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I can't quite recall…I this it was Roosevelt who said 'This is a day that will live in infamy.' Or something. But he was talking about Pearl Harbor not this particular Tuesday.
Up to a point it was a typical Tuesday. School, homework, a brief patrol though a complete lack of spider-sense anywhere convinced me to call it in early, and then back to the dorm for a well deserved cup of cocoa…or coffee, anything but tea, maybe watch a few movies and then hit the sack.
While most collage students take such activities for granted I ,for one, was looking forward to them and practically drooling at the prospect; a nice, normal evening for me, The Slayer. Who woulda' thunk?
It was after the movies and the cocoa that she came back home. I still wasn't feeling particularly tired at the time so I was just leafing through a magazine that I had picked up from…somewhere. Looking at the various models and their newest outfits, reading the 'love help letters' laughing at their problems, wishing I had it so tough and she just came launching through the door. She'd gone out for some Wiccan meeting, I'm still not too clear on the exact goings on therein but I'm pretty sure full moons are important for something or other, that night being a full moon one, she'd gone out. No….wait I said that already didn't I.
I didn't take a look at her when she came, it's not like I was all googly-eyes over her anything…at the time. So I didn't really look up when she came in just a quick glance in her direction before dipping back to some idiots letter about how his girlfriend didn't like to swallow.
"Heya girlfriend," I said. "How was all the bubble, bubble, cauldron toil stuff?"
She shook out her red hair, "That's toil, boil, cauldron bubble Buffy. And we don't use cauldrons as they're very expensive and somewhat tacky."
"So no broomsticks either?" I replied flipping a page.
"No, no broomsticks either." By now she was stripping out of her clothing and while I did not obviously want to stare at her I was watching out of the corner of my eyes. Willow is…was…is…soothing. She always had been, even when scared or hurt or…anything. When I was in trouble she was there, and when we talked and I mean when we really needed to talk, while it didn't always answer the problems at hand or even make any steps in the right direction at times, I always felt better for it.
She carried such possibilities in everything she did. Be it appearance, personality or…anything. I loved her for that. I needed her for that! It's not like anything in a Slayer's life is incredibly stable so I need what I could get and Willow was one of my rocks. No, that's not quite it.
It's like she took after her name sake: a willow tree. With long drooping branches that would hang down to the ground creating this small area of calm. You could gently push aside the leaves, sit on the ground and relax in the shade.
Cool…I really ought to write that down.
I should have seen it, I really should have but she was being careful. Her back was turned to me and she already had her favorite terrycloth robe in hand and she slipped it on quickly.
"Gonna take a quick shower Buff, be right back."
"Sure thing Willow," I glanced at her face again. The black rings under her eyes were really sticking out, even with the lights on she looked really gloomy. I entertained, for a minute, the possibility that this was really her vampric dopplge…dopplgeng…copy.
"Wow," I said. "You do look exhausted."
Shooting me a quick glance that looked almost panicked she said. "Yeah, well…that's me. Exhausted; I mean really exhausted. Wiped out, drained, exhaustion used my face for a boogie board on a gravel street."
And she darted out the door.
I arched my left eyebrow and clucked my tongue once or twice. "My," I said to the empty room. "That was a tad graphic."
And went back to reading the fascinating letter about a woman who couldn't get her man to go down.
"Honey," I said aloud again, "There's a man on the previous page who you have just got to talk too."
Willow is one of those …well not quite a neat freak but definitely everything has a place in her mind and she goes to worthwhile effort to make sure those things go back in there allotted spots. I eyed her fallen clothing and tried to bite down on the impulse to put them away for her.
I was sooo comfortable. Just lying here on the bed legs kicking in the air flipping through the pages of my 'reading material' and occasionally stopping to take sniff at this latest perfume or cologne on the sample pages. Didn't want to get up.
But you know how friendship is, sometimes you just get this urge do something nice and it doesn't go away and it doesn't go away and so on and so forth until you really have no choice but to do it.
I stood up on the bed, gave a bounce or two and hopped off, not giving a hoot if the thump of my landing bothered the folks living below us. They never seemed to care if their stereo was too loud so…
Grumbling slightly at how Willow better pay for the bagels tomorrow I crossed the room and picked up her dress. I think it was then, just as I had it in my hands that something began bugging me not my spider tingle thingie. Just…an instinctual warning began keening behind my eyes. Then I used them.
Holding the dress out at arms length I turned it around slowly getting a good look at the material. It was one of Willow's long gowns, a deep red in color, that simply hung over her body from the straps on the shoulders, not a body hugging bit of clothing but it looked good on her. With her short red hair and green eyes it added to the ethereal quality of her appearance.
