A Chaos Of Consequences
by Jane Davitt
Author's Note. This story is set in the summer following the end of season 6. Willow is in England, with Giles and the coven trying to come to terms with her actions after Tara's death.
Many thanks to Jennifer for doing her usual wonderful job of beta reading.
<u>Chapter Two </u>
The next day was warm and cloudless. Willow had brooded all night but boredom tempted her towards the garden and she arrived only a few minutes late. Which for Willow was rebellion of the highest order, given that Kate had been assigned as her teacher and the meeting was therefore an informal class.
Kate wasn't there. Willow sat patiently for a short while and then began to grow restless. She stood to leave but stopped herself, realising with dismay that she was getting irritable. It took so little nowadays, and the magic seemed to surge within her as the anger built, teasing her with images of how a tweak here, a slap there, and all could be made as it ought to be.
Willow gasped and bit her lip hard, trying to remember the exercises she had been taught. She closed her eyes and sank down to the ground again, crossing her legs and beginning the meditation routine. A measure of peace began to calm the roiling tempest inside her mind and her tense muscles relaxed. A shadow fell across her, blocking the sun that was gently warming her upturned face. Startled, Willow opened her eyes and squinted up at Kate, who was looking at her with a sober expression.
“Carry on, if you like,” said Kate softly, sitting beside her. “I can wait. There's no rush.”
The truth of this, the easy acceptance of a short delay, brought home to Willow her own petulance and impatience. The always waiting tears stung her eyes and she blinked them away, annoyed at herself.
“I didn't mean to be late,” Kate continued. “One of my other cases needed me urgently. Poor child.”
Willow looked at her, a question in her eyes. Kate shook her head.
“I don't discuss cases. Not even yours, though I'm sure I'll get the third degree from Miss Harkness after our session ends.”
“She scares me,” said Willow. ‘The way she looks at you, as if you're a black beetle for not agreeing with her and if you aren't now, you will be by the time she reaches for her hellebore and aconite tincture.”
Kate giggled. “She's my auntie. No, no, don't get flustered.” Willow's blushes faded as Kate smiled at her conspiratorially. “Think how intimidated I am, when I know for a fact that she changed my nappies.”
Willow looked sympathetic but there was a smile tugging hard at her lips.
Kate noted the swift emotional changes and wondered if that was a good sign. From anger so palpable that others had sensed it in the house to a relaxed camaraderie in the space of a few minutes. It was good that Willow had been trying to deal with her inexplicable outburst of rage but by now she should have moved beyond such uncontrolled reactions.
“Shall I tell you what we're going to be doing?” she asked abruptly.
Willow stiffened. “Giles said if I didn't want to, I didn't have to do it.”
“Giles can go and dunk his head in a teapot,” Kate said bluntly. “ I happen to think that this will help you and I want you to do it. I'm trying very hard to let you decide that for yourself but it's an effort. Better let me tell you fast.”
Willow shoved out her lower lip, then capitulated. “Go on, then,” she said. “Bully me into it. No wonder we had a revolution. You Brits are bossy.”
Kate pretended to look astonished. “That was so easy. I'm going to practice this bullying thing. Obviously it's a handy skill to have.”
Willow smiled reluctantly.
Kate stood and walked over to the stream. She bent over and picked up a few pebbles.
“Watch this,” she said casually and threw a large stone into the water, aiming at a calm spot where the water had pooled, rather than the fast flowing centre. “See the ripples?” she continued. “That's what happened when you had your little magical tantrum. You caused ripples. All actions do, but when you get magic involved, well let's just say the effects are more like me dropping a boulder in, rather than a pebble.”
Willow nodded, a memory surfacing. “After I brought Buffy back, someone who knew about it told Xander that magic always has consequences. He was quite definite about it.”
“He was quite right. It does. You saw for yourself, or you've been told, about the consequences your actions had on those immediately involved.”
“I know what they had on Warren,” murmured Willow, a sickness welling up.
“Forget him,” ordered Kate. “Well, not forget exactly, but let's leave him for a bit, shall we? Your friends, Buffy, Xander…those lot. They were all affected.”
“I tried to kill them if that's what you mean.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. That Buffy did it to you first, from what I hear, when she went crazy from that demon poison. Anyway, they all worked out fine. Buffy's happy to be alive, best buddies with Dawn and teaching her to slay – ” Willow gasped in astonishment. “And Xander's never stopped boasting about his yellow crayon speech being the turning point in the history of the world. Made his day. So forget them too.”
“Is there anyone I'm allowed to remember?” Willow asked, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
Kate smiled. “I thought you'd never get maneuvered into asking. Yes, but you don't know them mostly, so you probably never would have bothered.”
“I don't get it.”
“I'm going to tell you, show you maybe if I can get the spell right, about some of the consequences of your –”
“_Don't _ call it a tantrum,” warned Willow. “It was more than that. I lost the one person I loved, the –”
“I know _what_ you lost and I know _who_ you lost,” said Kate. “And I'm going to help you find her again.”
Willow jumped up, a disbelieving look on her face. “Tara? You can bring her back?”
