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Willow absently hugged herself, rubbing her hands along her upper arms for warmth even though she barely noticed the cold of the desert night. It was nothing compared to the horrible numbness she felt inside. One stupid argument. Just one stupid argument had led to her storming out and leaving Tara to go to the Multicultural Fair alone. They should have just talked things out, worked through the issues that had come up. But they hadn’t. And now Tara was being held overnight in the hospital, her hand broken and her sanity drained away by Glory.

And Willow was out here in the desert, feeling weird and tingly and empty after all of the power she’d sucked up and used. She shivered slightly, remembering the feel of the dark magic coursing through her veins. It hadn’t been enough to stop Glory, but….

She looked over her shoulder towards the car to distract herself, letting the bubbling resentment overshadow her worry for Tara and hunger for more magic. When she’d accepted Buffy’s offer to take her out to the desert to clear her mind, she’d kind of thought it would be just the two of them. But, nope. Giles had come along to do the driving, and okay, that was fair enough. And she totally understood Buffy wanting Dawn along, too. But with Dawn had come Spike, because he was apparently needed to help keep her safe, despite the fact that he was still all battered and limping from Glory’s torture.

He had that ooky robot made, but he endures a little torture and suddenly Buffy wants him around, like none of it matters.

Okay, that wasn’t really fair. If she was being honest, Willow had to admit Spike was actually kind of nice, for a vampire. Even with that whole bottle to the face thing, he’d respected her no when she said she didn’t want to be a vampire. Still, she was in some serious pain here, and she’d wanted some best friend time. But that wasn’t going to happen, not with everyone else around. That was why Willow was walking out there alone while the others waited back at the car.

Buffy had offered to come along, but what was the point? She’d be too busy thinking about everyone else. Dawn’s in a lot of danger, she reminded herself. Of course Buffy had to focus on her. It was just….

She sighed and hugged herself tighter. She wished Tara was there. She wished they had just talked about her fears and worries. They could have worked through them. They were nothing compared to having her brain sucked by a crazy hellgod. Willow sniffled as tears started to fall. She wished Tara wasn’t being held overnight, but at least it gave her more time to fall apart before taking care of her.

Maybe by tomorrow, she’d have herself all pulled together. Then she’d be capable of giving her sweetie all the care and attention she deserved. And once her sanity was restored…. Willow swallowed hard, fighting back the tears. They would get her sanity restored. And then they could talk things out, and everything would be okay again.

“It’s gonna be okay.”

Willow jumped, giving out an undignified squeak at the sudden voice. Spikes lips twitched up in a slight smirk at her expense, the big jerk.Or, well, maybe not so big. She’d somehow never really noticed it before, but Spike was kind of on the small side. What was it Xander had said? Compact and muscle-y. Also shorter than Xander, though not by much. The bruises all over his face and the way he was holding himself like things hurt inside….

They usually treated Spike like a joke because of the chip, but when it didn’t involve humans, he was pretty strong and tough. And Glory was so much beyond that that she made him seem fragile and small.

Willow shuddered, appalled at how stupid she’d been to go after the woman. She didn’t regret it, though. She couldn’t. Not after what had been done to Tara.

“You’re a smart one, Red,” Spike continued quietly, cutting her thoughts. “You’ll get things all sorted and suss out a way to get your girl all better in no time.” They started walking together, Willow keeping her pace slow because of his limp. “Until then, though….” He shrugged a little awkwardly. “Know a thing or two about having a barmy loved one, don’t I? Can give you a few poin—” He stopped talking, frowning slightly as he took a deep breath in through his nose. “I smell blood. Human.”

He squinted out into the distance, and Willow followed his line of sight. Movement of some sort. Was that…? It’s a child! she realized. There was a little kid running out alone in the middle of the desert.

 

 

Buffy watched Spike head out after Willow, wishing there was something she could do for her. But Spike was right. With the whole crazy ex thing, he was the best one to talk to her right now.

It should be me, anyway, she thought with a stab of guilt. It should have been, but it wasn’t. Spike was the one who could give her advice for when Tara got out of the hospital in the morning. He knew how to deal with crazy. Buffy actually kind of wished she’d asked for his advice back when Mom had been….