Now it would never do that again. The tears began at the hem a long one going all the way to where her thigh would have been. There were others, one along the 'V' line that ran along down to where, originally, it had stopped just above the swell of her breasts. Now the cut …or tear… went down all the way to the center of the dress. Had Willow been still wearing it and let her hands loose I would have been able to see her navel.
The keening was becoming a full blown wailing and then that smell hit me. Right between the eyes 'AWACK!'. It was awful…and I'm smelled some really bad things. But this was…worse.
Alright, it was only cigarette smoke and beer, and I remembered those smells from the few 'parties' I went too.
That got my attention right there 'cause I know Willow had been to a Wiccan gathering and I had it on pretty good authority that Wiccans did not sit down small bars, smokin' Luckies, drinking each other under the table and making rude comments about passing men.
There was more, something else and I wasn't sure I wanted to know what it was. I slowly, I was almost frightened, buried my nose in the material and took a tentative sniff. Something stale…rotten….something bad. Something really bad.
At this point it was simple arithmetic.
Willow's Kinda Odd Behavior --Plus--Torn Clothing--Plus--Bad smells…
I'll never forget that moment. I know, cliché as hell but that's the way it was. I will never forget it not in a billion years. Every nuance of that time is permanently on 'Freeze Frame' in mind even to this day.
It was like jumping in freezing water and getting kicked in the stomach at the same time. You want to throw up but can't move because you can't breathe either. Wanting to scramble out of the water but paralyzed by the screaming of your mind.
In that split second a ….a…well, a hell of lot of things tore through my mind. I am The Slayer and I take that responsibility very seriously. But I take my friends even more so and I had sworn to myself to protect them over and over. Sometimes I slipped up…a few occasions it was really close but…but I had always come through in the end. Yes, they got hurt but…not like this. Never before like this.
A great…The numbness was swept away by a deep stabbing feeling in my gut…for the first time I think I had a certain affinity for all those vamps I'd staked. I felt like someone had staked me.
I shook my head…"No." I think, looking back on it, that was probably the loudest whisper in history.
And then I was running down the halls screaming her name.
I've seen movies, y'know, with women recovering from a rape, and in the name of drama or some such their always either curled up on the floor sobbing their eyes out or maybe scrubbing away at their skin under scalding water until they start bleeding. The mental picture of Willow doing either lent me strength enough that, if I had been facing him again, I would have twisted the Mayor Demon's head off like the cap on a tube of toothpaste.
I literally tore the shower stall door of it's hinges. She was standing with her back to the water, letting it run through her hair, rinsing out the soap. Almost, but not quite facing me. She opened one eye, still keeping her head tilted back.
"Figured it out Buffy? Thought you might."
I could see her, she was naked, right in front of me naked; not just as in without clothing but without soul. I always thought that….when you're with someone, that you, y'know, love and you lower all your defenses and accept that person inside, that's when you're most vulnerable, most naked but it's an openness you want, that you crave.
I never thought what it would be like if someone just…forced you open like that.
The bruises were centered around her breasts and pelvis; big, ugly splotches that marked clearly where heavy hands had mauled her and strong fingers buried themselves in her flesh. They must have hurt in this stinging hot water; they must have hurt a lot.
"It's not really such a big deal Buffy, I mean- compared to when that bookshelf got dropped on me, that hurt a lot more; really it did… I mean, it did when I woke up; I don't really remember much about the bookcase falling and hitting me part, but, y'know that was probably 'cause it was hitting me at the time. But when I woke up in the hospital, hoo-boy, yeah…little red fire trucks racing across my vision. Ouch. Big time," she cracked this awful parody of a half smile.
I took a slow step forward.
"Willow?" I said again.
"And it wasn't that scary either. Oh, heck yeah I was scared anybody would be…but….it wasn't scary; scary like when Angelus grabbed me. Remember that? He came up behind me and grabbed me and was, y'know, full vamp mode, teeth, yellow eyes; the full works, and was whispering all those terrible things; he liked to do to people involving blood and screaming…yeah that was really scary."
I took another step forward. She was just facing me now, hands at her side, her right hand still holding a bar of soap, and she was slowly turning it over and over making lots of suds that were just getting rinsed away, swirling down the drain.
"Willow," I stepped under the water now she was only a few inches away.
"Willow, you're babbling," I said very quietly.
"No, really it wasn't so bad," she said staring at me, asking me with her eyes to tell her she was right. "I mean, those demons you told me about when you were working in that café, the ones that took teenagers to their dimension and turned em' into slaves? I mean, they made you a slave for your entire life and when you were old and no good any more they'd bring you back and you'd only have been missing for one day! That would have been really bad…I mean….wow….enslaved for a lifetime and not being missed…no that's really bad stuff compared to what …to what….to what these….guys…"
And she collapsed; I grabbed her and eased her down to the tiled floor. Her babbling had always been a …defense thing I guess but it couldn't defend her again this; I couldn't defend her from this and it was back.