Kate gave her a dismayed look. “Tara's dead, Willow. I'm talking about _you_”
Willow's lip quivered and she slumped back to the grass, disappointment souring the surge of joy. “So what are you going to do then? ” she asked sullenly.
“Weren't you listening? What you did affected so many people that if I was to tell you all their stories, we'd die of old age before I was half done. So I chose some in the first circle of ripples.”
“But what good will it do?” said Willow, perilously close to whining.
“Not sure,” said Kate thoughtfully. “But it'll be fun.”
Willow had absorbed Kate's words but was still not quite ready to begin.
“So, you do your Ghost of Christmas Past bit and I realise that trying to end the world wasn't all that evil? Or you add up all the good results and all the bad and tell me I come out on top?”
Kate shook her head.
“I don't have scales that big, or the skill to load them. I think you need to know more about what you did. You'll know how much you have to deal with when it comes to guilt and it'll serve as a warning to you for the future. You tried to kill your friends and you _did_ kill Warren and Rack. You also tried to end the world. You know deep down that your friends will forgive you. The dead guys are past doing or saying anything useful. But the rest of the world…I think you need to meet a representative few. And they might as well be ones who were directly affected. They don't know it was your doing of course, but you will, and I think it will be useful, therapeutic and all sorts of other good stuff. Besides – aren't you even a little bit curious?”
Willow picked up a stone of her own, flat and oval, plain brown with grey flecks. It fit well in her hand. She walked over to the stream and flicked the stone so that it skipped across the water, once, twice, three times and then sank.
“It still makes ripples, even when you stay on the surface,” Kate said gently.
Willow continued to stare out at the water.
“Do it, then,” she said tiredly.
<u>Chapter Three </u>
Kate smiled and said, “I'll be interested to see what you make of this one.”
She murmured an incantation and Willow's surroundings dropped away. She was sitting in formless white mist. Before she had time to panic, Kate's voice, cursing inventively, cancelled the spell.
“Guess that didn't work. Typical. I'll just have to tell you about it then, but it won't be half as flashy. There's this teenager living in Sunnydale called Diana, see - ”
Diana sat in the middle of the pentagram, a spell book by her side, a jumble of ingredients heaped in front of her. She frowned as she read through the instructions for the tenth time. This was so complicated! And there was the little matter of the human blood; she was trying very hard to forget that part. She had tried to donate blood once and fainted when they took the sample from her ear lobe.
The small spells she'd done, the ones that required a memorised chant and the burning of a few herbs in a bowl - they had been fine. The effects had been so small though, that she wasn't even certain they'd been caused by the spell. Jan _might_ have slipped on the steps because they were wet with rain. Tiffany could have caught chicken pox from one of her bratty kid sisters.
Diana took a deep breath. She had to do something bigger. Something that would show them. She glanced over to the mirror on her bedroom wall. Plump, spotty, stringy mouse hair. It wasn't her fault she hadn't been born beautiful as they were. It never occurred to her that less junk food would take care of the first two problems and a visit to any supermarket would let her put Mother Nature in her place with regard to her hair. A peevish look took away any hint of prettiness in her features as she held the book closer to her eyes. Reading by candlelight was giving her a headache.
A horrible suspicion gripped her. Feverishly, she pawed through the sachets of herbs and mystical ingredients in front of her. There was one missing! Wailing in despair, she stood up, breaking the pentagram as she stumbled over to her desk and scuffed the chalk lines. Grabbing her wallet, she sighed in relief as she found a few dollars left over. It should be enough. She blew out the candles quickly and flung back the curtains, wincing as the sunlight hit her eyes. As she left the room, a curl of smoke appeared in the centre of the broken pentagram and began to expand.
Diana hurried along the street, checking her watch. The shop was open for hours; that wasn't the problem, but if this spell weren't cast soon, there would be no point in doing it, the specified time would have passed.
And the thought of being like this for another year was unbearable.
The spell would give her the one thing she had always craved - popularity. It would do it by leeching it from anyone around her who had it but, well, she'd make sure people were still nice to them. She wouldn't let them get shoved to the outskirts of every group, left off every invitation list, chosen last for everything – or maybe she would. Just for a little while at least.
Back in her room, the demon she had unwittingly summoned as she carelessly read the spell over and over inside the pentagram, found her scent. Purple eyes gleamed and a thin tongue swept across razor sharp fangs in anticipation. Of course, the missing ingredient meant that he wasn't the demon that Diana had been aiming for, but that wouldn't have been a problem if he had been inside a properly drawn pentagram. As it was, the broken chalk lines meant he was free to seek out his summoner. A fun game of hide and seek with a tasty treat as the prize.
And Grathshik played to win. Always.
Diana came round the corner, out of breath and resolving to get a car as well as popularity. And money. Might as well make all this effort pay off. She came to a sudden halt, her mouth gaping open.
The Magic Box was trashed. Utterly trashed. It looked as if someone had driven a tank through the window and used the insides for target practice. Diana didn't even wonder if the weird woman who ran it was hurt, she didn't give a thought to the culprit; she just ran to the door and hammered on it, calling out,
“Let me in! It's an emergency!”
