The good thing about having back stairs and front stairs, Buffy thought, was that you never had to carry unconscious people too far to get them comfortably in their own beds.
"Xan, could you get the door?"
He pushed it and walked in to hold it open for Buffy. Either he'd forgotten it wasn't the kind that didn't spring closed on its own, or he was using his brain for panicking instead of thinking, like she was.
Giles crowded her from behind as she set Willow on the bed, taking care that her head landed softly on the pillows.
"Loosen her clothes."
"She's wearing a t-shirt, loosening it means cutting it and she's already mad enough with me." Buffy pulled gently at the neck of the shirt anyway. "Someone get her socks off; they're soaking."
Xander did so. "What's wrong with her?"
"I don't know." Buffy smoothed some strands of Willow's hair back from her brow. "I've never known anyone pass out from sneezing before."
"It wasn't the sneezing, it was the magic," Giles said as he moved around to the other side of the bed. He checked the pulse in her wrist. "Of course, the sneezing does appear to be a physical manifestation of the magic. Do either of you know if this has happened before?"
Buffy shook her head. "She's burning up."
Xander raised his hand. "Uh, yeah, it happened the other day. She was on the phone, sneezed and disappeared into the basement." He frowned and added more quietly. "I got mad at her. I thought she'd done it deliberately."
"Why would you think that?" Giles asked impatiently. When Xander just shrugged, he continued, "You should have mentioned it to someone at least."
"I know that now!"
"I'm gonna go get a wet cloth for her head," Buffy said.
She wasn't interested in listening to them bicker right now. She was too worried. Willow didn't do any teleporting these days because the magic needed to make it go was too strong, but she had done a lot tonight and apparently by accident. That couldn't be good on any level.
Xander stopped her before she could move away from the bed.
"I'll go. You stay with her." He left.
She glanced up at Giles. "I don't think he needs a lecture about this right now."
"I don't intend to give him one right now; but he does need to start remembering that his own issues cannot distract him from his responsibility here."
She wasn't aware it had. What with his responsibility being to fix the camp up and keep it that way. Him not telling them about Willow was bad, maybe, but she couldn't see how it affected that. She didn't say any of this, though, it wasn't important.
"Do you have any ideas on what magic is causing it?"
Giles shook his head. "None for sure. Although, as far as I'm aware, the only magic she's done recently is the spell against the demons the other week."
He looked sheepish, probably because he'd been the one to insist she did the spell that backfired on their butts. Buffy felt sheepish too, she'd been pretty insisty as well.
"Could that have done this?"
"Willow and I have both researched the spell, with Andrew and Naomi's help, and we found nothing that I feel points to an affliction of teleporting through sneezing. However, now I have definitive symptoms to work with, I'll go over all of the information again."
Xander came back with a rung-out, wet wash cloth. "Did she come round yet?"
"Not yet." And that was making Buffy more worried.
When the spell had hit them in the woods, Willow had only been out for five, ten minutes. It had already been longer than that now. She took the cloth as Xander handed it to her and shook it out. Folding it back up neatly, she placed it gently on Willow's brow, the way her Mom had done for her whenever she'd had a fever.
Xander went to stand at the foot of the bed again for a moment, but then went to the double wardrobe in the corner.
"Do we have a why yet?"
"Possibly it was the spell she used against the demons," Giles said as he checked her pulse again. "But until I look into it further, I'm not sure how it could be causing this. I think she'll be okay, though. Her pulse is strong and she appears to be breathing easily. Her temperature is probably a result of her immune system trying to fight the magic inside her."
"Yeah, or killer teleporty flu." Buffy smiled slightly; it faded quickly. "We need more info on these demons, Giles. Proper, up to date data, not just the stuff in your age-old books."
"How do you suggest..." Giles began.
"The usual. I need to find a demon and make it talk."
"I'm not sure if that's wise, Buffy."
"I agree with Buff," Xander said as he came back with a blanket made of crocheted squares in different shades of green. "If there was a simple, obvious cure-all for this in your books, you'd have found it already. I'm not saying stop looking, but maybe we need more."
"And everyone knows the best material comes straight from the source," Buffy added as she helped Xander spread the blanket over Willow, taking care to tuck it around her feet so they wouldn't get cold.
"They're very dangerous, Buffy."
"As a group, sure, but maybe I'll get lucky and find one alone. If not, I'll try something else."
"Like what?" Xander asked.
She shrugged. "Like I said, maybe I'll get lucky."
She was thinking of Owen. He probably wouldn't be at his shop this late, but she could always try his house. If he'd been living in this joint as long as the locals seemed to think so, maybe he'd encountered these demons before. And he was a wizard; they knew magic stuff. Even if he didn't know about the demons, he might know a cure for teleporty sneezing.
Besides, she'd kept completely quiet about his secret. She hadn't even divulged to Giles yet, although she was planning to at some point, probably. But right now he owed her a favor for keeping shtum.
"Well, if you've made up your mind," Giles began.
"I have. I can't just sit here worrying. I need to do something." She squeezed Willow's hand and spoke only to her for a moment. "Just fight it off, Will, you're stronger than any magic, remember?"
Leaning low, she kissed Willow's temple, wetting her nose on the flannel.
"Right, I'm going hunting."
"Yes, and I must hit the books. It'll take me all night to go through the information we've already gathered." As Buffy walked to the door with him, Giles looked over his shoulder. "Are you coming to help?"
Xander was carrying the dressing table chair over to the side of the bed.
"No, I'm staying here. But feel free to bring a bunch of books up for me to read through."
Settling the chair where he wanted it, he sat down and took one of Willow's hands between both of his own.
Kennedy sat in the middle of the summer meadow - the bright blooms of wild flowers stretching away on every side as far as she could see. She smiled and breathed their fresh scent in deep before plucking a buttercup from beside her and holding it up to her face.
She stroked the small, soft petals over her cheek before turning to Willow and holding the flower under her chin. Willow giggled as it tickled her and tried to push her hand away, but Kennedy held firm.
"If your chin goes yellow it means you like butter," she explained.
"Really? I thought it meant you had jaundice," Willow said, still giggling.
Kennedy sighed softly. "You always have to ruin the beautiful thing."
Willow stopped laughing and the sky went a dark red as the sudden wind whipped up blood-colored clouds. Kennedy scrambled back, squashing flowers, as Willow's eyes went black.
"No, you always ruin a beautiful thing!"
Kennedy jerked awake, breathing hard and sweating despite the chill in the dormitory. The bedcovers were skewed where she'd scrambled physically while caught in the dream. She rubbed her forehead, feeling the perspiration beneath her sweaty palm and sighed for real.
These dreams were getting real old.
"We split up, for Christ's sake!" she shouted at her subconscious. "So stop torturing me!"
She lay still for a while, trying not to think about the dream or Willow, or anything else, hoping she'd fall asleep again. She'd been patrolling until two and hadn't fallen asleep until hours after that.
Normally, she had a post-patrol ritual, as most of the Slayers did. She came home, went in to eat whatever Andrew had left lying around, had a shower, watched television for a bit and then came out to the barn to sleep. She hadn't felt like it last night. With Andrew away, there was no cooked food, and with all the other Slayers away, she hadn't felt like sitting in front of the television alone. So she had taken a quick shower in the finally finished freezing cold shower block and gone straight to the dorm.
As a result she'd lain awake for the best part of the hours of darkness, fidgeting and thinking about the only thing she ever thought about when she was alone: Willow.
It would have been nice to blame this morning's dream on that, but truthfully she had at least one Willow-centric, nice until it wasn't, dream every night.
Bearing that in mind, she decided against going back to sleep and pulled her weary self from the narrow bed. She started shivering immediately. It was definitely time to get on at Xander about the heat again. In a way it was nice having the whole dorm to herself every night - like having a giant bedroom with several varieties of clothes and toiletries to exploit - but she would swear it was a lot colder in here now than it had been when the room had more occupants.
Going to her locker - a month ago she'd had part shares in a double wardrobe and now she had a four-by-two metal locker with two shelves, two drawers and a small cupboard - she pulled out clean clothes and dressed quickly.
Xander's plumber had fitted two little sinks up, one at either end, and she brushed her teeth in the one closest to her bed, which was also the one closest to the door. She ran the hot tap as well as the cold; just she could put her toothbrush hand under it to stop it freezing in the cold water. She splashed a little of both on her face when she was done and then had to run back to her bed so she could rub her face and hands dry quick with her towel.
All of this was extreme hardship to her. Even before her Mom had married her millionaire boss, they'd lived in pretty sweet accommodation thanks to her Mom's well paid job. Buffy's house in Sunnydale had been a shock to the system, even worse than boarding school, but despite the toilet clogging up with alarming regularity and the lack of chef-cooked - anyone cooked - food, it had been a damn sight more luxurious than this.
She shouldn't have given up her stake in the bedroom so fast, but it had seemed easy at the time. She couldn't sleep in the same room as Willow anymore, not once they'd broken up, so she had decided to be gallant.
She pulled on a hoodie over her long-sleeved t-shirt and headed for the house, hoping coffee would warm her up.
Faith was in the kitchen but Kennedy didn't acknowledge her. Her black eye had faded now, but she still felt a little sore at the unnecessary punch the other Slayer had thrown.
"Hey Squirt," Faith greeted her friendly enough.
"Don't call me that," she grunted, heading straight to the coffee pot.
It was cold, but she poured herself a mug anyway and stuck it in the microwave. Goorzar had heard her voice and came gamboling in from the living room. Kennedy squatted immediately and scooped her up, relishing the heat coming from the fuzzy-haired demon baby.
"What's got your panties in a twist already?" Faith asked.
She had the newspaper open on the table but she was leaning on it rather than reading it. A plate of toast crumbs was holding down one corner and she'd obvious only just finished eating because she brushed more crumbs from her hands onto the open sheets of the paper.
"Other people want to read that, you know?"
"What's stopping them?"
The microwave pinged and Kennedy shifted Goorzar to one arm so she could open the door and take her drink out. Between the demon's body heat and palming her mug she started to feel warm and more with it again; so when Faith said,
"Nuke a mug for me, would ya?"
She did so.
"It'll probably have Goorzie hairs in it," she said as hit the start button.
"I'll live." Faith closed the paper, crumbs inside, and pushed it across the table. "How come that thing loves you so much anyway?"
"She's not a thing."
Faith just shrugged.
"She thinks I'm her Mommy," Kennedy said, feeling shy for some reason.
"And she thinks Andy's her daddy?" Faith laughed. "There something going on there we should know about?"
Kennedy rolled her eyes and smiled a little. "What do you think?"
The microwave beeped again and Kennedy took Faith's coffee out. She carried it over and put it on the table, and before Faith could protest, she set Goorzar on her lap.
"Have a cuddle; you'll see the appeal." She went back to fetch her own coffee again. "So where is everyone?"
Faith sat with her arms out, not touching Goorzar anywhere she didn't have to. "Beats me. Haven't seen anyone all morning."
Goorzar sat comfortably on Faith's lap, but her orange eyes never left Kennedy.
"Do you know how to cuddle?" Kennedy asked sarcastically.
"Not usually in the business of cuddling demons."
"It helps if you, think of her as a dog," Buffy said as she came through the back door. "Although, not really."
Buffy looked beat up, worn out and distracted. Kennedy moved instantly to pour more coffee and warm it up.
"You okay, B?" Faith looked like she wanted to jump up and go to her, but didn't know how to with the demon on her lap.
"I don't know yet." Buffy kicked off sneakers that were thick with mud at the back door.
"Where ya been?" Faith asked.
"Feels like everywhere. Did either of you encounter the magic-resistant demons on patrol last night?"
Faith shook her head.
Kennedy said, "Giles told us to stay away from that area."
Buffy nodded. The microwave pinged again and Kennedy took Buffy's coffee out. By the time she'd turned around to hand it over, Buffy had gone up the back stairs.
"What was that about?" she asked.
Faith was fidgeting uncomfortably and trying with no avail to push Goorzar from her lap. "My guess, just B being B."
The soft call of his name roused Xander from the light sleep he'd fallen into. As he wearily blinked his bleary eye open he felt something slipping from his hand and jolted completely awake just in time to save the plate from landing upside down on Willow's bed. He could do nothing about the grains of bread, though, as they showered the green blanket.
"Oh crumbs!" he muttered emphatically and quirked a smile when he heard Buffy's quiet laughter.
His eye - just normal morning bleary now and not the blurry that came with trying to remember how to use just one of them - focused enough in the dim room to see her standing in the doorway.
"Morning." He set the plate on the bedside cabinet and then leaned over Willow - taking the now dry cloth from her head and feeling her brow. "She's still too warm. Find anything useful out there?"
Buffy shook her head as she came to stand on the other side of the bed. "No demons, at least, not the ones I was after. And I tried to find someone who might be able to help us but no luck on that score either."
"Who do we know around here who can help with stuff like this?"
He ran through their list of local acquaintances in his head; it didn't take long. Alex, a couple of Dawn's friends... they really had to all start getting out more.
He felt Buffy hesitate as he was checking Willow's pulse, but by the time he looked up she was shrugging.
"It's a Hellmouth town," she said. "Admittedly it's a very nice Hellmouth town, but still, you'd think there'd be like at least one grungy demon bar around catering to the Bloody Mary and Singapore Slim crowd."
"And is there?"
"If there is, I didn't find it last night, and if I can't find a demon to pummel at some point I'm probably never going to find it."
"Oz might know. He's a demon three nights a month, when he wants to be anyhow."
Buffy's tired looking eyes lit up some. "That's a great point. He might know some of the shady characters in town and where they live and whether bribing or beating works best."
Xander smiled, but it disappeared as he looked back down at Willow. There had been no change since he'd fallen asleep. On the one hand he knew that was good. He wouldn't have forgiven himself easily if she'd taken a turn to worse while he snoozed away beside her. But on the other hand she wasn't any better and that just couldn't make him feel good. She had been unconscious for eight maybe ten hours now and she still had a raging temperature.
"Do you think we should take her to the hospital?"
Buffy shrugged again. "Maybe. I think I'd feel better if a doctor checked her out. But if it's mystical like Giles says then they wouldn't be able to do anything anyway and they might not let us bring her home again. That wouldn't make curing her with a spell very easy."
He nodded. "I know, I had the same conversation with Giles a few hours ago. I just wanted to get your opinion on it."
"Does Giles have anything? I haven't seen him yet."
"He didn't then. He just brought me up a sandwich and a couple of more books." He indicated the small pile by his feet. "I've been through them looking for the list of keywords he gave me but nada. Hopefully he's having better luck down there in his office."
He watched as Buffy stroked her palm over Willow's forehead and then picked up the cloth he'd left on the pillow.
