Buffy sat on the floor cross-legged, enclosed in a circle of candles, watching Willow as she walked around and around, chanting. She swished a small bundle of something that was smoking. It smelled nice, but Buffy's stomach was turning. She kept silent as she'd been told to.
Finally Willow sat in front of her and unwrapped something from a piece of silk. It was a very large crystal. The light from the candle flames flickered on it's edges and glittered off Giles's glasses as he sat watching.
"OK," said Willow, "I want you to look into the crystal and think about the night you were chasing that vampire. Tell me about the nightclub,"
Buffy saw it in her mind; she shuddered.
"Do you see it?" asked Willow.
"All right, now this is very important. You're going to take me through that alley with you. When you turn around and you see that light, you won't feel any pain. No pain, but you'll hear something,"
Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Hear something?"
"Yes. So, let's go...I need you to concentrate, OK, Buffy?"
"Yeah, yeah OK,"
"You're chasing him-"
"No...I carried him, practically. Into the alley. And I picked him up by the throat. And he starts talking about the Monaghan,"
"What does he say?"
"That it's a she,"
"Nothing...but there's a scream...so I looked away,"
"Stop," said Willow, "What do you see when you look away?"
"Nothing...empty alley. And then I looked back," Buffy flinched.
"No pain," Willow reminded her, "Are you blinded?"
"Yes," Buffy's heart was beginning to flutter, "And it's so bright-"
"Stop," said Willow, "What do you hear?"
Buffy leaped to her feet, panting. She was astonished to feel several drops of sweat drip coldly down her temples and forehead. She headed for Giles's bathroom with a lunge; Willow bolted after her.
Buffy's palms slipped clumsily on the porcelain; her breath shuddered in and out as she wretched. Willow went to her knees on the bathroom floor.
"Oh, Buffy," she said softly, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. It's really deep.
It's just too deep,"
Giles stood over them, shooting Willow a grim look. He disappeared and brought a cold washcloth; Willow wiped Buffy's face and then slid her arms around her.
"That's enough tonight," she said softly, "That's plenty, that's enough. We're done," she walked Buffy back to the couch and Willow and Giles sat on either side of her, encircling her.
"What's the deal with this?" said Buffy, "What kind of a spell is this?"
"It was a casting stone," said Willow, "A witch finds a place in your mind where you're vulnerable, like finding nice rich soil for a seed. Then she plants a thought in your mind that will take root in the weak spot. It's like she plants it in the backyard, though. You won't know what the thought is,"
"I can feel it, though. I can feel it in my mind, it's....it's cold,"
"Yeah, that's because your heart isn't jiving with it. Your heart is rebelling. Usually that will make it easier to remove it. But you're fighting it so hard...it's sort of like an immune system response, like an allergic reaction. It's like when tissue is inflamed. You're already at war with the thought, and there's pressure. It's like a splinter that's in too deep. If I forcibly remove it I could do more damage. It's sort of going to need to work it's way out," Buffy looked at Willow. "YUCK," she said. "Isn't there any way to accelerate the process?" asked Giles. "I'm sorry," said Willow, "It's going to take a few days. I'm going to stay with you,"
"Oh, God, in the middle of a semester?" said Buffy.
"No longer an underclassman, here," said Willow, with sudden attitude, "It's my MASTERS, I can do it on my own time. This is a family emergency,"
"I've looked through the grimores for a witch related to the ancient Monaghans," said Giles, "And I'm afraid I found one,"
"Sheela, right?" asked Willow.
"She's no Starhawk," said Willow quietly, "Her specialty has been the undoing of heroes. But she's no friend of the common man, either. She was implicated in the origins of the potato famine. She's old, and she's slowed down a little, but she's powerful," her voice was very soft, "This reads like a vengeance spell,"
What else can we do?" asked Giles. He took Buffy's hand and held it. Buffy squeezed his hand.
"I'm so loved," she said, cozily.
"How about we go get some sourdough?" said Willow, "I was dreaming about it on the plane,"
Buffy dreamed of darkness. She stood on soft, uneven ground, rocky ground. There was a rich scent in the air, the cold scent of the sea. She couldn't see anything, but then the moon looked coyly from behind a cloud. There were mountains outlined in the pale bluish light and the clouds were racing along. The wind fluttered softly in her ears. She stared at the moon as whisps of glowing gray tore away from it; the moon wavered, as if it were a reflection in water, and then the its image divided three ways. Buffy blinked, trying to clear her eyes, but the three moons became darker and harder to see. They began to change color, like cream curdling, then they came sharply into focus as three faces. Buffy gasped in pleasure. They were beautiful, lovely girl's faces, and eerily familiar. Even in the dream Buffy's mouth was dry.