There was no answer. She blinked at a piece of paper taped to the door. It said, with admirable brevity, ‘CLOSED' and it was hard to argue with that. Diana's lips thinned. She knew exactly where the herb she needed was kept. If she could squeeze in somehow and just borrow some, well, no one could possibly object. She'd leave an I.O.U . No, that would be stupid. Oh, the hell with it. She'd spent a small fortune in the shop. They _owed_ it to her. Righteous indignation lent her strength as she recalled a bitter argument with the shopkeeper over the precise definition of, ‘a dollar a scoop' for patchouli potpourri. Diana's attempts to explain that some of the potpourri had fallen off as she brought the scoop to the bag and that she was simply picking up the fallen bits rather than stealing extra, had fallen on stony ears.
It was payback time. Diana looked around and saw no one. Moving as fast as she could, she clambered through the open window, trying to avoid the jagged edges of glass. She made it and found herself in the shop. An unusual sense of daring gave her the courage to complete her mission and she turned to go after tucking the small packet into her coat pocket. The door was firmly locked, which was about as silly as you could imagine, given the state of the window. Diana tugged at it but there was no key visible and the shop was getting more and more menacing with every passing second. Giving up, she walked to the window, hoping that no one would see her unconventional exit.
She was head and shoulders out when a demon popped up in front of her face.
Kate stopped and Willow's head jerked round sharply.
“You stopped! Why did you stop? What happened to her?”
“She had accidentally - although that isn't a viable excuse - raised a demon. He's not up there on the top ten list of nasty demons of all time but he's not exactly the sort you take home to meet mother either. What do you think happened?”
Willow's head sank onto her knees.
“She died. She died because I destroyed the shop and she – hey, no that's not right.” Willow lifted up her head and glared at Kate. “None of what happened to her was my fault! She broke in to get the herb and that was probably just as quick as buying it but even that isn't relevant. It all started back at her house. Whatever bad thing happened to her, it happened because she was badly prepared and sloppy. You _never_ say a syllable inside the pentagram until you're ready to go.”
Kate grinned admiringly. “Sharp as a tack. Don't sit down on yourself, will you?”
“So how can I have rippled her?” demanded Willow.
“I never finished the story. I just paused for a moment.”
“You're a sadist.”
Diana, not surprisingly, screamed. Very loudly. The demon screamed right back at her, a grin splitting his face in two and exposing more teeth than anyone had a right to have. Unless they were a crocodile.
“I believe you invited me over,” he hissed. “But you didn't wait for me. Very rude. I came after you to teach you some manners.”
“I'm sorry,” sobbed Diana desperately. “I didn't mean to summon you. I was trying to summon Magreatha, goddess of wishes.”
The demon looked honestly taken aback.
“That wimp? She's no good at eviscerations at all. Now if you'd asked for me – and not broken the circle and let me out of course – I'd have happily disemboweled as many people as you wanted. Really. It wouldn't have been any trouble at all.”
“Dis-disemb? Oh, no! I wanted to be popular, that's all. Please, can't you just go home?”
The demon cast a disparaging look around the quiet street.
“Baby, I am so out of here, don't worry. After I've shown you what disemboweling is, since you seem a little hazy on the concept.”
Diana started to scream again as the demon moved in for the kill.
“You're stopping _again_? Do you have an addiction to cliff hangers?”
“You were looking a little pale. I thought perhaps I could summarise, spare you the details.”
Willow looked at her dangerously. Kate sighed and continued.
Anya and Xander arrived to board up the shop window. Xander attacked the demon with a hammer and killed it. Anya got Diana out of the window, warned her of the penalties for looters, confiscated the herbs and banned her from the shop for life.
Willow stood up, spluttering with rage and laughter.
“You! She didn't die. I'll never trust you again! Are all your stories like this?”
Kate's grin slid off her face.
“No. That was just the beginning. But it's not quite as light hearted as it seems. If the shop had been open as normal, she would have got that herb and the demon would have killed her on the way home. If by some chance, the demon was killed as he tracked her, she would have done the spell and a lot of damage to her classmates besides. I think she was too lazy to go far with her witchcraft but Sunnydale has an odd effect on people. Now she's taken up quilting and made a new friend or two. She's fine.”
Willow looked unconvinced. “I still can't be all, ‘Oh, I'm so glad I tried to end the world because it means a stupid girl gets to meet people',” she objected.
Kate sighed. “No one expects you to be. This takes a bit out of me. Let's try again tomorrow, shall we? And I'll try and get the surround sound thing working.”
“If it's all the same to you, the less magic involved the better. You just telling the stories is fine.”
“Well, that takes magic too. How do you think I know about this stuff? But, fine, we can stick to the basics. See you same time tomorrow, then.”
Willow watched Kate walk away with mixed feelings about more stories. She had more than a little in common with Diana and it was disturbing to see how she might have ended up without her friends to rescue her. She recalled spells she had performed that hadn't gone as planned and sighed at the way she had been scornfully critical of Diana's blunders as she listened to Kate's story.
One of the victims of her ‘will be done' spell was approaching, his face concerned.
“Willow?” said Giles. “Are you feeling well?”