"I'll go run this under some cold water."
She left the room and Xander stretched out his arms. He had been sitting in this chair all night, only moving once or twice to pace the room as he stretched his legs. Now he felt stiff and achy from dozing off in the straight-backed chair. He rubbed his good eye, erasing the last of the sleep from it, and then lifted the patch covering his other eye to press tenderly around the outskirts of the socket.
It was aching this morning, not that that was uncommon, but the over-tiredness seemed to be making it worse than usual. He should put his drops in, but they were in his room and he didn't want to leave Willow's side even for the quick run there and back. He knew it wasn't so much an irrational fear that she would get worse while he was gone so much as the fact that he didn't want to give in to needing drops to function even in a situation this, well, passive.
He could wait a while longer. The soreness wasn't that bad, and he wasn't entirely convinced the drops were working anyway. It's not like they were growing him back a new eye.
Buffy came back in and placed the wash cloth over Willow's brow, fiddling with it as she made sure water wouldn't drip onto her closed eyes or down the sides of her face.
"Are you okay?"
He looked up, surprised by the question.
"Only you seem... pensive, all of a sudden," she explained.
"I'm just worried," he lied, except it wasn't really a lie what with it being partly true.
"Me too." She put her hand over Willow's. "All night I've been thinking why did this have to happen now, when we're all arguing and stuff. What if we don't get the chance to make up? And then, naturally, I beat myself up for even entertaining the idea we won't get the chance to make up. Like I was jinxing it or something." She shook her head.
"You didn't jinx it. She's gonna snap out of this soon and be fine. And then you'll get the chance to make up."
He hoped his confidence didn't sound as false to Buffy as it did to him. Not that he didn't believe it... He just really needed Willow to wake up now and prove him right before he started to not believe it.
It seemed to have worked. Buffy smiled at him. "Okay, well I'm all gross from running the length and breadth of Boudenver all night so I'm gonna take a shower. When I'm done, I'll take over from you, so you can get some proper un-chairy sleep, okay?"
"I'm fine here," he said firmly.
"I never said you weren't, but you don't have to do the silent vigil all day as well as all night. We can take turns at Willow-shifts." She smiled again but it looked more for the sake of it this time. "I'll take the next one and you can take the one right after that."
"Okay." He agreed this time, if only to make Buffy feel better.
Buffy squeezed Willow's hand. "I'll see you in a little while."
He wasn't sure which one of them she was talking to, but she left without saying anything else. He watched the empty doorway for a moment, willing Giles to come through it with news, but it remained empty.
He stretched again, feeling it pull deliciously on his arms and shoulders for a second or two. He looked around the room and then leaned over to pick up one of the books by his feet. He didn't think he'd get anything more from it than he did the first time, but at least he'd be doing something.
He didn't want to leave Willow's side, not even when Buffy came back. He knew he wouldn't sleep for as long as his best friend was unconscious. Rationally, though, he knew a break from this room was what he needed before he went crazy with the concern that felt palpable now; like his anxiety over Willow's condition was a physical thing, shrouding him and making, for instance, his eye sting more and more.
Maybe he wouldn't sleep, but he could get some coffee, sit for a while in the kitchen, or maybe join Giles in his office - do something more helpful with the books in there than he was managing with the books up here. Or he could get on with some work. That was always a sure-fire way of taking his mind off his problems, it was why he was happy to do so much of it these days.
He wouldn't leave the house, not with Willow in what he was starting to think of as a critical state, but there was stuff he could bring in to work on. There was the new batch of shutters or the horse head weather vane to go on the stable roof to paint. Inside the house the phone still need repairing - if he could figure out how to do it.
A soft groan from the bed jerked him out of his thoughts.
"Will?" He sat forward excitedly but half convinced he'd imagined the noise as he had a dozen times in the night.
But, no, Willow groaned again, eyes still closed but working her lips like her mouth was impossibly dry.
Plucking the flannel from her head, his squeezed it a little to get some moisture out and then held it to her lips.
"Willow. Hey. Are you with me?"
She said something, but it was muffled by the cloth. Xander went to pull it away, but she distinctly said "No!" then, so he let it rest against her mouth again while with his other hand he reached for the Mountain Dew Giles had brought up for him earlier.
"Nice of you to finally join us," he said with a smile. "Can you sit up a little?"
"It just might mean the difference between you drinking this or me drowning you in it."
Her eyes opened and when she saw the glass he was holding she pushed his hand and the flannel away and tried to sit up. Seeing her struggling, he set the glass down and helped her, propping the pillows behind her back and holding her elbow while she got herself positioned comfortably.
Once she was settled he picked up the glass again and handed it over. She drank a small sip and then rested, then a slightly longer sip and rested again.
"How are you feeling?"
She weakly raised one hand and he waited. A few seconds later she lifted the glass again and drained all of it in one go.
"Thirsty," she finally said.
"But alive and awake, so all in all..." He grinned at her.
"We were kinda hoping you could tell us," he admitted.
She shook her head a little. "I had a sneezing fit... which came accompanied by the new teleporting application and then..." She shook her head again.
"You passed out."
He shrugged one shoulder. "Only all night, no big."
"All night?" She sounded shocked, and then, as her eyes darted to the window, seeing the daylight through her thin curtain, worried, but then she smiled. "Did you stay with me all night?"
He felt suddenly... uncomfortable was as good a word as any. "Of course."
When she had been unconscious it had been the most natural thing ever to not leave her side, but now she was awake and talking and beaming at him like everything was suddenly alright with the world, it just made him feel annoyed again. Like all the worry and concern and anxiety over whether she would wake up again was just some big joke on him. Irrational, oh for sure, he knew that, but he couldn't help that feeling welling up in him even if he didn't really understand where it was coming from.
He tried to ignore it, hoping if he did, bygones would just be bygones.
"That's nice," she said, still smiling at him - and how could that possibly make him more agitated?
"Well, we were worried," he said, his voice sounding flat to him, already the excitement over her being awake felt lost. "And Buffy went out to find the demons that caused it and Giles was downstairs looking for ways to cure you and Kennedy and Faith were both out patrolling so I was the only one left to make sure you didn't, like, throw up in your coma or die or anything."
Willow's face fell. He knew his had already fallen a few minutes ago so he wasn't so bothered. That felt wrong, it all felt wrong, but... He didn't have an answer.
"Well, thanks for staying," Willow said quietly.
He winced because he'd said it so automatically, without so much of as an ounce of real emotion. He could have been speaking to a stranger he'd just excused for bumping into him. After a few seconds of looking at the blanket covering her instead of actually at her, he decided to just cut his losses.
"So I need to get some sleep before I just pass out on top of you." He stood and, after a moment's consideration, leaned down to kiss her forehead and straightened back up with a forced smile. "Glad you're okay, Will. I'll see you later."
Hopefully after he'd kicked this stupid angry feeling to the curb.
He walked around the bed to the door, but stopped before going through it.
"Oh, Buff's in the shower but she'll be here in a minute so you won't be alone."
"Okay," she said softly, clearly upset by his obvious need to get away.
He wanted to say something to make it better, but in the end he just nodded and left.
Willow lay in bed, dejectedly flicking crumbs off her green crocheted blanket.
Xander would obviously prefer to spend time with her unconscious self than her awake self if the way he'd gone running out of here was any kind of litmus test.
Buffy had come in freshly showered and gushing with how happy she was that Willow was wide awake again, but she'd been too exhausting. At least, that was the excuse Willow had used to get rid of her.
Really, she just couldn't get past the idea that Buffy was only being gushy because she thought Willow expected it. And, okay, Buffy's concern was nice, but if it was just for show, just because of the argument they'd had the other night, well... it wasn't real so what was the point of putting them both through the charade.
That was probably uncharitable, in fact, there was probably no charitable about it, but she was still feeling woozy and sick, really really sick. She just couldn't take the big best friends make-up thing right now. She didn't have the energy to do her part, she didn't have the concentration to accept Buffy's part and besides, in the back of her mind, in that tiny, shadowy part that she didn't really acknowledge, she'd already decided she wasn't forgiving Buffy until Xander had forgiven her.
She knew it wasn't fair, but she didn't care right now. She was feeling terrible all the time about the Xander thing, but Buffy and Xander were still all happy and friendly and close. She had been Xander's friend first! But that didn't seem to matter to anyone but her anymore. So why should Buffy be let off the hook, and be all la-di-dah with life again, if she wasn't?
So after maybe ten tense minutes, Buffy had left. Willow had been fidgeting on her bed ever since. Partly because she hated the way things were with her two best friends and partly because she'd obviously been sweating heavily all night and was desperate for a shower, but felt too sick to move.
It was twenty minutes later that Giles came in.
"Willow. I'm so glad you're awake." He came to the edge of the bed and took her sweaty, gross hand. "You had us quite worried."
"So I gathered." She smiled sheepishly. "Sorry."
"Don't be daft. We're just all glad you're feeling better." He handed over a bottle of water and, noticing how eagerly she took it, said, "Are you hungry too? I could make you a sandwich."
She shook her head and put a hand to her mouth as the suggestion made her feel even more nauseous. "No food, please."
"Okay." He smiled tenderly. "Well, you'll be pleased to know I think I've found the cause of your affliction."
"Really?" She pulled herself higher up on her pillows.
"The spell you performed the other night - the one to lift the magical protection from the demons - may not have just amplified as it rebounded, but something in the spell they were using may also have changed its nature somewhat. It's not unusual among the more magical demons to have something woven into their natural defenses that also acts as an attack mechanism. Of course, the Meluthian Hedrays aren't supposed to be magical, but I think this may be what we are dealing with all the same."
"Yeah, some witches do it too. Especially the darker ones," Willow frowned. "But that doesn't tell us what the spell actually changed into. I mean, if it had started making me get teleporty with it right then and there, I could understand the point, but why did it only start happening later?"
The expression on Giles' face alone was enough to make her extra uneasy.
"Now understand, we don't know anything for sure yet..."
"Giles, just tell me."
"I don't think the point of the spell was to make you teleport every time you sneezed. I think the spell attacked, is attacking, the magic inside of you. It's infecting the magic you already have and, well, damaging it in some way."
Willow sat quietly for a moment digesting that.
"So that doesn't sound good," she said eventually.
Giles shook his head.
"So it's like a virus?"
"In a manner of speaking. It would be fair to say that the spell is now living in the magical cells in your body. Unfortunately the results are going to be far less ordinary or as predictable as a bad headache and runny nose."
"I was thinking more of a computer virus anyway."
"Computers can get sick?" he asked, his expression horrified.
She stared at him, dumbfounded. "You're joking, right?"
He looked offended. "Apparently I've just said something stupid. Although as I'm not the one talking about machines getting poorly, I'm not sure how."
She shook her head, smiling a little at him. "Giles, have you learned nothing since we've been in the twenty-first century? Yes, computers can get sick, just obviously not like you and me. Mean people make viruses and send them out into the internet to prey on unprotected computers. It's big business for some people out there. The not so evil ones just mess your computer up - makes it do stuff you haven't told it to do. Kinda like if every time you said sit down it stood up instead... not that computers can sit down or stand up but you get my drift."
He sort of looked like he did. "Go on, what do the really evil ones do?"
"Copy all your personal details off your hard drive and then burn out your motherboard usually."
"And in layman's terms?" he asked, like he wasn't the only person under ninety who didn't know what a motherboard was.
"Steal your wallet and then kill you."
"So do you think I have a magical computer virus?"
He sighed and perched on the edge of her bed. "Yes, I think I'm rather afraid that I do."
Silence fell between them and Giles took her hand again.
"So..." she asked after a while. "Not so evil or really evil?"
"It's too early to say for sure, but at the moment I think you should prepare yourself for not so evil. Clearly teleporting when you sneeze is an indication that some wires..." he tried to smile, "... have gotten a little crossed. The spell inside you is over-riding your own control over your magic. I understand this is enough to distress you, but keep in mind it could be worse. You could be sending out magical death rays every time you sneezed instead. Of course, if it gets worse, that might still happen..."
Willow's eyes opened wide in alarm and he trailed off.
"But we'll certainly find a cure before that happens," he continued with overenthusiastic certainty. "In fact I should probably get back to the books right now. Try not to worry. A-and try not to sneeze if you can help it. A little teleporting around the house probably won't do more than tire you out like last night, but if it should worsen... well, you might start teleporting farther a field."
He seemed to realize he was freaking her out more and more and stood up.
"I'll be back as soon as I have more news."
He squeezed her hand again and then almost ran from the room looking as panicked as she felt.
Willow's eyes stayed wide, unable to relax now. Hardly surprising! Giles hadn't exactly made any of that sound hopeful. She hadn't felt so rough while they'd been talking. Probably the sheer horror had quelled it for a little while. Now she felt sicker than ever though and slumped down further on her pillows.
This was all just one big fat unfair. Why now? Well, why ever, but especially now when she'd been being so good. She hadn't touched any magic - save the completely mundane exercises Althanea had been emailing to her - for a couple of months.
After she'd gotten a little zap-happy thanks to the lust spell, she'd been really careful; desperate to get a better control on her magic so that if another lust spell ever cropped up she wouldn't succumb so easy. It looked like that was all moot now, if her magic was going to get all out of control anyway. And she wouldn't even get the fun of picking the spells herself.
Something Giles said came back to her, about only teleporting around the house. She should have mentioned that she was pretty sure she had gone back in time too. If only by about a minute. She hadn't even known that was possible, not just for her but for anyone. Time travel was science fiction. Okay, so was most of what their daily lives involved, but time travel really was... well, fiction.
For the first time since she'd known him she really wished Andrew was around. If there was ever a geek who'd know the ins and outs of the realities of time travel it would be him. But he was in Oregon with his folks and Craig. Xander might know stuff, but then, Xander was hardly speaking to her.
She pulled the blanket up to her chin. What if this was really bad? What if Giles couldn't find a cure and her magic just got more and more unpredictable? It might be permanently corrupted, her hard drive wiped and, ultimately, her motherboard wiped.
With a gulp she pulled the blanket over her head.
Buffy stepped back from the stove, pushing steam-damp strands escaped from her ponytail behind her ears.
"Okay, yams a-boiling, cornstarch a-dissolving. What's next?"
Xander looked at the list on the kitchen table. "Now you gotta boil all the rest up together."
"Okay, that sounds easy enough." Buffy grabbed another saucepan from the cupboard and carried it to the chopping board.
She'd decided to do a little taster of everything today, just so she could be sure she would manage tomorrow when it came to cooking for the whole family. So far it was proving harder than she remembered - and she was only on the first one - but she just kept telling herself it was because she wasn't used to the recipe.