"Who are you?" she called, but the wind swallowed her words, and her hair was suddenly blown over her eyes. She felt wings enclosing her from behind. She tossed her head desperately to free her eyes but everything was dark again. Even though the wings were soft and warm, she should have been freaked out by the feeling. She wasn't. Then, in her ear, a soft purr,
"They will be needed,"
"Who?" said Buffy, in a whisper.
She was awake. The moon was shining through the blinds. She sat up and pulled them closed. She turned on the lamp. She cursed out loud.
She heard a stirring in the living room. Damn, she'd forgotten Willow was here, and she'd woken her up. Buffy crept out of the bedroom.
"Hi," said Willow sleepily, from the couch.
"Hi," whispered Buffy, "Sorry,"
"Was it a good dream?"
"I don't know,"
"I have so many dreams, Willow. So many... so many about HIM, and about US and about things that can never happen, and-"
"How do you know they can never happen?"
"Certain things are written in stone, you know. Certain things are not going to change,"
"Well, I have to disagree," said Willow, sitting up, "Everything is mutable and subject to change. EVERYTHING. In magic, like in physics, you find out just how solid the world ISN'T,"
"Well, for instance," said Buffy, sitting beside her, "Good is good and evil is evil, right?"
"How can it be just 'sort of'?"
"Well, there is the seed of good in evil and the same with evil in good. Without bad guys there'd be no good deeds. It's all part of a sacred balance,"
"Well, it sure doesn't seem balanced,"
"That's because you do so much good. To you, it must seem like one never-ending fight. But because you and Angel and other people fight, the rest of us get to have a lot more quiet nights and safe walks home from the store,"
"You're a fighter, too, girl,"
"Well, I try...but you know what I mean,"
"Won't it be nice to fight with backup again?" said Willow gently.
"I'm drenched in backup,"
"I'm talking about Angel,"
"Oh, Willow, there's just so much wrong with it,"
"Hello? With me and...HIM. It's so stupid. It's never going to work and I've just been avoiding the real issue,"
"Willow. He's a VAMPIRE,"
"Hey, Oz is a musician. Nobody's perfect,"
"Vampires are a lot less than perfect-"
"Wait, now. This is Angel. Now that he's almost home, you're thinking that it's suddenly all wrong. What's going on with the timing here?"
Buffy was silent.
"Tell me what else you're thinking," said Willow.
"Well, it's never going to work. And I've caused everybody enough misery about this. And I need to get on with a real LIFE, and he's one of THEM, Willow. I mean, that's what he IS. He's one of them. He's not really a person. He's an undead. God, sometimes I wonder what ever got into me. And what right do I have to take chances with other people's lives?"
"OK. What about all those letters? For weeks you couldn't wait to check your mailbox every day. What's going on? Did he blow you off?"
"No, no," said Buffy, her mood changing, "The letters are amazing. Amazing.
You should see his WRITING...wait," she went into the bedroom and reached under the bed, pulling out the box with a stack of letters wrapped in ribbon; she chose one and shuffled quickly through the pages to weed out anything intimate. She brought it to Willow.
Willow took in a breath softly as she opened it. "Beautiful," she said, "Do they all look like this?"
"Yeah," Buffy was rubbing her forehead.
"How many pages, usually?"
"It varies, usually at least five. And I've gotten almost a letter a DAY," Buffy paused. Her insides sank suddenly, as if she'd been dropped, "But I have to re-think this whole deal. It's so stupid. I'm lying to myself. I shouldn't lie to him, you know?" Buffy winced, squeezing her eyes shut.
"Yes, dammit...I can't read his letters anymore, they hurt,"
"Do you still love him?"
Buffy hung her head. "I-" she whispered.
"Or are you over it?"
"I can't stop...that," she said softly, "I never could. But I don't have to let it make me stupid,"
"I won't let you be stupid," said Willow. Then she brightened, "Hey! Let's go for a ride,"
"Come ON. Give me the keys. You need some air, anyway,"
Buffy clicked the remote and the garage door swung slowly open, creaking very loudly, it seemed. The streets were so quiet at four in the morning. She flipped on the light and pulled off the tarp, gently. She folded it under her arm and bent to blow a whisp of dust from the shining red hood of the '63 Corvette Roadster. She stood back and sighed.
"You know," said Willow, "Maybe if you'd gotten something a little less conspicuous, you could have talked your way out of more tickets,"
"God, no, Willow. Once you've driven one of these everything else handles like a Pinto,"
Willow smiled slyly. "Kind of like Angel, huh?"
Buffy bit her lip.
"Yeah. A lot like him. Can't drive it and still making the payments on it anyway,"
"But you'll get to drive it again,"
"Yeah. Well, the car," said Buffy, "Come on, you're right. I need some air. Let's take the top down and wreck our hair,"
The moon had already set. Buffy leaned back and thought about the moon in her dream, about all her dreams. They made no sense at all. Having Willow here was a joy, but it was dulled by something. Every day she felt more and more numb inside. Fewer things seemed to matter. She gazed at the lights of the Golden Gate; they were going to cross the bridge. It was one thing Willow always had to do when she was here. Then Buffy saw something. She leaned foreward in her seat, straining at the seat belt. Yes, she was sure...a small figure, climbing over the edge, just a struggling shadow.