“I'm a worm,” said Willow sadly. “I'm all despising of sad loners who try to improve things by magic but that's me, or it was. Maybe it still is.”
“You're not making any sense, Willow,” said Giles anxiously. “I'll tell Kate that there must be no more of this. I can't see how burdening you with reproaches and reminders can be of any assistance at all.”
Willow's eyes met his, resolve strong on her face.
“I need them, Giles. I'd gotten so arrogant, so sure of myself. I don't know quite what she plans but I think she's helping me see myself clearly.”
She stood up. “How about a ‘nice cup of tea'? Do you ever have nasty cups of tea, or not bad but not quite up to par cups?”
Giles smiled at her attempts to tease him.
“I obviously haven't taken to you a service station on the motorway yet. A cup of tea would be very welcome after all the talking I've been doing today.”
“With the Watchers Council?”
Giles looked at her ruefully. ‘That would have been pleasant in comparison. No; my next door neighbour came to convince me to donate something to the jumble sale. She stayed for hours, gossiping about people I don't know and never want to.”
“Did you give her something?”
Giles brightened up. “I certainly did. A dozen jars of marrow jam.”
“I can see why you would want to get rid of that and I'm not even sure what a marrow is but why did you buy it in the first place?”
Giles' smile broadened. “I didn't. She gave it to me last winter. She was mortally insulted.”
“Giles! You might have hurt her feelings!” protested Willow.
Giles thought back to the sly comments Mrs Singleton had made about his young lady friend with the red hair, the insinuating spitefulness of her ostensibly polite questions.
“I devoutly hope so,” he replied.
<u>Chapter Four </u>
Willow looked at Kate, raising her eyebrows and smiling expectantly. The rain had swept in during the night and the garden was a damp and soggy wilderness. Their rendezvous had been moved to the library, one of Willow's favourite rooms in the large manor house owned by the coven. The shelves were crammed with a mixture of shabby, dog-eared paperbacks and, tucked away in the dimmer corners, some books that would have been welcome in the Magic Box, in the section reserved for Giles' use alone. The air was redolent with the enticing smell of old paper, the furniture shabby but welcoming. Subtle lighting made reading possible in every chair and an apparently random scattering of tables meant never having to leave one's chair to set down a drink.
Kate had settled down in a deep armchair by the fire, sighing with pleasure as she curled her feet up beneath her.
“I love this chair. I used to be able to lie down in it when I was little. Now I'm all grown up, I keep forgetting I can't quite do that anymore.”
Willow's chair was equally comfortable and she held out her sock-clad feet to the flames, enjoying their warmth. Summer in England took some getting used to for a Californian.
“So, have you got another story for me?” she asked.
Kate smiled, sipping at a steaming mug of tea and brushing away some crumbs that had fallen from her oatmeal cookie to her lap. “Of course. This one is full of romance and weddings.”
Willow winced. “The last wedding I went to ended in the bride becoming a demon, the groom leaving her at the altar and the guests getting attacked by another demon. Not quite in that order but it wasn't a fun time. And you should have seen the bridesmaid dress I had to wear.” She shivered at the memory.
Kate said, “At least you had a dress.”
Being next door to the Magic Box was an odd location for a shop specializing in wedding dresses and tuxedo hires. Unless your mind wandered to love potions and such, in which case they fit together well enough. Sarah Prescott had never set foot in the Magic Box and didn't even notice that it was boarded up. Her mind fixed on one goal, she pushed open the dress shop door and stepped inside.
The man behind the counter, Mr Simpson, who owned the shop in partnership with his wife, glanced up as the bell chimed softly, his face distracted and fretful. The frown deepened as he saw Sarah. He looked down at a list he held and swallowed hard.
“Good morning, Miss Prescott,” he began formally.
“Is it here?” interrupted Sarah eagerly, sweeping aside social niceties as the outdated irrelevancies they were. “You said today, didn't you? I'm so excited! I know it's silly, someone my age wanting white but – ”
Mr Simpson tried again. “Your dress came in on the final delivery, late last night but -”
“Last night! And you didn't call me? The wedding is in three days! I need that dress, I have to get the shoes dyed to match, I have to coordinate the bouquet, you wouldn't believe how much I have to do.”
Her voice was rising ominously and Mr Simpson, prudently keeping the counter between them, hastened to reassure her.
“I _do_ know how rushed you are, my dear but it arrived very late, after the store had closed in fact. However, that's really not important. The dress isn't here –” he paused, expecting a shriek but Sarah just stared at him, her mouth falling open in shock, speechless in the face of this disaster. “Didn't you see what happened next door? The shop was gutted, some sort of gas explosion I believe. It made a huge hole in my storeroom wall and well, your dress was ruined, I'm afraid. I'm so sorry. The insurance will cover it of course and we will be happy to provide you with a replacement dress. In fact, in view of the urgency, we'd be happy to offer you any dress in the shop for the same price as the one you lost.”
He beamed at her, amazed that he'd managed to string so many words together without interruptions.
Sarah tried to speak, failed and looked around helplessly. She saw a chair and tottered towards it, her legs giving way as she reached it. Mr Simpson, wishing fervently that his wife were here to deal with this awkward situation, rushed over to her, wringing his hands together futilely as he hovered around her.