"So how was Willow when you spoke to her?" Xander asked out of the blue.
Buffy was pleased he asked, even if she didn't have anything great to report.
"Stand-offish. She said she felt too ill to talk, but I think she really just wanted me gone."
It had hurt but she was too happy that Willow was awake and okay to let it get to her. They'd had a mini breakthrough the night before with the laughing. It would happen again. For now she was just going to take her mind off it with the cooking.
"Giles still seems really worried."
"You know Giles. Worry is his middle name. She's awake, talking and coherent enough to still be mad at me. She's going to be fine." She looked in the pan. "Right, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg."
She picked a fresh lemon from the side and started to grate the rind directly into the pan.
"Don't put too much in," he cautioned.
"I know what I'm doing," she lied chirpily. "But what exactly are you doing?"
He looked up from the many oily parts he had on a sheet of newspaper. "The truck's been guzzling gas and making funny noises. So I'm fixing it."
Buffy put the lemon down and turned to the table. "That's part of the truck?"
"Yep, part of the engine part anyway."
"Which part of the engine part?"
He looked from the parts to the mechanics book beside him to the stove. "Your yams are boiling over."
She turned back and lowered the heat, but spoke over her shoulder. "You have no idea, do you?"
"Sure I do. It's the part that's making the funny noise."
"Hey, have I questioned your cooking ability this morning!"
"One or twice, yeah." Buffy turned long enough to grin at him and then poured a little fresh orange juice into the pan. "Why are you bothering with that this morning anyway?"
"I wanted to stay in the house but it's too cold sit on the doorstep painting shutters and I don't have the cord I need to fix the phone. This was the only other indoor job I could think of."
"I'm not sure fixing greasy car parts is an indoor job. Especially on the kitchen table when I'm practicing for Thanksgiving. If you wanna be near Will so bad why not take them up to her bedroom to fix?"
"Because I don't want to be near her that bad."
"You need to sort things out with her," Buffy stirred her mixture thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
Instead of answering, Xander countered, "Have you spoken to Faith about her session yet?"
She shook her head but didn't turn around. "I only saw her for two minutes this morning and I was too worried about Willow to talk. I don't know where she is now."
"Rubbing down the stables so we can start painting Friday."
Buffy nodded. "I'll catch up with her later then."
"I can always finish the yams off if you wanna go see her now."
"No, you'll ruin it."
"It's my recipe!"
"Yeah, so? I know your cooking repertoire, Xan. Pancakes, eggs, toast and microwave meals. Besides, Faith's obviously not dying to tell me all about it."
As she was taking the yams off the boil and trying to fish them out with a pair of tongs, there was a knock at the door.
"It's open," Xander called out, not bothering to move from his engine parts.
Buffy looked over her shoulder again and smiled to see who it was.
"Oz. What brings you to our neck of the woods? Wow, never thought I'd say that and mean it literally."
Oz smiled, his eyes casually checking out the kitchen. Seeing just the two of them, he came in.
"Willow was doing a thing for me and I wanted to see how she's getting on. I tried calling a few days ago but we got cut..." he'd spotted the telephone wire dangling uselessly from the wall-mounted phone jack. "...off."
Buffy smirked. "Bet you never thought you'd say that and mean it literally, either."
"Explains why I haven't been able to get through since."
"I'm fixing it," Xander said. "But until then we're making the cell phone companies a small fortune."
"I only have Willow's number and I didn't want to put any pressure on her."
Leaning over the counter, Buffy grabbed the pen and pad from beside the phone and copied three numbers down from the list pinned to the wall.
"That's Xander's, Giles' and mine." She tore the page off and handed it to Oz. "Should keep you going for now."
The contents of her saucepan began to boil and for a frantic moment she shuffled through pieces of paper on the counter, trying to find the one with the yam recipe.
"It's here," Xander reminded her. "Add the cornstarch."
"Of course I'm sure. Are you doubting my sureness? Do I not look surer than you right now?"
She glanced over as she picked up the bowl of cornstarch. "You look oily."
"Hey, I'm cooking here; and it just so happens that cooking and quipping come from the same part of the brain. So I can only do one or the other, okay?"
"Is that true?"
"Didn't you ever listen in biology?"
Smiling at them, Oz tucked the list of numbers in his pocket. "So, is Willow okay?"
Buffy stopped stirring; remembering that she wasn't. She'd managed to forget for ten minutes or so, which was probably okay now that Willow was awake, but made her feel guilty all the same.
Should they tell Oz? There was no doubt he still cared about her and would want to know, but Buffy wasn't sure it was the best thing for Willow. Did she need the added pressure of a worried, hovering Oz? Giles had said she needed lots of peace and quiet. Willow wasn't going to get that if she had to try and avoid Oz, assuming she wanted to. It wouldn't help things between her and Kennedy either.
"Only she's seemed a little, I don't know, odd the last few times we've spoken."
Buffy almost laughed at that, wondering how he could sound so surprised about it. Since he'd arrived he'd been like the werewolf in their hen house and it was Willow he wanted to... well, eat.
Putting it like that, she decided while stirring the saucepan again, it was probably better if Oz didn't know. Now the immediate danger had passed and Willow was going to be fine. Maybe exactly what Willow needed to make her decision once and for all was some enforced bed rest and lots of nothing to do but think.
Xander obviously wasn't on the same thought-track as her. "Actually, she's sick. Some magic bug. Giles is pretty worried."
Buffy looked around to see Oz looking stricken. It was a weird expression to see on his usual calm face.
"Will she be okay?"
"Definitely," Buffy said, with more certainty than she had. "But she needs lots of uninterrupted rest..."
"She's in bed if you want to go see her." Buffy glared at Xander and he held his hands out. "What? It's nice to have visitors when you're sick. Here."
Using just the very tips of his oily fingers he picked a small bunch of grapes out of the fruit bowl.
"Give her these," he handed them to Oz. "Fruit and sick people go together like crackers and cream-cheese. Actually, come to think of it, crackers and cheese and sick people go pretty well together too. Do we have any crackers and cheese? Did I somehow miss breakfast?" He rubbed his stomach, getting an engine grease handprint on his t-shirt. "Any chance those yams are done yet?"
"Do they look done?" Buffy snapped, annoyed with him. "Hey, Oz," she stopped him with a foot on the back stairs. "She's really not well, okay? That pressure you were talking about not putting on her, she really doesn't need it right now."
"I understand." He went up the stairs, 'get well' grapes in hand.
"What are you suddenly so huffy about?"
"Willow's in bed, feeling lousy, and you've just sent Oz up there."
"So?" Xander went back to his truck parts.
"So, I can promise you Willow is thinking one of two things right now. A) Oh God, why can't Oz take the hint that I'm not interested, I feel way too horrible to deal with his unwanted attention right now. Or, B) Oh God, why did Oz have to see me like this? Now he's gonna lose interest and I feel way too horrible to do the necessary to keep him paying attention."
Xander stared at her for a beat and then back down at his work. "I'd forgotten how complicated you women are. If the situation was reversed, men would just think, 'Yay, sexy woman bringing me grapes and hopefully putting her cool hand on my feverish brow.' And then the thinking stops there. See? Way less complicated."
"You think Oz is sexy?" Buffy smirked over her shoulder. "I thought Andrew was more your type."
"I don't have a man-type. We can't all get away with being slutty bisexuals like you."
"Hey! Watch who you're calling slutty, mister. I happen to have deadly accuracy with this wooden spoon."
"Sorry, but you gotta admit, that was a good comeback."
"Whatever." The mixture in the saucepan was thick and clear now so she removed it from the heat and plopped a knob of butter in. "We shouldn't have let Oz go up there yet. Not without one of us asking her at least. What if she wanted to see Kennedy first? Kennedy lives here. Kennedy's her most recent ex. She should have got first dibs on visiting."
"This is useless." Xander dropped a metal cog-shaped piece onto the newspaper with a thunk before looking up. "Like you said, she lives here, that gave her automatic first dibs. Obviously she doesn't want to see Willow as much as you think she does. In fact, she's made herself pretty scarce this morning. She hasn't even bothered asking how Willow's doing."
As Buffy poured the sauce over the tray of yams, she turned sharply to Xander, splashing the counter and her shirt with it.
"Does Kennedy even know she's sick?"
"How could she not know? Willow passed out cold on the kitchen floor."
"She was patrolling last night and I didn't stop to say anything this morning."
"Oops." Xander shrugged helplessly
Outside the back door Kennedy heard her name and paused, leaving Goorzar's harness only half unclipped. Instantly the young demon started to gibber about the straps holding her in place. She hated the restrictive harness, but it was useful for taking her on walks outside the camp.
They weren't walking now though and Goorzar decided to make her point a little better by pitch-poling forward onto her back and trying to wriggle out of it herself.
Kennedy didn't notice her antics any more than she noticed the fine rain that started to fall. Willow was poorly? And no one had told her because they just automatically assumed she didn't care anymore? Either she was a better actress than she gave herself credit for, or they were more stupid.
She hesitated for a moment, deciding between shouting for answers and sulking because no one had bothered to tell her. Knowing she'd go crazy with the not knowing, she slammed open the kitchen door, coming in on the tail end of their conversation.
"What's wrong with Willow?"
Xander looked up, startled by her abrupt entrance and she made an impatient 'tell me' gestures with her hand.
"We thought you knew," he said, his expression guilty.
Buffy was straightening up from putting a dish in the oven. She turned to face the back door where Kennedy was waiting, dripping on the floor.
"I was just about to come and find you."
"Well I'm here, so tell me now. Is she okay? Is it serious?"
Kennedy really hoped she was making a mountain out of a molehill, but from the looks on their faces she doubted it.
"I just heard Xander say she passed out!" she spoke with enough distress that Xander actually stood from his chair.
"She did, right where you're standing, and then she had a little sleep and now she's awake again," he said soothingly.
It didn't sooth, in fact it grated. "How long was this little sleep?"
"All night," he admitted. "But she's awake now and that's what matters, right?"
"Yeah," she muttered, leaning forward on the back of a chair, feeling the worst of the worry pass. "So do we know what it is? I mean did you just give me a heart attack because she has a head cold? Or is it as serious as you made it sound?"
Buffy came closer, wiping her hands on a tea towel before putting a gentle hand on Kennedy's shoulder.
"It's serious, but only because it's magical and we don't know a cure off hand. But Giles is on the trail and this is the stuff he's really good at. And now Willow's awake she can help him. They'll find something that'll make her better soon, I promise."
"Yeah, if I had a dollar for every time Giles and Will have put their heads together and cured Buffy from some nasty demon infection, I'd... have at least enough for a large, thick-crust pepperoni pizza. Man, I'm still hungry."
"Demon infections aren't the same as magic, though, right? I mean, demons might be supernatural, but surely when they get infected it's still just basic anatomy. But magic. Everyone keeps telling me how dangerous and unpredictable magic is - and now Willow's sick with it?"
She stared wildly around at them and they looked back, offering sympathetic looks but saying nothing. Maybe it was just that they'd already worked through the panic she was feeling now - after all they'd known all night while she'd been left in the dark alone - but it felt more like they were trying to hide how scared they really were, like she was a kid or... or an outsider.
"You can't tell me you two aren't worried about this."
"Of course we're worried, but there's nothing we can do until Giles gives us something to do. Me and Xan, and you, we're out of our league with this magic stuff, you know that."
"Yeah, we don't know what we're doing. Magic flu is virgin territory for us," Xander backed Buffy up.
Kennedy's face fell further. "If this is all so unknown how can you be so calm?"
"It's going to be fine," Buffy promised, shooting Xander a glare.
"Yeah," he rallied. "Because, you know, what are virgins for if not conquering?"
Kennedy blinked at him and then started for the back stairs.
"I'm going to see if she needs anything."
"She has an Oz."
Kennedy turned back around slowly, not quite sure her brain had processed Buffy's blurted statement properly.
"I mean," Buffy started again. "Oz is up there, already doing that... the seeing if she needs anything thing. I just thought I should warn you. That he's up there. Seeing to her... but... but not in that kind of 'seeing to' way, just... I don't really know in what way." Buffy's babble finally came to an end and she took a deep breath to compose herself.
"Uh huh." It was really all Kennedy could manage in response. She could feel her hands, feet and brain starting to tingle with anger at the thought of him up there with her. "So I take it that means she's well enough to have visitors. Good."
"Not really what I meant," Buffy said as Kennedy turned to the stairs again.
Kennedy shrugged it off. "If I have to put up with him in my house, he has to put up with me in my bedroom."
"It's not your bedroom anymore," Buffy pointed out and once again Kennedy turned to face her.
"I left something in there that I need," she said, her voice calm, her eyes steady, the shake in her hands barely noticeable.
"What is it that's so important it can't wait until Oz is gone?" Buffy asked, exasperated.
"Oz took fruit," Xander said. "You should probably take some too."
"Xander!" Buffy snapped.
"What? I'm feeling guilty now about not staying neutral. The least I can do is even the odds."
"Fruit?" Kennedy walked back towards the table.
Xander held up the fruit bowl for her, but she bypassed it and went to the counter by the fridge instead. Two Calabasas had been left there. One large and tan for tomorrow, the other smaller and green for today.
Kennedy picked up the larger one. "Check."
"I was thinking grapes." Xander held the bowl out hopefully again. "Like Oz took."
Kennedy hefted the squash in her right hand a few times, liking the weight of it.
"I'd rather do something that sets me apart from the crowd."
"Like smashing a pumpkin in Oz's face?" Buffy stepped in the way as she walked back to the stairs. "Look, I know this sucks, and I'm all for you and Willow sorting things out, but I think you should wait until he's gone. The last thing Willow needs right now is you two fighting up there."
Even if that was true, Kennedy was in no mood to listen to reason. She moved around Buffy, not looking at her, and went up the backstairs, muttering, "Then you should have found the time to tell me first."
Buffy turned from staring helplessly at her back, to glaring at Xander. "Yeah, we should have."
"Hey, don't look at me like that! You're her guardian slayer. I hadn't even seen her today until just now."
"Guardian Slayer? What even is that?"
"Don't play dumb. I heard you and Giles talking about it the other day. Now that you're retired you get to play pretend-Watcher."
"Now who's being dumb? I'm just helping her out. That doesn't make me any kind of Watcher!"
"Obviously not, if you can't even keep your Slayer in the loop over something you should have known would make her shoot off like a bottle rocket!"
"What would you know about it, Xander?"
Goorzar trailed her soggy wet harness around their feet, trying to bug someone into taking it off properly for her. Ignored, she left muddy paw prints all over the clean kitchen floor before hiding under the table, gibbering unhappily at their raised voices.