"Shit," said Buffy, "Jumper!"
Willow's eyes widened, "Are you sure?"
"Gun it!" Willow popped the transmission into fourth gear and floored it.
"Here! Here!" Buffy leaped over the door as they slowed to a stop. She stopped and reached under the seat, wrapping a bicycle chain around her wrist. She yelled over her shoulder, "Cell phone in my purse! Flares in the trunk!"
Buffy ran along the walkway, looking for a piece of torn shirt, anything that might show exactly where he went over. She found a note, taped securely to the railing. She climbed over the railing and began struggling past the barriers that had been constructed to prevent suicides. It was like a refresher course in gymnastics.
"Somebody's always got to be an over-achiever," she grunted. She finally saw him; he was hanging from a mountaineering strap that was attatched to the bridge. He'd repelled down. All he head to do now was open a clamp, and he'd be gone.
Buffy inched down a diagonal beam and nestled into a narrow space between orange-painted steel, right beside where he dangled.
"Hey," she said casually.
"Nope," Buffy tossed the bicycle chain around his waist and then threaded it quickly through her belt. She clicked the lock shut, binding them together. He struggled, but quickly grew discouraged. He glared at her, his eyes glassy and hollow.
"Please," he said gently, "You don't know how bad it is,"
"Are you sick?"
"No," he looked away, "I just can't do it anymore,"
"It's a big decision," said Buffy, "You must be pretty sure,"
"So, let's go,"
He glanced at her.
"No time like the present," said Buffy.
He burst into tears. Buffy waited.
"You ruined it!" he raged, "It was going to be nice and clean, and fast! You ruined it!"
"It's not really that fast," said Buffy, "Not everybody dies right when they hit. And not everybody gets knocked out, either. The surface tension from up here is about like concrete. And then you drown. In cold salt water. REALLY not fun,"
He was weeping.
"There's another day," said Buffy, "Another day when the pain won't be as bad. Yeah, you have to GET to that day. Sometimes it's more than you think you can stand. But one day it won't be as bad,"
"What the Hell do you know about it?"
"I know what it's like to hurt so bad that the next minute looks like an eternity," offered Buffy, "I know what it's like to be so heartbroken that you can't breathe, you can't see, and nothing in the world makes it worth getting through that minute. But that's how you do it. Not day by day. Minute to minute. You just get through the next minute, and then the next one, and then it adds up to a day. And then another one. And then one day it's almost bearable. And then one day you hear yourself laugh, and then you move on. It's going to hurt, and it will be worse some times than other times, but you can make it to the next minute,"
"Give me one reason,"
"Can't," said Buffy, "You've got to find your own reasons. But...sometimes it's better not to even look for a reason, because there may not be any left. Just make it to the next minute, for no reason at all,"
"I'm not strong enough,"
"You've been strong enough to hold out just because you don't want to take me with you. You don't, do you?"
"No!" he sobbed, "I can't,"
"So, you already made it to the next minute just because you didn't want me to die,"
"Then you have something. You love life. Not yours, right now, but mine. And you don't even know me. That's juice. That's strength,"
He dissolved in tears. "Come on," she whispered, "Hang on to me," She coaxed his arms around her shoulders; she turned and began climbing up, with him on her back. Sweat was running down her neck as she struggled over the beams, which were slippery. She looked up and saw the flashing lights, and two police officers reaching down to help. They heaved her over the rail and disentangled her from the sobbing man; Buffy released the lock on the chain.
They took him to the waiting ambulance. Buffy wiped her upper lip on her sleeve and looked up at a man in a cheap tie and a very outdated jacket.
"Hey, Bob," she said.
"Nice night for a drive," he said, "Don't worry, I know your friend was driving," he looked out over the bay, then at her, "What did you say to him?"
"I said I'd go out with him,"
Bob threw back his head and laughed. Buffy started to walk away.
"We've still got an opening for a security specialist in homicide," he blurted, "Just an on-call type of deal, you wouldn't have to sit in an office,"
"I have problems with authority, Bob,"
"Good job, tonight," he said, more softly, "Thank you,"
"Just leave me out of the story, OK?"
"I know, I know," he said, "Take care, Buffy,"
"Reasons," Buffy was muttering to herself as she buckled her seat belt, "We always think we need reasons. I don't have reasons, I've never had any damned reasons,"
"Are you OK?" asked Willow.
The sun was coming up. Buffy leaned her head back and began weeping softly.
"I love him, Willow,"
"I know," said Willow, "I think it's time to try again,"