Sarah was talking almost to herself, jumbled words that reached Mr Simpson's ear in fragments. “All my life – dreamed of this day – going to be perfect – has to be perfect – dream wedding – beautiful bride – my special day.” Her voice faded away and her head drooped into her hands for a moment.
Sarah made a supreme effort and looked up at him. “I want my dress,” she said. “I don't care what it looks like, I have to have it. Give it to me.” Her face was flushed as she tried to hold back the tears that threatened to fall and she wound her fingers together tightly to stop them shaking.
“But, but, you don't understand, it's ruined, totally unwearable. In fact, I may well have put it out in the trash already.”
Sarah leaped up, her face filled with fury, galvanized out of her shock by this additional blow. “You threw out my dress?” she shrieked.
Mr Simpson quailed before her rage, desperately trying to atone. “I'll find it,” he assured her, adding recklessly, “ if I have to search the dumpster myself!”
It took thirty minutes, and Mr Simpson was a broken man by the time his mission was complete, but Sarah left the shop with one of their trademark pink and silver boxes in her arms. Pristine wrappings and delicate satin bows housed a tangled, torn and dirty dress, foaming lace tattered and torn, ivory silk turned grey with dust, a long streak of something orange running from the bodice to the hem.
As she turned to walk away, Sarah paused and stalked over to the Magic Box. She eyed it malevolently and whispered a few words under her breath. Deep inside the shop, a shelf holding some miraculously unbroken crystal balls began to wobble, before succumbing to gravity and plunging to the floor. Shards of glass lay like splintered sunlight over the more mundane debris. Satisfied, Sarah nodded her head sharply and left, her precious burden cradled in her arms.
Willow leaned forward eagerly. “So; why did she want the dress? And why was she so mad at poor Giles and Anya if she thought their shop had been destroyed in an accident? It wasn't very nice of her to do that curse.”
Kate shrugged, her face studiously blank. “Haven't you ever attacked people who hurt you without meaning to?” she asked.
Willow flushed and picked at the fringe around the arm of the chair without replying.
“That wasn't a rhetorical question,” said Kate, sitting up straight in her armchair, her grey eyes stern as they rested on Willow.
Willow avoided her probing glance and looked at the leaping flames, losing herself in their dance. Finally she replied, “Yes. Yes, I have hurt people. You know that. I hurt them physically and I said things that I don't think I'll ever forget.”
“Did you mean them?” asked Kate, settling back into her chair as Willow broke her silence.
“At the time, sure. I reveled in saying them. I got a real kick out of it. It was glorious to stop acting, stop pretending. It wasn't until afterwards, when I remembered their faces that I – oh God, they'll never forget it either. Never.” Willow's voice quivered and broke as the ready tears welled up.
“We all have thoughts inside us that we don't share for various reasons. You just decided that you'd break with tradition. It's not the end of the – oops.” Kate pulled a rueful face at her own blunder and smiled at Willow, inviting her to share the joke. After a moment, Willow gave her a watery smile in return and fished in her jeans' pocket for a clean tissue. After she'd dried her eyes and blown her nose, she said firmly, “But I still want to know about Sarah and the dress.”
Kate shrugged agreeably and continued. “Sarah wasn't a Magic Box customer. I'm afraid she saw it as being a shop for dabblers. Maybe if she'd ever got down off her high horse and ventured over the threshold, she'd have been surprised. I can't see Rupert catering to the masses. Be that as it may, she was a fairly powerful witch. She grew a lot of her own herbs and she ordered in the more esoteric items. The net has a lot to answer for; it makes some things too easy. When you have to go out at moonrise to gather the fern seed yourself, for three months on the trot, it might put you off doing a spell of disenchantment. When you can buy it online and have it express delivered the next day, it's easy to give into temptation.” She paused. “Where was I before I started ranting? Oh, yes. That dress.”
Sarah emerged from her bedroom and swept downstairs, ignoring the gasps from her guests as they saw her dress. Three days had done little to improve it, despite her best efforts. The orange streak had faded to yellow and the smell of garbage had faded too, but it was still a travesty of a dress. At the foot of the stairs, his eyes filled with unconditional love, a blissful smile of anticipation on his pleasant face stood her betrothed, James Purkiss III. He gazed in adoration at the vision of youthful beauty moving towards him, a shy yet happy look enhancing her perfect features. Her dress was a fitting frame for such a masterwork, a confection of frothing lace and silken splendour.
As he took her arm and walked with her to the minister, who waited outside in the sylvan wonderland the Prescott fortune had created in Sarah's garden, James basked in the knowledge that all his guests were struck dumb in admiration. For the rest of his life, he would proudly display photographs of his wedding and continue to get the same reaction; stunned silence as the person tried desperately to reconcile what they saw with the running commentary James provided.
Sarah spent her wedding day writhing with humiliation but consoling herself with the fact that she had the rest of her life to live it down. Frumpy, plain and poor, she had used spells to beguile James from the start. Woven into the wedding dress were spells that would seal their love for all time. The spells had taken weeks to prepare and Sarah had lost many pounds as she worried about their effectiveness.