The soft voice from the doorway made Willow spin around, which in turn made her go dizzy and she sat down on the edge of the bed heavily. She fought the urge to put her head between her knees because all of the sudden she had company.
It wasn't so much a greeting as a check that she wasn't hallucinating her ex standing at the threshold of her gloomy, slightly musty, sick room. At least the dim light from the overcast day and drawn curtains was hiding the pale green tinge that had started seeping into her skin.
"I heard you weren't feeling well. Can I come in?"
Willow looked down at her well-worn Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger Too nightdress with a sigh. It was designed more for comfy than for company, but it had taken too much energy to get changed into it just to turn around and get changed back out of it again.
"I guess so; just... ah... give me a sec." She lifted up her sheets, slipped beneath them and then pulled the bedcovers up to her chin. "Okay, you can come in now."
"Cold?" He asked, coming to the edge of the bed.
"No," she smiled bashfully. "Just in my nightie. And, you know, not so much used to having boys seeing me in my nightie these days."
"Not even Xander or... what's the blond's name that shares his room?"
"Andrew; and they don't really count, not like you do anyway."
"Okay," he seemed to like that answer.
She grinned and then realized that must have sounded less like she was used to them being around and more like she had some kind of crush on him. For a moment she faltered for something to say and then settled on,
"Why don't you sit down?"
She followed his gaze to the spot on the bed next to her and then pulled an alarmed face. Gee, now he probably thought she was getting all seducey. Hey, sit close to me; let me allure you with my cartoon nightshirt, greasy hair and pea-soup skin! She turned abruptly on the bed, making the room spin again, and pointed to the chair Xander had left by the bed.
"Sit there, I mean. I mean, that looks like a nice place to sit - sturdy, good, straight back which is good for... for having a... a good, straight back."
She winced at herself even as she was speaking and by the time she'd finished babbling he was in the chair.
"Are you okay?" he asked, his face the picture of boyfriendly concern.
"No! For all I know I have the mystical reincarnation of the bubonic plague and I need a shower and you're sitting there all... Did you bring me grapes?"
"Sort of. It was more of a joint venture." He smiled, handing them over. "Xander gave them to me to bring up."
She wondered if she was hungry yet. With the ever-present nausea it was hard to tell, but she hadn't eaten since the night before. She plucked a grape from the stem and popped it into her mouth. The juice was delicious even if she wasn't hungry.
She saw Oz's eyes slide away from her to the edge of her headboard.
He jerked his eyes away again fast, his face even more expressionless than usual. "Nothing."
Puzzled, she twisted awkwardly around on her pillows to look and her eyes went wide as she realized what he'd spotted.
"Oh, no, no." She shook her head hard, embarrassment making her dizzy. "They're not what you think."
He took another look. "So they're not furry black handcuffs?"
She was feeling too ill for this.
"Furry, black handcuffs, yes. But not because I've been naughty in either a sexy or an 'arrest her officer' way, but to stop me from being naughty in the future."
"Sexy naughty or 'arrest her officer' naughty?" he asked, picking a grape from the bunch for himself as he regarded her with bright, alert eyes.
"'Zap my nearest and dearest with my sudden magical death ray capabilities' naughty." She pulled out the other set that she had stashed under her pillow at Oz's interruption and then forgotten about, and showed them to him. "These wouldn't hold me if I actively wanted to get out of them, but I figured, if my magic just started firing willy-nilly these might, I don't know, restrain direct attacks a little?"
She twirled the closed wrist loop around her finger a couple of times, watching it, and then twisted to attach them to the other side of the headboard.
"Might stop me from teleporting myself to 1940's Europe or worse anyway."
"I didn't know you had magical death ray capabilities."
"I didn't know I could teleport just by sneezing." She shrugged and settled back on the pillows again. "Giles thinks the virus is re-wiring my hard drive."
"So it's making your magic unpredictable?"
"With a capital P, or actually U, but yeah. So I'm going to chain myself to the bed until Giles finds me a cure."
Oz flicked the one closest to him with his finger. "With furry black novelty handcuffs?"
Willow blushed deeply. They were all she'd had in the room, bought with Kennedy -- more as a joke than with any actual plans to use them -- from an adult store in LA.
She had a vivid memory of the two of them, giggling inappropriately and earning disapproving looks from the middle-aged man behind the cash register as they browsed racks of cock rings, butt plugs and nipple clamps one boring Wednesday afternoon.
They had still been so new then, still getting know each other. That afternoon had been like only their third proper date. She'd been slightly appalled at the idea when Kennedy dragged her off the street and through the unmarked door to a world of wonder beyond, but her natural curiosity had soon won out.
"There are shackles and stuff in the training room but asking for them would have worried everyone."
"Buffy and Xander are already worried."
"Worried for me, maybe, not worried what I might do to them."
Things were strained enough. Her best friends were barely even her best friends now as it was.
"Letting them know I might be capable of frying them in their slippers would just add unnecessary tension."
"So you don't think they might ask questions about the furry handcuffs?" Oz smiled.
Willow looked at the grapes instead of him. "If you have a better idea."
"Talk to them."
"Is that your answer for everything these days?"
"It's not a bad one."
That was true, but he didn't understand it wasn't an option. Getting off the topic of handcuffs and reasons for them was probably the best idea.
"So how come you stopped by?"
"I was worried. I thought you were avoiding my calls."
"We have no house phone. I didn't know you'd been calling."
"Yeah, I saw the problem downstairs."
"So was there another reason?"
Oz hesitated. "I can go if you like."
Willow looked at him again. "No, I didn't mean that. Just... sorry, I seem to be really tetchy today."
"Maybe... but you being here is good. It's nice you care enough to be here."
More than anyone else bothers to do, she added in her head and then felt bad, but not that bad, because she would be here alone if it wasn't for Oz.
"We could talk about something else?"
She nodded gratefully. "Have you found any more closet Werewolves?"
"One. I haven't approached him yet though."
"I've been waiting for you. We work well as a team."
She wasn't so sure about that. Not that they didn't work well as a team, but the werewolf-approaching business wasn't really a team endeavor. Oz approached them, Oz spoke to them and Oz helped them plan their 'after care'. She really just went along for the ride, as a representative of the Council of Watchers, because that gave his authority some official weight.
"Maybe you should do this one alone. Just in case I can't leave here for a while."
"I'm not sure I can pull it off alone."
"You could take Buffy. Or Xander. He needs the morale boost."
Oz didn't look happy with either suggestion, although he pretended to think it over.
"You're better with people."
"Better than Xander?"
"Xander's good, but..." Oz took her hand, his pale blue eyes gazing earnestly into hers. "It can wait until you feel up to it."
She smiled at him, the warmth of his attention striking out the nausea she was feeling. Curling her hand around his, she lay back on her pillows again. This was nice. Holding hands was nice. It had been a little while.
She felt way too oogy to feel any kind of romantic stirrings, but just having someone, no, not just anyone, Oz, want to sit this close, hold her hand and make her feel special... that was nice.
"Okay. Maybe I'll feel better sooner than I think anyway."
"I hope so."
They chatted companionably for a while, mostly about their shared past, which seemed like kinda dangerous territory to Willow at first, opening cans of worms that could wriggle into places she didn't want them. But after the first few funny memories she relaxed right into it and concentrated on not looking too green or woozy instead.
It was harmless anyway, she kept reminding herself. Oz hadn't made any moves on her, despite Kennedy and Xander both thinking he'd jump at the first chance to, so maybe they were wrong after all. And besides, wasn't she a free agent now? Wasn't that what Kennedy had wanted? Even if she did feel some inkling of desire for Oz, it wouldn't be wrong now she was single. Weird, maybe, but not wrong.
So she kept her hand in his and laughed as often as she could - because didn't they say laughter was the best medicine? - and did her best not to wish it was Kennedy here making her feel better instead.
She had come purposefully up the back stairs, but as soon as Kennedy heard their voices in her bedroom, she realized it had all been an act. She wished it wasn't, but wishing wasn't making her storm into the room like she wanted to.
She lingered in the corridor, not too close to the bedroom door, but then she didn't need to now with her super-hearing. They seemed to be getting on like a house on fire, although she mused, hopefully not literally because one fire per bedroom a year was more than enough. Willow didn't even sound sick! Every now and again her voice seemed to get a little fainter, but it always came back strong again the next time she gushed about some past little deed they'd gotten up to when Oz had been a Scooby.
That pissed her off. She wasn't even considered one of the inner circle and she was a slayer! Not that she wanted to be a Scooby, she wasn't into that kind of childish little club name thing, but knowing Osborne had been found worthy of entry into their stupid clique and she wasn't... yeah, that made her blood boil a bit. Okay, a lot.
They just... in there... sounded so close! Like the years they'd been apart - even the Tara years! - had never happened.
She could go in there and chuck the calabaza at his head just for the sake of it, just to let off some steam, but she couldn't seem to stop listening to them long enough to do it. Even though every word, every giggle, tore at her heart.
Maybe Willow was just being nice though, polite because she felt too sick not to be. It was a slim hope, but it was all Kennedy had and, as pathetic as it might be, she was gonna cling to it. Because maybe if she did walk in there, but less aggressively than she'd planned, and was actually nice herself, maybe Willow would compare and contrast and see what she was missing.
It would be painful to do it, actually it might be almost impossible, but if it got her back into Willow's good books? That was a start, wasn't it? And if Will was just being nice because she wasn't feeling well, she'd surely be able to tell and that might calm some of this churning inside of her.
But what if Willow wasn't just being nice and what if Kennedy could tell? Polite and sociable might take the back burner fast and if Willow really was as sick as Buffy and Xander had made out, having another Werewolf/Slayer fight right in her bedroom might make her worse... it sure as hell wouldn't make her better!
She was still deliberating when she heard footsteps coming from the front stairs. Not wanting to be caught loitering outside Willow's room like a stalker by anyone, she ducked into Xander's bedroom. Leaving the door open, she stood just out of sight from the corridor and waited for whomever it was to get to where they were going.
As it turned out it was Giles and the destination was Willow's room. She heard his voice loud and clear after he'd knocked quietly.
"Oh, hello, Oz. I wasn't aware you were coming here today," Giles greeted him as he entered.
He wasn't sure it was a good idea, either. Willow needed proper bed rest and preferably a certain amount of isolation. Proper bed rest meant no preventable excitations and no over-doing it by pretending to feel better than she was.
He didn't want to admit it to Willow, he didn't want to admit it to anyone, but he was rather worried about Willow's predicament and the more he researched, the more concerned he became.
He knew there had to be an answer, but he was no closer to finding one than he had been last night and the more time went by... well, the isolation wasn't just for Willow's benefit.
"It was spur of the moment," Oz said, while Willow beamed quietly by. "I'm glad I came though. I didn't realize Willow was sick until I got here."
"Well, we're working on that," he promised.
"Do you have anything yet?" There was more than a hint of desperation in Willow's words despite her cheerful smile.
"A few options," he lied. "I'll let you know as soon as I have something concrete. I just wanted to see how you were feeling."
"Better. Oz is helping."
"Well, that's good."
He paused and filled his silence by checking her pulse - still good and strong, if anything perhaps a little too strong, but he wasn't going to count that as a bad thing just now - and feeling her brow. It was still a little clammy and her skin was taking on the palest of green tints. Not wanting to worry her, he didn't mention it.
"Perhaps best not make the visit too long, though. You should try to sleep as much as you can today."
"But I slept all night!"
"I know, but your body and mind need as much rest as possible to combat the effects of the... the runaway magick, as it were. You have the best defense inside of you but you need to give it the opportunity to work."
"Really? So all I have to do is sleep lots and this thing will go away?" Willow asked skeptically.
"Not exactly," Giles hedged, "but it can't hurt."
"I should probably go then." Oz stood up. "I've been here a while already. But I'll come by tomorrow if that's okay."
"But tomorrow's Thanksgiving," Willow reminded him, not letting go of his hand.
"That's okay. Ralph and I were just going to split a turkey anyway."
Giles had a vague memory of a conversation overheard that Ralph was Oz's dog. He smiled slightly at the thought of a bond between werewolf and dog, but then realized he didn't like the idea of Oz - who only a few years ago had been such an integral part of their little family - dining with just his dog for company on such an occasion.
Aware that Buffy probably wouldn't thank him for the extra work, he felt compelled to ask anyway.
"Why don't you join us for dinner tomorrow, Oz? Buffy's cooking and I'm sure Willow would love to have you."
"I... ah..." Willow stuttered an answer. "I mean, uh, yeah, but... won't I still be on bed rest?"
"We'll have to see how you feel, but I'm hoping we'll have you cured by then."
He smiled, expecting her to too, but she did not. He was about to ask what was wrong, but it soon became apparent he had made a faux pas of some kind.
"That'd be cool," Oz smiled, looking very grateful for the invite. "As long as it's okay with Willow?"
As he turned to her, Willow's smile blinked on as bright as a light bulb. "Oh, uh, sure. That'd be... uh, neat. As long as I'm up to it. Not that you can't come even if I'm not, but... but, well, hopefully I will be and that'll be..." She gave him another big smile. "You should bring Ralph! Yep. You and Ralph coming for Thanksgiving."
As Oz turned to check that was okay with him, only Giles saw Willow grimace - and not from the sickness, he imagined.
He assured Oz that Ralph would be as welcome as he. "So, you'll come tomorrow. That will be nice," he reiterated, hoping anxiously he hadn't just caused Willow far more excitation that she could handle.
Kennedy, still just inside Xander's bedroom door, ran a hand through her hair in dismay.
Not only was Willow more than happy to have Oz there with her right now, she also really wanted him to come to Thanksgiving tomorrow. How much did that suck? In fact, how dare she? Thanksgiving was her thing! Okay technically it was Buffy's, but she'd been the first one on board with it! Willow hadn't even wanted to do the big meal thing! And now she was inviting the one person she knew Kennedy couldn't stand to be around.
Okay, technically it had been Giles that had invited him, but Giles didn't know! Giles was pretty cool but he was completely clueless at what went on below Slaydar. At least, he acted it. Sure Willow had once mentioned he'd cottoned on to Buffy and Faith before she had, but that was one instance and that was concerning his Slayer. Everyone else could be having naked orgies over the picnic table and he'd be too deep in his books to notice.
So he could be excused for inviting Oz, but Willow couldn't be excused for agreeing to it! Obviously she didn't care one iota for her feelings or else she would have made up some excuse. She had the perfect one already, didn't she?
Yeah, she had mentioned she might feel too poorly to attend herself, but she'd sounded disappointed about it, and more importantly she'd told him he could still come anyway! What was that about?
Not able to stand there and stew about it anymore she left the bedroom. Giles and Oz were just coming out of Willow's - her - room, but she didn't acknowledge them as she headed straight for the back stairs.