She was crying…sobbing…screaming…she grabbed me, grabbed me and pulled me in and I held her, cradled her in my arms while she just curled up tighter and tighter. I held her and rocked back and forth. Just being there….because I couldn't be anywhere else and I hadn't when-
I …I started crying myself. For her…for me…for everything.
"I'll find them Willow," I mumbled into her hair. My arms shaking, her shaking. "I'll find them I promise and I'll kill them. They'll die. You'll be okay, I'll be here for you. We'll find them together and you can watch what I do to them….you can offer me suggestions."
She didn't say anything, just kept crying. I couldn't see the tears, I couldn't see anything. I was soaked, I was crying, I was tired…the Cocoa which had tasted so warm and sweet going down now sat inside me like lead.
"Good….day," Willow croaked.
"It was …" she hiccupped. "…it was supposed to be…such a good day…" and she broke off into more jagged sobs.
"Yeah…" I whispered more to myself than her. "It was."
"N-no…." she gasped out. She grabbed my hand tight. It was like everything just stopped right then.
She was looking at me, looking into me! She wasn't the only naked one at that split second.
"A really good day," She squeaked. "I was…I was going…The ritual. It showed me, they showed…my sisters, they showed me….gave me-"
Sisters? I was confused. The Wiccans…oh…right.
"What Willow…what did they share with you?"
"The Truth," She finally sighed.
"Uh-huh." She nodded. "And …they gave me the strength to …say it. Say it to who it belonged too."
"Shhh…That's not important now, now…now …now I take care of you….we… we find those …"
"No!" she insisted tightening her grip on my hand. "It is important. It was important; it was the most important thing in the world. My sisters showed me how to say it, what to say…showed me that everything I was scared of didn't matter and that….and that….no matter what it would be better. That everything would be better."
Her composure cracked and she started crying again.
"Ooohh God Buffy…they killed it…they killed me….oh God oh God oh God…" She buried her face in my shoulder and I couldn't do a damn thing. Not one…damn…thing.
I have never hated anyone like I did at that moment.
Oh, I had hated them. I had to hate them because of what they were. Evil. Evil in nature, by their very design they were this way. And that, at the very least, gave them something of an excuse.
But this? This was done by people. People I was supposed to protect but they had chosen this way. They had actually had a choice and had made it. It wasn't built in, it wasn't part of their 'role' in the Universe. They were no more hell born or hell spawned then the girl in my arms. There was nothing 'Hellmouthy' about this whatsoever and yet they had done something evil. And for that, for that I figured all these neat Slayer powers would work wonderfully well.
"No…no," I held her tight trying to ignore the swell of hate in my gut. "You're not dead, they didn't kill you; you have your truth, always. I won't let them take it away. You'll be fine…I swear- and….and…" It was getting hard to talk I was crying so hard.
"And when you're ready you can give that Truth to …to….whoever and everything will be better."
I didn't know if I was lying or not. I mean, I felt like it was true, I believed it. I had to believe it because the idea of losing who and what my Willow was…was…
I could have killed Angel a hundred, hundred times with a smile on my face rather than face that.
"Not that simple," Willow blurted. "It's not- You, you don't understand and it's not that …not that easy and- "
"Yes it is!" I sat up and grabbed her face between my hands. She was kneeling now on the tiles and I was kneeling in front of her, towering over her, eye to eye; the hot water still pouring down on us. Anyone could have walked in at that second and gotten a real eyeful but I would have laid them out on the spot.
"Look at me," I insisted.
"Look at me!" I gave her an eensy tiny shake till her eyes locked with mine.
"It is that easy," I hissed out between clenched teeth. "It is that easy and I'll tango with Spike before I let you go. You're alive, hurting but alive and I will be with you until the hurting stops. I will never leave you, you stupid wiccan, I will never, ever leave you!"
I was really crying now, getting the words out between sobs. "You mean too much to me Willow and I will never let you go."
Her eyes were really wide and almost….almost like they used to be though how I could have realized the difference in such a short time I'll never know.
I nodded. "Promise."
She paused and I let her face go and sat back down. She pushed her body against mine seeking another hug which I gave her, wrapping my arms around her. We sat like that for a while, in the bathroom, under the hot water. Not saying much, not saying anything at all actually; for awhile.
"It hurts, Buffy."
I pulled her closer.
"I know, Willow."
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