She took a deep, shuddering breath and forced the thoughts of her mother away. She couldn’t afford to grieve right now. Not when Dawn was in danger from Glory and close to being taken away if she didn’t start doing better in school. And, you know, actually going to school. A glance towards the fourteen-year-old showed that she was sitting on the trunk of Giles’s car, studying by the light of an electric lantern. Giles himself was working on getting things set up around the fire. Buffy wasn’t sure how long they’d be out there, but s’mores and hot cocoa had been promised.

She looked back out towards Willow, frowning when the redhead suddenly broke into a run. What the? It could have been as simple as Willow wanting to get away from Spike so she could be alone, but then the vampire ran after her despite his injuries. Maybe she’d had some kind of panic attack or something, and Spike was going after her to help? It was possible, but Buffy was getting some seriously wiggy vibes from it all. Something was up.

“Giles,” she called out, glancing back at him and Dawn. He instantly looked up at her from the bag of supplies he’d been poking through. “I think something hinky is going on. Watch Dawn for me.”

“Buffy?” Dawn’s voice was anxious and worried, so Buffy managed a smile for her.

“It’ll be alright. I just need to check on something, okay?”

“I’ll look after her,” Giles promised.

Buffy nodded her thanks, then took off at a run after Willow and Spike.

 

 

She’d been too lost in her thoughts to really notice at first, but as Willow chased after the child, she saw a weird flickering light. The kid seemed to be heading right for it, whatever it was. She could feel magic pulsing from that direction. Magic that reached out to her, trickling into that empty place inside of her where the dark magic she’d absorbed had been.

More. More. She needed…. The light suddenly flared, and the child was just gone, as if abruptly plucked from the world. Then it was suddenly right there in front of her, and she went from running on sand to sliding on a bunch of loose rocks along a slope right towards what looked scarily like a bottomless pit. The child was right there in front of her, screaming as he (she?) slipped over the edge.

Gibbering terror shrieked through Willow, but she didn’t let it freeze her. There was no time for words. As she fell down the hole, she gathered the meager amount of magic she’d been able to absorb and flung it out, shaping what she needed with nothing but her will. Then she plummeted past the child, who was gently floating down, light as a feather.

 

 

“Bloody hell!” Spike shouted as he fell on his arse in the loose gravel that had suddenly appeared under his feet.

He jammed his fingers into the scree and dug in his heels, just barely keeping himself from falling arse-over-tits down the bloody big hole at the end of the slope he was on. God, he hurt, every injury from his recent torture screaming in agony. He forced himself to think through the pain, trying to figure out what the bloody hell had happened.

One moment he’d been chasing after Willow when she’d hared off after some sodding brat in the middle of the desert, and now here he was. No sight of her or the kid, but he could still smell them. Bloody buggering fuck! Like to have gone right down the sodding hole, the both of them. He was tempted to just leave them, but he knew Buffy wouldn’t like it. She’d finally started trusting him again after that whole sodding mess with Dru and the chains. He couldn’t just throw that all away.

She’d never know, the thought drifted through his mind. He would, though, and with his luck, it’d all come out somehow. Besides, he kind of liked Willow. That all sorted, he tried to suss out just how he was going to get down the hole without causing himself too much more damage. Maybe if I —

His thought was interrupted by a sudden yelp of surprise. Then Buffy crashed into him, and they both went sliding over the edge.

 

 

Pain was everywhere. Everything. Pain and… flowers? Yellow flowers had broken her fall. But not enough. She felt broken. The flowers were broken, too. Where…?

It’s been so long since I’ve seen anyone new, a strange, childlike voice whispered through the fog in her mind. Who? Was that… herself? No, that wasn’t right. She was… who? Willow. That was right. She was Willow, and that wasn’t her voice. Was it?

I’m Chara, the voice whispered, and we’re going to be the bestest of friends…. And with your help, we will eradicate the enemy and become strong.

What? Eradicate? She didn’t want to eradicate anyone. Become strong…. Become strong…. She needed to be strong. She needed….

She was sinking. Her consciousness sinking away as her body pushed down. Down, down, through the ground.


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