Buffy was still in the kitchen, still at the stove. Xander had gone, but Goorzar was sitting where he had been, playing with the oily bits of newspaper he'd left on the table. She felt annoyed about that for a second, but Xander was one of the few people on her side, so she let it go with a sigh, set the calabaza she still carried onto the counter again and went to clear the paper away herself.
"How'd it go?" Buffy hadn't turned around; she must have recognized her sigh.
Kennedy looked up irritably from scrunching the newspaper into a ball. The oil was getting all over her hands now and she could already see it matting Goorzie's paws. That was going to be fun to remove.
"Nothing. I didn't go in."
"No, opposite of good!" she snapped. "I hate being a wuss!"
Buffy chuckled and Kennedy shot her a dirty look that was lost on her back. She dropped the paper into the trash and then looked under the sink for the best thing to remove oil from baby demon paws.
"I could hear them being all cozy together and... it made me want to hurl! Figured going in there just to throw up wouldn't really help me."
"You're probably right. Have one of Xander's yams. They're actually pretty good, even if I do say so myself."
Kennedy straightened up and looked at the dish on the counter. The long, slightly orangey veg looked surprisingly appetizing - she'd been led to believe that even Buffy's cereal ended up burnt.
"I would, but thanks to Xan, my hands are oily."
Buffy turned around and grabbed a glass of milk from the breakfast counter.
"This one time, Faith and I shared a plate of hot ribs right after slaying a Gwizzarni Demon."
"What's a Gwizzarni Demon?"
"Once it's slayed... pretty much just blue goop and gristly bits. Point being, a little oil and newsprint won't kill you."
She handed over a clean fork and Kennedy took it, slicing off a piece of yam. She stuck it in her mouth and chewed. It didn't taste like she was expecting, sweeter maybe; not bad.
"Good times, huh?" she mocked with her mouthful.
Buffy sighed with a smile on her face. "We had a few... well, one or two anyway. Wasn't all knife fights and poisonings."
Kennedy finished the yam and set the fork in the dish. "Any idea what gets oil out of hair?"
"How did you get in it your hair?"
"Not mine, Goorzie's." Kennedy pointed at her blacker than usual paws.
They called them paws because she wasn't technically anything like a human, but really the four fingers and opposable thumb resembled hands more. Still, paws made everyone except her and Andrew more comfortable so that was what they were. Big, hairy, hand-shaped paws. Right now, absolutely coated in thick, greasy engine oil.
"Why did Xander let her play in it?"
"He left in kind of a hurry," Buffy said, turning back to the stove again. "We had a little confab about you going up to see Will."
"Not a good one I take it."
She went back to the table with a bunch of kitchen roll and caught Goorzar's wrists on the third attempt. There were already black hand prints all over the table top, but that wasn't her problem.
"Oh, it was good, not nice, but good, lots of big, emphatic words and stuff."
"It's nothing to worry about," Buffy promised.
She seemed to be dithering with stuff around the stove rather than doing anything in particular. Kennedy waited to see if she added anything, when she didn't she decided to try and take her mind off of it instead.
"So, Giles asked Oz to Thanksgiving."
"What?" Buffy turned to her again abruptly. "Since when? That's not...?"
She didn't sound pissed off, just surprised, which kind of pissed Kennedy off, but she tried not to let on.
"Upstairs. I was... eavesdropping." She smiled a little. "He said him and his mutt were sharing a turkey and I guess Giles was a little grossed out at the idea of them ripping apart a live turkey between them, so he invited him just to save the bird."
Buffy huffed out a little laugh. "Well, that is a gross image, so thanks for that, but maybe it was more because Giles likes Oz and didn't want to see him eat alone on Thanksgiving?"
Kennedy frowned and started wiping Goorzar's paws with the tissue. "I thought he liked me too."
Buffy noticed the calabaza back on the counter. "Hey, I have a spare again! I can practice now. Ya know, I'd never have found these in Boudenver, but Xan and I went into Cleveland last night. It's amazing what you can find at Wal-Mart. I can't believe Sunnydale never had one. So now you just have to talk me through it."
Kennedy frowned. "What if it all goes wrong?"
"That's why they call it a spare."
"Okay." Kennedy lifted Goorzar from the seat and sat her on the table so she could take the chair and still wipe at her paws. "Cut it into, what... seven pieces now?"
She watched as Buffy did so.
"Do I de-seed it?"
"Yeah and cut off the rind. Ya know, the thing that really bothers me isn't that he came to see her."
"Then what is it?" Buffy asked as she carefully went about preparing the calabaza.
"Well, obviously, it's that she's so happy to see him!"
Buffy got a mixing bowl from one of the bottom cupboards and started pouring the spices specified on Kennedy's recipe card into it. She sounded distracted but genuine as she said, "Was she? Sorry."
"It's not your fault. It's not even hers! It's mine. If I hadn't made it so easy to walk away, he wouldn't have been so easy to walk to."
"She didn't walk to him. He came by surprise and she's kind of a captive audience up there."
"That's what I hoped, but she sounded pretty happy."
She carried a mildly squealing demon over to the sink and squirted liquid detergent all over her paws. Luckily Goorzar liked the sink so didn't put up much of a fight once she could sit in it. Just as well, because already she was getting hard for even Kennedy to keep hold of when she wasn't happy.
She was double the size she had been when they'd found her, which wasn't saying a whole lot considering how small she had been then, but her strength had doubled too. To say she was a handful now was underestimating it. Right now, though, she sat happily in the sink and tried to play with the bubbles Kennedy was scrubbing into her paws.
"Maybe it was the fever talking," Buffy suggested.
"She didn't sound all that feverish."
"Then maybe you just need to talk to her."
Kennedy frowned at her tone. "If I'm starting to bore you with this..."
Buffy looked up, guiltily. "You're not, I promise. But Willow's in trouble, of the serious health kind, making this not a time for me and Xander to be at odds. And your deal with Oz is kind of putting pressure on us from all sides."
Kennedy looked down at Goorzie and her soap bubbles, half feeling guilty and half feeling that familiar jealous, pissed off feeling.
"I'm not trying to rag on you," Buffy promised. "I totally get where you're coming from. But Willow's sick and we all need to just put everything else aside until she's better, okay?"
Kennedy made a barely audible dissatisfied sound as she looked away, knowing Buffy was right. Willow was all that mattered. Even if they never resolved their differences, she still couldn't stand the idea of anything bad happening to her. So Buffy had a point, she should be as mellow as she could be about the whole sitch, at least until Willow was out of the woods... after that... well, after that, Osborne was more than fair game again. She could wait. She hoped.
Avoiding Buffy's earnest gaze meant she was looking out of the window, and so she saw Faith walked towards the back door. With slightly teenage glee she wondered if Buffy could keep to the 'Willow's health is the only thing that matters' mantra once Faith was in the room with them. If she could, fair enough. If she couldn't, Kennedy would feel at least a little vindicated.
Buffy was putting the calabaza chunks into a saucepan to rinse them.
Kennedy, pretending she hadn't seen Faith about to enter, said casually, "You need to coat them in the spices and then roast them straight away for twenty minutes. You can't leave them though, cause they might burn."
Buffy had to squeeze past Goorzar to fill the pan with water. The demon kept batting at the pot and Kennedy had her work cut out stopping her from dunking her hands in it as it was filled.
Faith entered as the three of them were having a mini-battle with the saucepan.
"Looks like fun. Can I join?"
Kennedy noted Buffy's head shooting up, but she kept her own focused on the game.
"I, ah... not so much fun actually. You can take my place if you like."
Buffy pointed at the saucepan just as Kennedy got Goorzar to let go of it. The pan pinged upwards and shot cold water and calabaza all over the front of Buffy.
Buffy gasped and went on tiptoes and was the only one in the kitchen who didn't burst into laughter - even Goorzar started hiccuping loudly.
Buffy remained on tiptoes, too shocked by the cold water all over her face and chest to even complain at first. Kennedy decided to get while the going was good and scooped Goorzar out of the sink.
"I'm going to ask Xander what gets oil out of demon hair." With that she bolted past Faith and out the back door, Goorzar squealing in her arms.
Buffy finally let her heels touch the kitchen floor again. "That was bracing."
"Not really the time of year for water fights," Faith agreed, grinning.
Buffy started picking the squash from the floor. "Could you get me...?"
"Just some paper towels will do." Buffy straightened up, smiling herself, as she ran the faucet into the pan, washing off the calabaza.
She tried not to focus too closely on Faith as she moved around the kitchen. Her hair was kinda glittery under the kitchen lights - pretty - and it took Buffy a moment to realize it was just raindrops.
"I thought you were working inside today?"
"I am, why?"
"Not as wet as you." Faith smirked as she handed her the tissue. She ran a hand over her damp hair. "I had to go outside to get to here."
"Oh, right." Buffy wiped her face. "Of course."
"Xander hasn't dug the service tunnels yet."
Faith was still standing close, leaning against the sink as she peered into the saucepan. It was distracting.
"Well he's got a lot to do. I'm sure he'll get around to it. Wait, he's digging tunnels?"
Faith laughed softly. "No, but we'll probably wish he had once it starts snowing."
"It's going to snow." Buffy looked excitedly out of the window.
She'd only experienced snow twice in her life. Once when her Mom and Dad had taken her skiing and again in Sunnydale that Christmas day she'd gotten back together with Angel. They'd both been pleasant experiences and maybe some snow now was what they needed to cheer everyone up.
"Probably not today," Faith said, poking a slice of calabaza. "Doubt we'll have to wait much longer for it though."
Buffy looked from the window to Faith. She was still only a foot away.
"I should probably get this in the oven."
"Don't let me slow you down." Faith gestured towards it. "You do know Thanksgiving is tomorrow, though, right?"
"Yep. This is just a practice run."
Buffy dropped her damp chunks of squash into her bowl of mixed spices and tumbled them around in there for a while. Faith was still leaning against the sink, watching her.
"Did you come in here for a cooking lesson or did you want to talk?"
"What? Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to bother you." Faith pushed away from the sink uncomfortably.
"Because if it was to talk I'll be done with this in just a sec," Buffy went on over the top of her, trying to make up for the abruptness of her question. It had been nerves, but Faith had obviously taken it negatively.
Faith seemed to hesitate then. "I was actually just passing through. Xan said Willow's sick. I was gonna go say Hey in my lunch break."
Buffy couldn't really argue with that, but it would have been nice if Faith had wanted to spend some of her lunch break with her for once.
With that in mind as she bent down to put the baking pan of calabaza into the oven, she added. "Just tell me what time you wanna tell me about you're session yesterday and I'll make sure I'm free."
Faith stopped halfway across the kitchen. "How d'you...?"
Buffy straightened up, but didn't look at her. "Xander let it slip after you'd gone last night. I was gonna come after you but I wasn't sure which direction you were heading in."
"You've known where I've been all morning."
"I've been busy."
"Cooking?" Faith asked, unimpressed.
"Worrying about Willow!"
"Well, now I'm worrying about Willow."
"So when are you going to..." She began impatiently as she turned around. Faith was already going up the stairs. "For heaven sake!" She slammed the oven door shut.
"Yes! That's more like it." Giles had seen Oz off and was back in his study. "I think if we use Salamander Root... no, I'm sorry, Salablade Root, we may be on the right track."
There were three books open on his desk and another on the floor to the side of it. He was cross-referencing between the four, checking for ingredient availability with difficulty at one of the online Wicca stores Willow had bookmarked and was holding a telephone consultation with Miss Harkness of the coven in Devon.
"So the Salablade, the other three I've written down and, what did you say? Nagasaki Discus? Ah, Nagyszemet Dizno... Um, I have no idea, I'm afraid. Then why can't they just call them Hungarian pig's eyes?"
He scrolled down the web page looking for them as he spoke.
"Do they have to be from Hungary, because time is of the essence? The more distressed Willow becomes the faster the corruptive magick may spread through her."
He found the eyes and clicked to put three lots in his virtual basket. It all seemed very expensive. He missed being able to get things at cost prices. He knew Willow was growing many of her own magickal herbs these days. Maybe it would be wise to cough up the money for a couple of Hungarian pigs too.
"No, I'll be performing the spell myself. I agree it's not ideal, but the only other person here who has shown any inherent magickal ability isn't in fact here at the moment. No, even if I could get him back today, Craig's far too wet behind the ears to be entrusted with a spell as important as this."
A movement at the window caught his eye. Xander was trudging past looking miserable, coatless despite the rain, with a beer bottle in his hand. Giles sighed. He still had to talk to him about the depressed mood he'd been in for months on end, but there just never seemed to be the time. It would have to be soon though because it was starting to cause tension for everyone
He focused on what Miss Harkness was saying again while still watching Xander through the window.
"Yes, perhaps you're right. Having Craig tutored will probably be for everyone's benefit in the future, but right now I'm afraid I have enough people's futures to worry about."
Faith expected to find Willow in bed. She wasn't.
Instead, as Faith got to the top of the stairs and made to turn towards her room, she saw the witch shivering outside on the veranda.
She banged on the little window to get her attention. "What the hell're you doing out there in your pajamas? I thought you're supposed to be sick?"
"I sneezed!" Willow yelled back, like that explained a damn thing.
Frowning, Faith pointed her finger to the back of the house. As Willow got it, Faith walked down the hallways to the door to the veranda. She let Willow in, soaking wet and shivering madly, and then ducked into her own bedroom to grab the blanket off her bed.
"Why didn't you at least put a coat on?" she griped, wrapping the blanket around Willow's grateful shoulders.
"I didn't plan on going out there!"
When Faith just looked at her like she was crazy, Willow realized no one had properly clued her in.
"It's part of my... condition. When I sneeze I teleport."
Willow nodded as she shuffled along the corridor back to her bedroom. "I ended up on the roof last night."
"Huh. What was that like?"
"Cold and scary. But Buffy was there with me."
They were back at her room now. Her nightdress was soggy, but she didn't feel up to changing right away. Keeping Faith's blanket around her, she crawled under her own covers and pulled them to her chin.
"Buffy's teleporting when she sneezes too?"
She hadn't looked sick to Faith. Annoying as ever, but not sick. She started to tuck Willow in better, then realized what she was doing and dropped the covers to step back and have a word with herself. Willow wasn't a little kid, and even if she had been, Faith didn't tuck little kids into bed! She'd be offering to read her a bedtime story next!
Willow didn't seem to notice she was flustered as she griped. "No, she just grabbed me as I sneezed. I told her not to. But as always, she did what she wanted to."
Faith almost smiled. "Yeah, tell me about it. It's like she's got cotton balls in her ears whenever anyone else has something to say."
