trying to figure out what comes next. They're trying to use my power strategically-only for stuff the Slayers or the local covens can't handle on their own. They want me to be ready for major world-ending things, so they don't want me to waste energy on small stuff. There's just a lot of waiting around. I think I've been kind of out of balance the last couple of years, and I do want to be more than just Super Wicca Girl. I'd like to start using my brain again. I've been writing a few programs, just for the heck of it. I've thought about going to grad school, but it's pretty demanding. I don't know if I'd be able to just disappear every couple of months without an explanation, you know?"
Lyta has no idea what to say in response.
"So do you think about what you're going to do when you're done with your fight?"
Lyta wonders what it would be like to have the rest of her life stretched out in front of her with lots of choices to be made. Her path was set for her a long time ago, and she doesn't see any way off. She doesn't expect to survive long enough to have real choices.
The more Lyta talks about Psi Corps and her fight for telepath rights, the more uncomfortable Willow gets. It had seemed simple at the time-the Slayer spell was necessary to save the world. She'd been so focused on the not-losing-control-and-killing-everyone aspect, she really hadn't thought much about the long-term consequences. It was Buffy's idea, and when Buffy made big, bold decisions that defied conventional wisdom, things tended to turn out ok. Buffy wouldn't make the kind of colossal mistakes that messed up other people the way Willow had, right?
They'd asked the Potentials that were with them to choose to accept their power, but there were girls all around the world that they hadn't asked. Would some of them feel as unhappy and trapped by their sacred destinies as Lyta clearly does? (Or for that matter, the way Buffy had, for years.) Had Buffy and Giles and the Watcher's Council even thought of that? Were they trying to come up with options for girls who didn't want to risk their lives? Or had dreams of doing something that didn't involve fighting demons? Could they be facing a Slayer rebellion in a few years? She should really start looking into this, see if there's anything they can do to help.
It's time for Lyta to return to her dimension.
Lyta asks, "You know, if you're really bored, you could always visit my dimension for a while. I could use someone to raise hell, or just someone to talk to once in a while."
"Well, I really am needed here, if not as often as I'd like. And my hell-raising can get a little scarier than I think you'd want. But you can always talk to me. I can hear people from other dimensions, if they think at me hard enough."
It would have been nice to have an ally, but perhaps it's best if Lyta handles this fight on her own. An inter-dimensional pen pal could be interesting.
And Willow's memories have given Lyta some thrilling ideas for the day she meets Bester again.