Such a pity that she had to send the dress back to the shop for last minute alterations to the waist. An even bigger pity that the seamstress broke her wrist tripping over her young son's skateboard, meaning that the dress had to be sent to a different place to be altered. Most tragic of all that it was returned on that fateful night. Consequences and coincidences; no amount of witchcraft can cope with their effects.
“Oh, the poor thing,” said Willow, giggling in spite of herself.
Kate raised her eyebrows. “It isn't really funny,” she said pointedly. “Myself, I suspect the work of a balancer, using your actions to teach Sarah a lesson. They're related to vengeance demons, but aren't quite so powerful and choose their own cases. Sarah had done something truly bad when she coerced true love and changed James' life. Oh, he will be happy, but that's beside the point. What Sarah had to endure on her wedding day, looking like that, everyone laughing on her perfect day, well, it went some way towards making her pay for her actions.”
Willow was fidgeting uneasily. “Why do these stories all seem to have people in them who've done similar things to me?” she blurted out.
“You've created enchanted clothing?' Kate asked dubiously. “You don't seem the sort, somehow.”
Willow leapt to her feet. “I'm talking about manipulating people into thinking they love you!”
Kate peered up at her, maddeningly calm. “So, who did you do that to, then?” she asked casually. “And sit down. I'm getting a muscle spasm in my neck.”
Willow flopped back in her seat, looking dangerously close to losing her temper. “I didn't exactly. It was Tara. We were arguing over how much magic I was using and I didn't _want_ her to be mad at me. So I, well, I made her forget that we'd fought.”
Kate looked disgusted. “That's one of the reasons she left, I assume?” she said in a tight voice, her nose screwed up as if she'd smelled something unpleasant.
Willow glanced over, startled by Kate's reaction. “That and the magic use. I see now that she was right of course. I was using way too much magic, getting addicted to it. I should have stopped sooner, as she asked me to.”
Kate snorted. “If someone told you that you were addicted to breathing, would you meekly agree and stop doing that, too?”
Willow shook her head but said, stubbornly, “It's not the same.”
Kate sighed. “Willow, I'm here to tell you the stories, not delve into your past but I really can't let this one go. Listen to me; I said you were an amateur, didn't I?”
“Yes,” muttered Willow. That still rankled.
“Well, I was wrong. You're a natural. If there'd been anyone around with any talent as you grew up, they could have trained you and maybe none of this would have happened. Instead, you grew up hollow inside. You're, oh, you're like a sea sponge in a way – ”
“Well, thank you,” interjected Willow wryly.
“Lots of holes, just waiting to be filled with water to make it get bigger. You were soaked in magic; whoosh, it flowed into you. But you can only absorb so much and after that you start to drip, or in your case, flood the whole damn bathroom floor.”
Willow stared at her in astonishment and then began to laugh. “I'm a s-sponge, a leaky sponge,” she said, gasping for breath. “Kate, that's the weirdest analogy I ever heard.”
Kate had the grace to look sheepish. She waved an airy hand. “Details. Make up your own, why don't you? Anyway, you can't just stay out of the water; that's killing you. But once you're wet, you need wringing out to be useful. And I will abandon this image now, because like most analogies, it's a poor attempt to describe something that just _is_. You are a very powerful witch, Willow and you're so suffused with power that I doubt it will ever leave you. But it's been controlling you through your emotions and that has to stop. We need you back in the driving seat before we have another crash. Which leads in nicely to the next story.”
Willow recoiled, “I'm not sure I can –“
“Not today, I'm shattered too,” Kate said kindly. “And I think we might take tomorrow off, too. Isn't it the village fete? You'll enjoy that.”
“Giles said it was a jumble sale,” Willow objected.
Kate looked cynical. “That's next week. Everything that doesn't sell at the fete ends up at the jumble. It's a subtle hierarchy of events but being a furriner with ways not of our own, I can't expect you to grasp the complexities. When you've been here a bit longer, I'll introduce you to the delights of a bring and buy sale.”
“I can't wait,” said Willow in a voice drenched with insincerity.
<u>Chapter Five </u>
The visit to the fete had been fun at first. Uncomplicated, undemanding fun. On the other side of the ocean, her friends were most likely battling demons, facing down evil with a multitude of faces, not to mention arms, legs and tentacles. Here, in a quiet English village, Willow was on a roll at the tombola stall, winning a bottle of ketchup, some rather sticky dandruff shampoo and finally, after depleting her supply of twenty pence coins, half a bottle of whisky that she presented proudly to Giles. He thanked her profusely, even though it was blended, not a single malt and led her off to the coconut shy. His Watcher's training paid off here and he solemnly handed Willow two small, hairy coconuts, ignoring her protests with a bland smile. Noticing a small child crying over a dropped ice lolly, Willow gravely handed him one of the coconuts. He promptly dropped it on his toe and Willow and Giles escaped hurriedly, the sight of a wrathful mother bearing down filling them with more dread than a gang of vampires would have inspired.
“Where's Kate?” Willow asked as she prepared to indulge in a cream tea a little later. She had become very fond of this treat; a currant scone, split and thickly laden with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. She had even become accustomed to drinking tea with it, rather than coffee.