They stared at each other, both realizing they were being a little unfair, but then shrugged in unison and Faith dropped down into the chair by the bed.
"Thing that gets me, she makes this big deal about wanting to talk, but then doesn't listen. Every time I try, she takes something I say wrong, and then goes off in a shit. I don't even know what I've said half the time. How'm I supposed to deal with that?"
"It doesn't seem to stop you kissing her."
"Yeah, well, gotta do something. I'm hoping if I keep it up she'll realize what she's missing and cut the crap, ya know? Maybe if she finally chills and gives me a little something back to go on, I will too."
"At least she still wants to be your girlfriend."
"She doesn't wanna be my girlfriend. She wants to be my keeper with a side of sex. We had a name for people like that back in the penn."
"Oh, yeah?" Willow sat up a little more now the shivering was subsiding, interested. "What was it?"
Willow's nose scrunched up. "Huh?"
"Gracie. She was this guard who... well, she wanted to screw all the inmates." Faith shrugged like it was self-explanatory. "Anyway, B's like her. Except she won't even have sex with me."
Willow shook her sore head. "Okay, now you've totally lost me."
"Never mind, forget it. So, Ken been to see ya yet."
"No!" Willow said, her tone surly.
"Well maybe if she knew you had the handcuffs ready to go she would." Faith winked.
Willow gave an embarrassed chuckle and buried her head in her covers for a moment. She'd been hoping Faith wouldn't spot them. "They're not for that! They're in case my sneezes get out of control and I start teleporting across Boudenver."
"If you say so." Faith fiddled with one for a moment. "I thought for a minute you and Oz had been up to something naughty."
"No need to bite my head off. So you two ain't getting back together?"
"Believe me, I really wish I wanted to. Life would be so much easier if I was still attracted to him, you know, like that."
"Like what? Either you're attracted to him or you're not."
"I still love him. I know I still love him." She lowered her voice. "I think a part of me is even still in love with him. He still gives me the warm and fuzzies, but he doesn't," she paused and released a deep breath. "He doesn't give me the... the..."
Faith helped her out. "The hot and tinglies?"
"Yeah," Willow agreed softly.
"But Kennedy does?"
"Kennedy doesn't want to give me anything."
"But you want her to?"
Willow opened her mouth to answer but a sneeze came out instead. Faith found herself staring at an empty bed.
"Well, I'll be," she began and got up to go look for the teleported witch.
Giles was in the kitchen making a cup of tea now.
Buffy was still fussing with food between the counter and the stove. Xander was dripping rainwater all over the table as he tried to clean the mysterious oil stains off of it. They didn't appear to speaking much to each other, he noticed.
"So, I believe the spell has every chance of working and curing her of this ailment altogether, but you'll both need to be there to help."
"Why?" Xander asked. "You know what me and magick are like."
"Yes, very successful when you concentrate. So no more beer this afternoon, please."
"Sure, whatever. But can we get it over with early? They're having a pre-Thanksgiving thing down at Barnies tonight and I told Alex I'd show."
"Xander, it's for Willow!" Buffy snapped. "Surely you can put your alcohol abuse on hold for..."
"I said I'd be here, didn't I!"
Hurt silence stretched out until Giles cleared his throat.
"The coven has assured me they can get all of the ingredients here by seven 'o' clock. If all goes well, we should be finished within an hour."
There was another minute of silence. Buffy broke it this time.
"Giles, you never gave me a secret family recipe to do for tomorrow."
He frowned, confused for a moment. His thoughts were far too scattered to remember what she was talking about.
As it dawned, and not wanting to disappoint her, he said, "Peas and carrots."
"Peas and carrots?" she asked. "That's it?"
"Add an onion, a little ginger and salted butter and stir it all up in a pan and you'll see what I mean." He picked up his tea cup. "Xander, can I have a word with you in my study, please?"
"You sure about this, Red?"
"Yes." Willow held her hand to the side of her pillow so Faith could snap a cuff around her wrist. "It's too cold today to keep zapping myself outside."
Faith moved around to the other side of the bed to do the other one. "Okay, but what about if ya need the bathroom?"
Willow hadn't thought about that. "Uh, leave the keys on the side and make sure someone checks on me every hour, please?"
Faith stepped back and grinned down, admiring Willow fastened to the bed with the furry black handcuffs.
"Damn it's been awhile," she joked. "If it wasn't for the Disney nightie and the fact that your face has gone all green I'd be tempted to climb..."
"Finish that sentence and you'll get more than a punch in the eye!"
Faith curbed the urge to spin guiltily to the sound of the voice and instead just looked casually over her shoulder.
"Hey, Kenny. Come to join the party?"
"I came to see if Willow was okay. Obviously she is, so I shouldn't have bothered."
Seeing Kennedy about to turn from the doorway, and catching Willow's stricken face out of the corner of her eye, Faith decided to the do the decent thing.
"Don't be an ass. You know this ain't what it looks like."
Kennedy hesitated in the doorway.
Willow lifted her head and shoulders off the pillow and gave her a quiet, "Hey."
"So if it's not what it looks like, what is it?"
Faith set the tiny keys on the bedside table, gave Willow's arm a pat and shot her a wink before walking towards the door.
"I'll let Willow explain. Gotta get back to work anyway."
She slipped past Kennedy in the doorway and left them to it.
"So?" Kennedy asked.
"Can you come in? It hurts my head leaning up like this."
Kennedy entered slowly. She looked at the edge of the bed, then the chair on the other side and ended up standing two feet away with her hands in her pockets.
"So, you and Oz had a nice visit then?"
Willow sighed. She'd wanted Kennedy to visit, but she wasn't up to an argument. Why had she thought she would get anything else?
"This isn't what it looks like. It has nothing to do with Oz."
"I wouldn't mind, but you're using my handcuffs."
"They're our handcuffs!"
"Yeah, mine and yours, not yours and his!"
"This has nothing to do with whatever you imagine I want to do with Oz!" Willow shouted and then had to lay back and close her eyes.
Kennedy backed off a little. She hadn't come up here to argue, but hearing Faith's comments and then seeing Willow handcuffed to their bed - a bed she hadn't been allowed in for over a month - what was she supposed to think?
"Why are you green?"
"I don't know," Willow said quietly. "Giles pretended like he hadn't noticed and I didn't want to mention it in front of Oz."
She knew she'd said the wrong thing even before Kennedy's hands flew from her pockets to gesticulate wildly.
"No, you wouldn't want to say anything to put Oz off, would you!"
"I was embarrassed!" Willow admitted. "But not because of why you think."
"Why would you be? He'd want you even if you are the color of a frog!"
Inside her tummy flipped at the mention of frogs, but outwardly she just glared. "And you wouldn't, I take it?"
Kennedy looked away, her mouth a set line. "You have to make a choice, Willow."
"I thought you'd done that for me."
Kennedy didn't answer.
Willow leaned up again, really wishing the handcuffs weren't on her right now, because it hurt to shout from this position.
"Maybe if you'd fought for me a little harder I wouldn't have a decision to make!"
Kennedy, chuckling coldly, turned back to her. "I did fight for you, remember? You hated it."
"I didn't mean physically! There are other, better, more creative ways to fight for someone, Kennedy, other than using your fists!"
Kennedy went to shout something back, but her brain got in the way. She shut her mouth again, walked to the bookcase and stared at the books silently while she forced herself to calm down a little.
"Like what?" she said eventually.
"I don't know," Willow's voice was weaker now.
"It sounds like..."
Kennedy ran her hand over the top of the books. What she wanted to say next could be a big mistake. At the very least she'd lose face, at the worst she'd look completely pathetic. In the end, she took a deep breath and let the words rush out of her, because looking pathetic was better than not knowing.
"Do you think we still have a shot? Do you want us to have a shot, I mean? 'Cause I... if it isn't automatically over then... I never meant to... I mean I thought you thought... but I never meant to actually be the one... if you..."
She finally petered out completely. It would have been nice if Willow had interrupted the embarrassing babble, but she hadn't, she didn't even respond now, which was unsettling.
She turned back to the bed, half expecting Willow to either be asleep or gone, teleported somewhere. She wasn't either of those things, although she looked more worn out now than when Kennedy had come in.
She lay back on her pillows, eyes -looking sunken yet too bright in her green face - fixed on Kennedy.
"I don't know," she repeated quietly. "I never wanted things to be over, but it's different now."
"Because of Oz," Kennedy said with a defeated air.
"No, because of us!"
"But we could be okay?"
Willow shrugged awkwardly in the cuffs.
"Don't just shrug, Willow! Tell me if we can save us!"
Willow closed her eyes, feeling her strength seeping away. She needed to sleep, like now.
With her last ounce of effort she said softly, "Show me we have something worth saving, Kennedy, and I promise I'll help you do it."
"What's the what, G-man?"
Giles let the nickname go because Xander looked so nervous standing in the middle of his study.
"Xander, please, sit down." Xander did so. "I meant in that chair, not mine!" Xander grinned and started to get up. "No, you might as well stay where you are now."
Giles took the less comfortable chair on the other side of his desk. He went to shuffle some papers as a distraction but realized that would look foolish seeing as they were all upside down to him now. He took his glasses off to clean instead.
"Uh oh," Xander said. "What did I do?"
That was as good as cue as any to get straight to the point.
"Your work is exemplary, Xander."
"Thanks." After a brief silence, Xander added, "Can I go now?"
"No. Your work is excellent but I can't help wondering if you are happy doing it."
"Sure I am. Some of it's a little over my head still, but now you're letting me contract out that's no problem, and with Faith helping..."
"She's not simply helping. She works for you."
"No, she works for you."
"She works for us," Giles corrected. "I've explained already. Everything to do with building and maintenance is your responsibility. Without you..."
Xander cut him off. "Yeah, but I work for you, so technically..."
Giles cut him off this time. "You work with me."
"You're my boss," Xander said flatly.
"There has to be some a hierarchy within the Council, it's true, but I like to think that here in this camp at least, we're more of a democracy."
"Where's this going, Giles?"
"It's been brought to my attention that you've been feeling under-appreciated."
"Willow's been telling tales."
"Actually I overheard your argument last month," Giles admitted.
"Oh, right. Well, don't worry about it. I was just having a bad day." Xander started to get up from the chair again.
"Xander, please sit." Giles waited until he had. "You've been having a lot of bad days since we arrived here."
"So that's what this is really about," Xander groaned. "Nice of you to big me up beforehand, Giles, but you didn't have to bother. I'm getting used to this lecture."
"Maybe if you stopped seeing it as a lecture and started seeing it for what it really is, you wouldn't be so defensive."
"And what is it really?" Xander asked, humoring him.
"Your friends caring about you."
Xander started to get up again.
Instead of saying anything to stop him this time, Giles simply said, "Xander, I care about you."
Xander faltered half out of the chair. After a second, he forced out a grin. "That kiss didn't mean anything, you know."
Giles smiled and put his glasses back on. "Thank heavens for that. But I still care about you. I care about what you do every day and I care about what you are going to do with your future."
Xander had sunk back into the chair again, but his answer was sullen. "I'm not sure I have one."
"You do, I assure you of that, but you've dug yourself quite a rut since Sunnydale. I understand why of course, but now it's time to start digging yourself back out of it."
"What do you know about it?"
If Xander's reply had been flippant or cold Giles would have chucked a book at his head, but he just sounded miserable and little desperate.
Giles took a deep breath, preparing himself. "I lost the only woman I ever truly loved to my Slayer's ex-boyfriend. I know he wasn't Angel when he murdered her, but believe me, that didn't make it any easier when she decided to continue relations with him. Seeing him all the time..." he trailed off but he was sure his face told the rest of the story.
He was usually very careful not to talk about Jenny around Buffy, Willow and Xander, but this situation called for dire measures.
"I know it's not the same thing you're going through..."
"No, it's worse."
Giles nodded. "In some ways. My point is, I drank for a good many weeks after Jenny's death. Oh, none of you knew it, I was very careful not to get caught, but I sank fairly deep into a depression I had never experienced before. The only thing that eventually pulled me out of it was realizing that Buffy, that all of you, needed me to be there. Really there, not just in body, but in every way."
Xander sat back and the leather creaked. "Nobody needs me like Buffy needed you."
Giles hesitated, not because he didn't have an answer, but because he wasn't quite ready to give it to Xander yet. Xander needed to make a few steps in the right direction first.
Eventually, he said, "Well, we, your friends, need you, Xander. So let's start getting you out of that rut. What do you say?"
He said, "How?"
"Perhaps going to speak to someone," Giles began.
"No way!" Xander said firmly. "Sure I'm a little out of sorts these days, but I don't need a shrink!"
Giles didn't want to add anything that might make him run, so he settled for watching him patiently. Xander didn't crack like he'd hoped, though, and after another minute or two the lad got up and walked out.
Giles watched him go with a sigh. Now what did he try?
Buffy sighed as Faith came down the back stairs. She had finally got some peace and quiet and now this, again. Having said that, as soon as Faith only gave her a little wave and kept going for the back door, she got annoyed.
"Hey." Faith opened the back door, letting the rain in.
"I need your help."
"The pumpkin pie."
Faith closed the door again but stayed beside it. "I wrote down the recipe like you asked."
"I can't read your writing," Buffy lied.
Faith raised her eyebrows but gave in and went to sit at the kitchen table.
"Fine, chuck me the piece of paper and I'll read it out to you. You can write it down in your own perfect handwriting."
Buffy bristled but did her best to stay calm. Reminding herself she was thankful Faith was here, even if she was turning out to be a pain in the ass to have around. It was strange how she didn't remember that from the first time.
"Can't you just stay in here and help me?"
"I have a job, B! Actually, right now I pretty much have four of them if you count slaying, studying and keeping Debbie D happy so she stays off my back and doesn't start snooping around this place. I don't have the time to mess around in here cooking like you do!"
The outburst surprised her. Faith had been pretty mild mannered recently. Detached, gently sarcastic and a little too frosty for Buffy's liking, but certainly non-combative. Obviously she'd pushed a button. Good. Maybe if she pushed a few more Faith would actually stay and talk to her, or shout at her, either would be better than nothing.
"I have a job too!"
"No, B, you don't. You slay, sometimes, when you feel like it, but there's nothing you have to get up in the morning to do, there's no one standing over you making sure you do it right, either."
"Xander doesn't stand over you," she scoffed.
"My parole officer does that for him!" Faith shouted. Her chair scraped back with a sharp noise as she stood up. "And when she's not around, she's got people reporting back to her. My asshole teacher up at the Adult Learning Center, my therapist, Giles! You know I have to have an hour long meeting every morning after I take Alison out on patrol?"
Buffy shook her head.