Giles smiled. “Kate's working,” he replied, with a hint of mischief in his voice. He glanced around the crowded tea tent. “Good turn out,” he remarked, clearly changing the subject.
Willow wrinkled her nose at him and decided to experiment with adding a few sliced strawberries to the scone.
Giles waited for her to finish her delectable treat and then stood, making way for a tired looking mother and father with what seemed like half a dozen children swarming round their legs.
“Let's go over here, “ he suggested as they sauntered over the grass, still slightly damp from yesterday's rain but drying nicely thanks to a warm sun and a light breeze. Giles steered Willow towards a small tent with a pointed roof, fabulously decorated with stars and in a rather fetching shade of purple. Willow saw the sign, ‘Madame Fortunata Reveals All' and balked.
“I'm not going in there!” she protested. “If she's fake, it's a waste of money, if she's not, I'd probably crack her crystal ball.”
“I don't think there's much risk of that,” said Giles. He held up the flap of canvas and urged Willow inside, dropping the flap behind her as she entered. Blinking in the dim light and overpowered by the smell of damp canvas, Willow took longer than she should have done to recognize Madame Fortunata.
“Kate! I might have known it was you. Do you do this every year?” Willow exclaimed.
Kate nonchalantly adjusted the chain of gold coins anchoring her veil to her head and nodded. “ Been doing it for five years,” she answered. “Sit down and cross my palm with silver, why don't you?”
Willow sat and rooted about in her pocket for some change. She looked dubiously at what was left after her encounters with stallholders whose selling techniques would have made a loan shark feel faint. “Will copper do?” she asked hopefully.
Kate snorted derisively. “I don't think so, “ she said. “But those little gold ones will do nicely.”
Willow grudgingly handed over a pound coin. Kate raised an eyebrow expectantly and Willow growled and added a second.
“I don't know why you care,” remarked Kate. “You can't take change back with you.”
Willow grinned. “It's all from Giles, anyway,” she confessed. “I'm going to owe him, like a thousand dollars by the time I go home.”
Kate brushed this aside and resumed her fortune teller persona.
“Sit, sit and I will tell you of your past, your present and your future,” she intoned.
Willow looked sceptical. “Doesn't this work better when you don't already know the person?” she asked pointedly.
“Think about what you just said,” replied Kate. “It works just fine, this way, thank you.”
Willow mentally slapped her own forehead and resigned herself to a few minutes of humouring Kate.
“You have been through great turmoil and loss,” said Madame Fortunata.
“You saw me at the lucky dip stall, did you?” asked Willow dryly. She got a warning glare for her levity.
“You have traveled far, over land and water. You soared like the birds but you had no wings.”
Willow remembered doing that at the height of her quest for vengeance. She had felt the chill air caress her as she arrowed through it but nothing had cooled her white-hot rage.
“You have loved and been rejected, have broken faith and been betrayed. You are capable of much violence and much tenderness. You are full of magic yet at home with technology. You are –“
“I think that's enough,” said Willow, trembling slightly at the memories Kate's words evoked.
“You are Willow,” Kate finished inexorably.
“And my future?” Willow asked, her voice as tart as a green apple, as bitter as lemon peel.
Kate shrugged her shoulders theatrically. “Why ask me? Your future is in your hands and yours alone. Look at them and see.”
Involuntarily, Willow glanced down at her palms, curved upwards in her lap. Cupping them, she watched as they filled with clear light that shimmered with images flowing into each other like oil on water. She saw her friends, sometimes younger, sometimes older than when she left them. She saw Tara, silver haired and lovely in old age and frowned, puzzled and disturbed. She saw monsters, demons she had fought, rising again from the earth. She saw herself, dark-eyed and powerful, the entire world at her feet. She saw the futures that could be hers and she looked until she could bear no more. Wrenching her hands apart, she thrust the palms out towards Kate, who sat, silently watching.
“Take your magic away,” Willow said, through clenched teeth. “I don't want to know what will come. I don't want to live with that knowledge.”
“You want to live in the dark?” Kate questioned. “Frightened and cowering in a corner?”
Willow shook her head. Her voice was strong and sure as she said, “Not knowing what will come is the only way of being able to deal with it when it does. Believe me. Humans aren't meant to know the future. It cripples us, constricts us.”
Kate pursed her lips, considering. “Fair enough,” she said finally. “Now, get going so I can deal with some real customers.”
Willow leaned over the table, her face impassive, and placed her palm on the crystal ball, its cool curve fitting her hand perfectly. The crystal glowed blue as the residual magic from Kate's spell flowed into it.
“Now you can tell them the truth,” Willow said softly. “I wonder if you'll be that cruel.”
Willow didn't see Kate again until the following afternoon. The day was fine but Kate left a message for Willow to meet her in the library again, directly after lunch. Willow got there early and waited patiently, browsing the crammed shelves and finally choosing a book that had been awarded to Amelia Denning in 1932 for perfect attendance at Sunday School. The book was called, ‘Dawn Tackles The Lower Fourth' and Willow's lips twitched with amusement as she read, comparing the Dawn she knew with the heroine of the book.