"Well, I do. Giles tries to fool me into thinking they're all about Ali's progress. Making sure she's getting on alright out there. But it's bull. I don't see him dragging Reece into his study every morning asking how Rona's getting on. He doesn't ask the other slayers how their night went, he leaves that to Kennedy, but he makes me sit and talk about it every damn morning. Where did I take her, what did we meet there, did we slay it, how long were we out, did I take her anywhere afterward, did I use pre-approved training methods - what the hell are the pre-approved training methods? You see a vamp, stake it, ya see a demon, cut its head off - how friggin' pre-approved does that have to be?"
"He's trying to help you, Faith!"
"I know that! Why ya think you haven't heard me bitching about this before? Wouldn't be now, but you don't seem to get how fucked up each of my days is right now without having a freaking picture painted for ya."
"I'm not asking you to spend a whole afternoon taking bubble baths and painting my toenails! I just want my girlfriend to want to speak to me in her lunch break!"
"And I just want my girlfriend to sleep with me in my lunch break!"
Buffy turned away, shaking her head and laughing. "Oh, would you change the record for once?"
"Would you? All you wanna do is talk, talk, talk. Aren't you sick of hearing yourself ask?"
"What I'm sick of is you never actually answering."
"I answer you every time."
Buffy slammed the pie plate on the counter. "Yeah, with a 'maybe later' or a 'not right now'. You never actually do the talking thing though. This isn't a relationship if we never talk about anything more than the weather. It's not even the beginning of one; it's just... something awkward."
"You know what would make it more of a relationship?"
"I already told you I don't want a relationship that's just sex. So if that's all you want now, or you've decided that's all you have the time to give me, then we have a real problem."
"You know that's not all I want."
"Do I? It's all you act like you want?"
Faith, on the other side of the counter, slammed her hands down as hard as Buffy had slammed the pie dish down.
"What I want is for you to meet me halfway! Give me something to go on here, B. I don't want another person I feel I have to report to all the damn time. I want you to be someone I can have a laugh with, and screw around with and, yeah, screw occasionally! Preferably in inappropriate places and at in appropriate times. Like this counter... on my lunch break."
She didn't smile as she said it but she held Buffy's eyes like they were locked-on missiles. Buffy felt her skin heating up under her clothes. It was probably just because the oven had been on all morning, she told herself as she inwardly, and perhaps a little outwardly, gulped at Faith's intensity.
"So maybe if you give me a little of that," Faith continued, "a little taster of how we're actually gonna be when we get into this relationship for real. Maybe I'll find it a little easier to relax around you and do that talking thing you're so in to."
Buffy groaned, rubbing her forehead tiredly. "I can't believe we're in a 'no talking, no sex' stalemate."
Faith shrugged. "Me neither, who the hell doesn't wanna have hot sex?"
Buffy shook her head. "Who doesn't want to talk about themselves to a captive audience of me?"
Faith looked down at the counter, fingers tapping at it, her voice uncomfortable. "I've never been good at, ya know, letting people in and stuff. Even when I was a kid. After a while I guess people stopped bothering and so I never properly learned."
"Well, ya get told to stay the fuck outta someone's business enough times..."
Buffy chuckled softly, making Faith look up at her in surprise.
"I meant why weren't you good at it? I used to tell my friends everything when I was a kid."
"You still do," Faith said dryly. "But maybe back then you had a bunch of stuff you wanted to talk about. I didn't. Still don't, really, not yet anyway. So if you wanna talk about baseball, or food, or -" she grinned again, "-sex, that I can do, but anything heavier, you either gotta wait patiently for the therapy to kick in, or ya gotta earn it."
Buffy raised a skeptical eyebrow. "By sleeping with you?"
Faith shrugged one shoulder. "I'll settle for less than that the first time." She spotted the time on the clock. "My lunch break is past over. You want me to write that recipe down for you again?"
"No, that's okay, I can read it."
"Right, I'll see you later." Faith boosted herself up on the counter and leaned over it.
Maybe it was because they were already standing just a short space apart, maybe it was because they'd been looking into each others eyes, or maybe it was because Faith did it pretty much every time she left the room now, but Buffy was ready for the kiss this time when it landed on her lips.
She even had the chance to kiss back. It made a difference; the kiss lasted, no drive-by smacker this time, and when Faith did break the kiss, it was unhurriedly and with a smile on her lips.
Dropping back to her feet, Faith turned away and left the kitchen without another word.
Buffy watched her go with a confused sigh.
Willow's nose twitched a few times in her sleep, yummy smells invading her otherwise horrible dreams.
With a deep sniff, she woke up but just lay there for a while with her eyes closed. She felt better, a little anyway. Sleeping must have helped. She still felt weak though and the bright bedroom light set her head spinning when she opened her eyes.
"Ohhh." She put a hand over them to shut some of it out.
"Sorry, do you want me to turn it off? I wasn't thinking."
She sighed silently at Buffy's voice, but slowly shook her head. "No, just give me a sec to get used to it."
Buffy took it upon herself to make the situation better. Switching on the bedside light, which was way comfier for her eyes, she quickly turned off the brighter overhead one.
"I wasn't thinking," she said again. "I was just trying not to spill any of this."
"Any of what?" Willow gradually removed her hand so that she could see what Buffy was talking about.
Taking that as her cue, Buffy placed the tray over Willow's lap. "I brought you some supper. Giles said you should have food in your tummy before the spell and I need a taster."
She smiled but as Willow's mouth twisted, and noticing the green complexion her friend had, she snatched the tray back up.
"Sorry! You probably didn't want that plonked right in front of you if you feel sick, right?"
Willow hadn't, it was true, but she shook her head. "It's okay. It smells good, but my stomach's been a little anti-food all day."
"Do you want me to take it away?"
"No, no, just put it where I can't see it for a minute if that's okay."
Buffy looked around and then left the room. She was back almost immediately.
"I've put it in the hall. Providing Xander doesn't walk by, it should be safe there." Buffy gave her a big smile.
"Not much chance of him coming near here," Willow said, feeling sullen again.
"He'll be here soon. So how are you feeling?"
Buffy walked around the bed to sit on the chair. She wasn't going to give Willow a chance to passive-aggressively kick her out again.
"I think I'm a little better. Why will he be here soon?" Willow tried to pull herself up on her pillows but the way her hands were restrained made that kind of hard.
Seeing the difficulty, Buffy helped her. "Hey, handcuffs! Good idea. Won't you just teleport right out of them though?"
Willow accepted her help because she felt less silly with her hands chained to the side of her instead of above her head. She was pleased she didn't have to explain herself again too. That was getting more embarrassing every time she did it. Although maybe not so embarrassing as the first time she explained it to Oz now she came to think about it.
"I don't know. I hope not. I haven't sneezed since they've been on."
"There's some pepper on the tray." Buffy grinned. "Want me to get it, see if they work?"
"No thanks. I'm comfy. Why did you say Xander was coming up?"
"To do the spell." Buffy sat back down again.
"Didn't Giles tell you? He's pretty sure he's found out how to make you better. The ingredients just arrived by... get this, a carrier pigeon! I think it might be a magickal pigeon, though, seeing as how fast it got here. Kennedy's just taken it to the boys dorm to spend the night."
"Why the boys room?" Willow tried to process one bit of information at a time.
"Well, we thought about the woodshed first but there was talk about the Pixies eating it, and Xander said he didn't want it crapping all over the stables when he's just got them cleaned up."
Willow nodded. "I s'pose it doesn't matter if it craps all over the boys room then."
Buffy gave a wicked grin. "Not like you'd be able to tell anyway. So, Giles is just sorting out the ingredients and then he and Xander will be up. Apparently it needs all four of us that got hit by the original spell to do it."
"So, it'll make me better?"
"That's the plan. Are you ready to try some of that food now? I've been testing out all the recipes ready for tomorrow and I could really use a second opinion."
Willow thought about it. She was still feeling sick and she wasn't really in the mood for helping Buffy out but the food did smell good and it didn't look like Buffy was going to leave even if she refused.
"Okay, maybe just a mouthful or two."
That seemed to make Buffy happy and she jumped up to fetch the tray. Even Buffy moving so fast made Willow's head spin. She closed her eyes while she waited for her to return. Boy, how much did she hope Giles' spell worked? It had only been a day and she was already really hating feeling like this.
Buffy came back and gently placed the tray over her lap. There were four small plates, a glass of water and another of cola and the salt and pepper shakers. Buffy pointed to the plates in turn as she gave a brief description.
"Here we have honeyed yams. Here we have roasted calabaza. And here we have pumpkin pie. I know what you're thinking: our intestines are going to hate us the day after tomorrow, but hey, we only live once, right? Well, three times in my case but you get my drift."
Willow's nose startled to tingle at the new, rich aromas. She scrunched it, trying her best to ignore the beginnings of a sneeze in the hope that it would go away.
Buffy continued oblivious. "And this last one is probably the only really healthy thing we'll have on the menu. Peas and carrots - Giles specialty, apparently. It's actually really good with a little pepper."
She picked up the little shaker. Willow shook her head, trying to clench her nostrils closed as Buffy turned it upside down and gave it a shake over the vegetables.
The bed shook with the force of her sneeze and as her eyes closed automatically something weird happened. Her brain stretched out! Or her consciousness. Or something. That was the only way she could describe it. What happened behind her eyelids wasn't an illusion, it was real.
She was definitely standing about six feet to the side of a dinosaur!
It was gigantic; towering way above her and it had to be at least fifty feet long! She panicked, because who wouldn't, but it didn't even notice the small human standing there in awe as it munched lazily on the uppermost leaves of a tree. The air around it stank of... of rabbit poop? Really, really strong rabbit poop.
She felt a hand on her arm and tried to turn around in alarm. Instead her eyes popped open and she saw Buffy hovering over her with major concern-face, the tray held easily in one hand out of the way.
She was shaking from head to toe and covered in fresh sweat. "What just happened?"
"I mean after that?"
"You just started shaking and your eyes wouldn't open. You had me really worried there for a moment."
"You were worried? You weren't the one...! So, I didn't disappear?"
Buffy shook her head. "No. So I guess the handcuffs work."
"Yeah," Willow said weakly.
"Are you okay?" Buffy pulled a face like she knew that was a stupid question but didn't know what else to ask.
"I saw a dinosaur."
"Huh?" Buffy put the tray back over her, but lower down on the bed.
Willow didn't even want to look at it right now, but she didn't have the energy to ask for it to be taken away either.
"I think my... my mind teleported without me."
"Like an out of body experience?"
"So, what?" Buffy smiled. "It teleported you to Jurassic Park?"
"No. I think it teleported me back sixty-five million years in time."
"Oh." Buffy sat back down hard in her chair. "Is that possible?"
"I don't think so, but I-I know what I saw and what I saw was definitely an Astrodon."
Buffy's nose wrinkled in confusion. "And that's a dinosaur?"
"Uh huh. I did a paper on them for fifth grade."
"Right." Buffy nodded slowly. "Well, at least your body didn't go with you." She studied Willow's face for a moment. "You do look greener now though."
Willow closed her eyes again and muttered, "Great."
Buffy seemed to realize she'd upset her even more and placed a gentle hand on her waist. "Look, Giles and Xander will be up any minute and then we can put an end to this once and for all."
Willow nodded, her head hurt again.
"Do you want to try something to eat? I get that you probably don't feel like it now, but Giles did say you should have something inside you before we start the spell."
If it was what it took to get the cure underway, Willow would have eaten the dinosaur she'd just met, all twenty tons of it, despite the strong marsh gas smell.
"Okay, but just one dish and, please, get rid of the pepper."
Buffy took the tray away from a moment and when she brought it back only the pumpkin pie was left on it.
"Okay, this was Faith's recipe, so be warned, but I've had a couple of mouthfuls and it isn't half bad."
She set the tray where Willow could reach it and then held up a fork for her. They both realized the problem at the same time.
"I'm kinda..." Willow pulled a little on the handcuffs.
"Do you want me to take them off?"
"After what I just went through? No!"
"Okay." Buffy pulled the chair closer to the bed as she dug the fork into the pie. "I'll feed you then."
"No! Buffy, this experience is humiliating enough! I don't want you spoon-feeding me too."
"I won't be, I'll be fork-feeding you."
Despite Buffy's playful grin Willow didn't even crack a smile. "No thank you."
"Okay." Buffy set the fork back on the plate and leaned over the bed to reach the keys on the bedside cabinet. "I'm taking them off but I'll hold on to you the entire time you're eating, okay? If you sneeze yourself to any more dinosaurs, you won't have to go alone."
It wasn't like she had a lot of choice. She had to eat apparently and that left literally two options. Be fed like a baby or have Buffy hanging off her like they were best friends. They were best friends! It had just been kinda hard to remember that the last few weeks. Having to rely on Buffy's help was irritating. It was like she was giving in even though she wasn't ready to. Buffy had won by default because not only did she have to rely on her now, she would have to be grateful afterwards, because only a small, petty-minded person wouldn't be. And Willow didn't want to be a small, petty-minded person.
So she muttered, "Okay," and after a brief pause, "thanks."
Buffy raised an eyebrow at her tone and looked a little hurt and maybe that was enough for Willow to win a very tiny victory.
Once the handcuffs were off she rubbed her hands and forearms to get some life back into them. Buffy handed her the fork and then gripped a bunch of her nightie in a tight fist. If she teleported now either Buffy would be along for ride or she'd be going naked.
She hesitated over the first mouthful, but once she'd started chewing she was glad she had. The pumpkin pie wasn't the best she'd ever had, Buffy's mom had made a better one for sure, but to her starved stomach it tasted great.
Buffy waited until she was on her fourth forkful before asking, "So, what's it like?"
Willow nodded, still chewing. "It's a little dry, but good otherwise."
"Dry?" Buffy looked worried. "It's my first attempt at pastry. I have a can of whipped cream downstairs. I should have put some on! Do you want me to go get it?"
Willow shook her head. "Whipped cream might be more than my tummy can handle tonight."
"Well, I'll remember for the one I bake tomorrow. It's okay, though? Other than that?"
"Yeah, but I'm surprised Faith even knew how to bake a pumpkin pie."
Buffy chuckled. "It was her Watcher's recipe so it probably came straight out of a book."
Willow had another couple of mouthfuls before saying, "I've never heard Faith talk about her Watcher. She must be finally opening up to you."
"Not really. She told us all about the recipe the other day in the kitchen. Other than that she cooked a pie for Thanksgiving all I know about her is her name, Alicia."
"That's a pretty name."
Buffy smiled. "That's what I said."
Willow frowned as she popped the last mouthful of pie in.
"You're annoyed now because we both find the same name pretty?" Buffy asked in exasperation.
"No!" Although she might have been if she'd thought to be. "I was just thinking that that's not a lot to know about Faith's Watcher. I know you're not speaking much at the moment, but didn't you ever ask about her back in Sunnydale?"
"No." Buffy hung her head, and for a second Willow's nightshirt was pulled tight against her body as Buffy clenched her fist harder. "I never liked to ask. I know how much I hate talking about Merrick; I always just assumed Faith felt the same."
"See?" Buffy gave her a wry smile. "He was my first Watcher."
"I never knew you had..."
Buffy cut her off. "Exactly. And I don't want to talk about him now. But maybe Faith feels differently and I just never realized. We sorta started doing the talking thing this afternoon, after she came to see you, so we'll see I guess."
That was a surprise. Faith had seemed as dead against talking to Buffy as ever earlier. It was a good if she'd changed her mind, but she couldn't help thinking Buffy would screw it up. Not that she didn't think she had it in her, but Buffy had never been good at the big heart to hearts with her partners either. When the two Slayers finally got down to serious talking there were going to be a lot of long, awkward pauses.
Willow put her fork down on the plate. "That was nice. My tummy thanks you."
Buffy nodded and with her free hand pulled a pen and a sheaf of note cards from her pocket. As Willow looked at them with interest, she said,
"The secret recipes for tomorrow." She found a blank card. "Feel up to giving me your latte recipe now?"
"Latkes," Willow corrected, unable to stop her affectionate, ever patient, Buffy-teacher smile.
She settled back against her pillows, thinking she should get Buffy to handcuff her again but enjoying her freedom too much, as she recited the recipe her mom had drummed into her from the age of seven.
Buffy wrote it all down, using Willow's stomach to lean on, enjoying the current break in hostilities between them.
By the time they had finished, Giles and Xander were coming through the bedroom door.
Faith let herself into the training barn, dripping rain water. Work was finally done for the day but she wasn't ready to go back to the house. Earlier, Buffy had... not pissed her off exactly, or more like she had at the time, but Faith had been over that before she'd walked out of the kitchen, but she'd definitely made her start contemplating things. She hated contemplating things!
Act first and do your best not to think about it later was her motto. It wasn't a great motto and it had never really worked out well for her, but that didn't matter usually, because she didn't contemplate on it.
In prison she'd been forced into pretty much nothing else - just one of a thousand reasons she had hated her time inside - both because she was made to think about her actions by the prison shrinks and because with all those long stretches alone there hadn't been a lot else to do.
During that time her past had been something she'd mostly come to terms with. She'd probably never get over all of it. She still had nightmares, still had feelings of inadequacy and a tendency towards over-enthusiastic negative reactions to things. And there were the times she had to battle a deep inner-loathing of herself thanks to the mistakes she'd made and the way she had handled their aftermath. Mostly though, she was happy to keep all that buried and just concentrate on getting through each day with a better attitude than she'd had before.
See, she could learn and grow - she just didn't like doing it in public.
But Buffy seemed determined to drag it all out of her and not just the stuff she'd gone to prison for - which she could kind of understand Buffy wanting to talk about, even though it sucked - but other stuff too. Stuff from before they'd met. Stuff Faith had played so close to her chest for so long she could almost convince herself now it had just been one long bad dream.
It wasn't fair either; whenever in the past Faith had tried to pull personal information from the blonde, B had shut her down fast. Now, because she was doing the same - and with way better reason - Buffy was calling her a bad girlfriend!
She'd known all along she would suck at the relationship thing. Just not this bad or this soon.
Faith had hoped to have the training barn to herself for a few hours before it was time to grab a bite to eat and head out on patrol, but even that wasn't going her way. Kennedy was already in there, pounding on one of the punching bags like it had called her a nasty name.
She nearly turned and headed back out into the rain. Spending some time alone in her bedroom would be better than spending it in here with Kennedy. That would be like giving ground, though, so naturally, she did the opposite. Kennedy was using the bag at the far end of the line. Faith took the one at the other end without acknowledging her presence.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Kennedy look over and give an irritable sigh before going back to her workout.
Faith started to warm up, first by stretching and then giving the bag a few soft jabs - right, left, right, left.
"I don't want to talk!" Kennedy grunted out between fast puffs of air as she punched wildly.
Faith ignored her, concentrating on speeding up the rhythm she'd set.
"I said I don't want to...!"
"Do I look like I'm freakin' talking to you?" She shouted, taking her own frustration out on the younger slayer. "No? Then shut the hell up!"
Kennedy stopped punching, either shocked or indignant at the sharp response. The bag swung back hard towards her, hitting her in the chest and knocking her back a step.
Faith laughed easily without turning from what she was doing. "Gee, even a bag of sawdust can take ya, huh?"
Huffing angrily, Kennedy turned her back a little and pushed the bag away before punching it again.
For a while there was nothing but the sound of their fists meeting packed canvas and Faith's feet as she danced around a little, mixing up her attacks and adding the occasional high kick to the sides of the bag.
After a bit she realized she was the only one still moving and glanced over her shoulder to see Kennedy hugging her bag and just watching.
"You got a problem?"
Kennedy didn't answer so she went back ignoring her. She didn't mind doing this with an audience. Actually, she didn't mind doing most things with an audience. Except talking. Talking she'd rather do alone. Not that she talked to herself... She shook her head. This thing with Buffy was driving her nuts. She should just talk to her and get it over with. At least then she could get some action and wouldn't feel so wired and ready for a fight all the time.
She knew she wasn't telling herself anything her new therapist hadn't already - except for the sex stuff, obviously, they didn't know each other well enough for that yet. That made her laugh; she'd had sex with people she'd known for less time than her shrink but she couldn't talk to her shrink about sex?
"How do you show someone you deserve a second chance?"
"Huh?" Faith had pretty much forgotten Kennedy was there. "Thought you didn't want to talk?"
"Forget it." Kennedy went back to punching the bag but with less enthusiasm than before.
"You could go to prison. Worked for me."
"I didn't do anything to go to prison for."
Faith smirked. "Go anyway, seriously, you'll be doin' us all a favor."
Faith laughed again. "Believe me, I'm trying. So, you want Willow to give you another chance?"
"No, I want her to give us another chance."
"There a difference there?"
"Yeah." Kennedy left the bag swinging and went to the water cooler in the corner. "Asking her to give me another chance is like admitting I did something wrong..."
"And you don't think you did?"
"Do you think I did?" Kennedy asked over the bubbling of the cooler.
Faith stopped, surprised by the direct question. She thought about it. She didn't know all the ins and outs of why they'd broken up, but everyone who lived at the camp knew about the big finale, the fight Kennedy had had with Oz.
"I guess I can see why you were jealous of Oz. But it was still a hella stupid move though."
"Are you telling me you wouldn't have done the same thing?" Kennedy asked, angrily. "If Buffy was getting cozy with someone who wasn't even human instead of you?"
Faith smirked. "I picked a few fights with Angel... but I was smart enough to know I could take him first! First rule of slaying is don't get into a one-on-one fight with a freakin' werewolf, Ken."
"I thought it was 'Don't Die'?"
Faith rolled her eyes. "Exactly!"
Running a hand back through her hair, she joined her at the water cooler. "Okay, so maybe you did something stupid but kinda for the right reasons. Let's say I agree with you for now. What exactly is it you wanna prove to her?"
"That just because I did that, and just because I still think I did the right thing, it doesn't mean we still can't be together."
"I dunno. She's pretty angry with you about it."
"And I'm pretty angry with her about some stuff, but I don't think I want that to mean we're over. I just have to find a way to draw a line under all this - agree to disagree - so that we can move on."
Faith thought about that for a moment. The brat had a point. She and Buffy needed the same thing. A way to just start fresh. New beginnings and all that crap.
"It's the future that counts. Not the past, kind of thing?"
"Exactly!" Kennedy nodded. "We were great together once, before Oz came back, I just need to remind her we can be again."
"Yeah, we were doing pretty good too until we went out on a date."
"Well that's a good sign," Kennedy mocked her.
"Piss off! At least I'm still hanging in there. When was the last time you got close enough to give Willow a kiss?"
"I want more than kisses."
Faith shrugged. "Yeah, well me too, but at least I'm getting that much."
"I meant I want everything, the whole package, not just the physical stuff." Faith could feel herself getting angry just picturing where this was going. "Obviously you don't or sex wouldn't be such a big deal for you."
Faith jabbed a finger towards Kennedy. "Has she been talking to you? Because you don't know what I want, okay, and obviously neither does she. Just because I like sex doesn't mean I don't want the whole package... probably... if I knew what the whole package was, that is." She loosely rolled her shoulders as if shrugging her doubt away. "Why is B so freakin' convinced all I want is what's in her pants?"
Kennedy just gave her an expectant look, complete with a tiny questioning headshake, as if waiting for her to answer herself. Faith parodied the look perfectly, making Kennedy sigh and roll her eyes.
"Well, maybe if you put your energy into doing couple-y stuff and getting the smaller things right - like, dating - instead of into whining about how you're not getting any, Buffy wouldn't think that's all you were interested in."
"I don't have time to do that!"
"You mean you don't want to make time to do that," Kennedy countered.
Faith's eyes narrowed dangerously. "No, I didn't mean that. Anyway, who the hell are you to be giving me advice? B and I are gonna be fine, eventually, when I figure all this shit out. But you... you can want the whole damn enchilada as much as you like, but it doesn't mean jack if she won't let you get anywhere near her."
"Yeah, but if you can't go on a date without nearly splitting up and you refuse to talk her about anything, how does that make your situation better than mine?"
"You really wanna know?" Faith straightened her stance. "A whole lotta tongue, that's what makes it better."
Kennedy took a half-step closer. "I don't expect you to understand it, because you have the emotional maturity of a six year old, but Willow and I have a deeper connection than that!"
"You and Red have no connection. Not since she found Oz's special tickle spot again."
Furious, Kennedy pushed her hard enough to make her fall back against one of the punching bags and set it swinging. The heavy bag pushing away from her back confused her balance further and despite doing her best she ended up with her ass planted on the floor.
Flipping easily back to her feet, Faith laughed gleefully and just as you could see Kennedy wondering what was so funny, her right fist on Kennedy's left cheek.
Now she had found another outlet for her frustration!
"So, in fact, it should all be fairly straightforward," Giles said as he set the shallow clay dishes of ingredients around the bed.
"I hate the word fairly," Xander said. "'Really' is a word I can get behind and 'very' is solid too, but 'fairly'? That's just like British for sixty-forty."
Seeing Willow's expression get even more panicky, he quickly added, "Which, hey, is way better than forty-sixty, or fifty-fifty even."
Buffy looked up from the index cards she was shuffling through to give him a pointed look. "I thought you were in a hurry?"
He gave her a one-eyed frowny-glare, not wanting Willow to think he was trying to rush through this. "I've got time. Sure you can tear yourself away from your recipes long enough though?"
"I'm just checking they're all here! Unless you're not bothered about having lunch tomorrow? What am I saying; you'll probably be needed to prop up the bar at Barnies, right?"
Old Xander would have winced at that, new Xander still did, but only on the inside.
"If it's a choice between eating a nice, well-cooked peaceful lunch and trying to chew through your turkey while dodging things trying to kill me, yep I choose Barnies."
"Pack it in, children!"
Xander did wince from Giles' snap. He hadn't called them children in ages. Glancing from Giles to Willow, and seeing her looking sicker than ever, he took the rebuke without comment and dropped his head.
Buffy did the same, pocketing the recipes ready to get serious.
"As I was saying," Giles continued. "The spell itself is really just a simple reversal spell. The only reason I had so much trouble figuring it out is because the original was an archaic French version of a Chaotic Nerve spell."
"Chaotic Nerve?" Buffy asked.
Giles nodded. "It does pretty much as we feared. Attacks the central magical nerves of the victim and makes them, well, act chaotically."
"But that means it can't have been something natural to the demons." Willow's voice seemed to grow and fade in strength with every word.
"Indeed. It's far more likely that someone deliberately cast that spell over the Meluthian Hedrays in the hopes that whoever fought them would become infected."
Xander looked up sharply. "So someone targeted Willow?"
"Not necessarily. That would mean that someone had intentionally brought those demons here and manipulated us into fighting them."
"That's not impossible," Buffy said.
"No, but as we have no knowledge of any enemies here I don't think it will pay us to waste time speculating. We know they are migratory, making it also possible the spell was put on the demons at some other time for quite a different purpose. Right now I propose we concentrate on getting Willow better. Everything else can wait until later."
"Let's get started then," Willow said, before asking. "Should I be handcuffed again? Just in case?"
Giles shook his head. "No, the spell won't take more than a few minutes and we need to hold hands in any case. The reversal spell needs to travel between all the people struck by the original spell so that it can earth itself in you as it did the first time."
Willow held her hands up eagerly and Giles and Buffy both clasped one. Xander reluctantly took Buffy free hand - reminding himself he was doing this for Willow. Giles used a cheap plastic lighter to light a fat candle lodged between Willow's knees and then touched a flame to each of the dishes of ingredients, making them spit as they caught fire. Glittery, mauve-colored clouds of smoke began to stream up from the dishes and swirl around the room. Putting the lighter back in his pocket, Giles held his hand out and Xander took it.
Smirking a little at their hand-holding circle, he quipped, "Well, I'm thankful for the beautiful smoke we have tonight."
"I'm not," Willow moaned, wrinkling her nose and sniffing slightly.
Glancing at her worriedly, Giles began a fast-paced monotonic chant.
"Quick, Giles," Willow said weakly.
Xander was staring at her anxiously now, and with a quick turn of his head he noticed Buffy was too.
Willow sniffed again and Giles chant grew even more rapid.
Seeing everyone's concerned looks, she said, "I'm okay. Don't stop! It's just the smoke. I'll be okay." She was screwing her nose this way and that now as she spoke.
"Just think about something else," Xander suggested. "Like concentrate on wriggling your toes instead."
With the way her nose was twitching it obviously wasn't working.
Waving the hand of Willow's he was holding, Giles tried to convey he just needed a couple more minutes. It gave Buffy an idea and she wiggled her index finger free of Willow's hand while reaching up to pinch Willow's nose.
She nearly had it between her thumb and fore finger when Willow sucked in an "Oh no!" and sneezed hard enough to blow the candle out.
The room was way darker than it should have been. Surely Willow couldn't have sneezed the electric light out too?
Buffy said "Ew!" at the sneeze coating her hand.
Willow said, "I'm not in the chimney again, am I?"
Giles said, "Hang on a moment." Then flicked his lighter back on.
Xander looked around at the wall of a cave covered in primitive, dark-red graffiti and then at the four frightened, hairy, naked people staring back at them and said:
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