When Kate arrived, Willow looked up, her face alight with laughter. “Why didn't I ever get books like this to read when I was a kid?” she asked. “So funny. Were boarding schools really like this? Midnight feasts and playing tricks on the teachers?”
Kate walked over and examined the book. “Oh, I remember this one!” she exclaimed. ‘There's a whole series about this school. I loved them. They're collector's items now of course; that one you're reading is probably worth a few hundred pounds.”
Willow looked at it in surprise and carefully closed it, setting it down on the table beside her. Kate shook her head. “Don't do that. Books need to be read, or they don't feel loved.”
“I'll finish it later,” Willow promised.
Kate seemed ill at ease and remained standing, her arms folded defensively across her chest. “I'm sorry,” she said, the words bursting from her. “I shouldn't have given you that vision, not without warning you or asking you first.” She cast her eyes upwards. “Rupert went spare with me.”
“He went what?” asked Willow, her mind flying to bowling.
Kate gave her an uncomprehending look and then giggled and translated. “Oh, it means he was furious. Normally, I'd just ignore him but when he gets going, well, have you ever seen him channel his youthful side?”
“Oh, yes. In fact, I've seen him become it, but that's not my story to tell. And speaking of stories…”
Kate gave her a grateful glance. “You want to carry on, then?”
Willow nodded and Kate sighed with relief, regaining her poise almost at once. “Thank God. I'd hate to think I'd done all this work for nothing,” she said frankly. “Fine. Well, the next story is about someone you hitched a lift with.”
“I've never hitched,” Willow protested. “It's really dangerous.”
“Not if you don't actually get into the car,” said Kate, watching as understanding spread over Willow's face.
Jim Bennett had been driving trucks all his working life. This was probably the last one he would own though; he was getting older, stiffer and he just didn't have the stamina for the cross-country hauls that his job required. He had planned to retire, maybe move with Mary out to the country somewhere, and put roots down for a change. She had never complained that he was away so much – except the time he missed Christmas Day, snowed up in the North. He swore she'd sulked till the next Christmas about that. In some ways, it kept their love fresh, the partings and the joyful reunions.
But none of that mattered now. Mary was dead, the cancer she had concealed for so long, finally defeating even her stubborn will and killing her after a short week in hospital. He couldn't regret the time he'd spent alone, the road stretching out in front of him, the world streaming past his windows in an endless, fascinating series of snapshot impressions or wide vistas, but he could regret that he hadn't tried to share his world with her more.
This was to be his last trip, he'd decided. He planned, quite calmly, to drive his truck to a lookout point he knew, a few miles outside Sunnydale, park her up and then jump, when the night concealed what lay beneath. Being alone as he drove was one thing. Being alone in an empty house, year in, year out - that would be unbearable.
The wheel was smooth under his callused fingers as he made the small adjustments to keep the truck steady. Up ahead he thought he spotted a police cruiser. He frowned. Last thing he needed was a ticket. It wouldn't matter but it would break his mood of exalted anticipation dealing with the routine of getting pulled over. He eased back to the speed limit, cruising steadily.
The truck was rocked suddenly as Jim felt something hit the roof of the cab. It felt heavy and as he wondered if a branch had been blown down, he felt the accelerator pedal drop away from under his foot as it was pushed down hard.
“What the hell?” he muttered.
The next few moments were a nightmare. Jim, on his way to kill himself, found instead that he was fighting to save his life and the lives of whoever was in that police car ahead of him. It was hard to believe - he was never quite sure whether he did or not - but the truck was driving itself, deliberately ramming the car in front, over and over. Jim sat, a helpless spectator, as the truck wheel span this way and that, the speed creeping up steadily until the engine was racing and the cab was trembling. He felt as if he were inside a beast whose chains had finally been snapped and who was hungry for revenge.
He was so close that he could see the frightened faces in the back seat of the cruiser, prisoners, probably, as they turned to look at the behemoth bearing down inexorably on their fragile container.
Then, as inexplicably as it had begun, it ended. The truck seemed to float as the malign influence loosened its grip. For a terrifying moment, it coasted along, a lethal chunk of steel aimed directly at the car in front. Then Jim cried out with relief as he felt his frantic tugging on the wheel make a difference. With every ounce of strength he possessed, he sent the truck into a jackknife, allowing the police car to pull away at last. Trembling with reaction, he fought the truck to a standstill, and then pulled it over to the side of the road. He turned off the engine and sank his head into his hands, dry sobs racking his body. Pushing open the door, he climbed down and looked down the road. He couldn't understand why the cruiser hadn't come back to arrest him and he was damned if he knew what he would tell them if he did. As the minutes passed, he realised that they wouldn't be returning. It didn't make sense but then, nothing did tonight.
One thought hung in his mind, burning as brightly as the taillights on the car he had nearly obliterated.
He wasn't ready to die. Not yet, not tonight.
Kate finished and looked at Willow, cocking her head expectantly, like a robin looking for crumbs.
Willow said, “So I scared the poor man so much he stopped being suicidal? Well, that makes it all just peachy doesn't it? Here I was thinking that I was the Angel of Death that night and far from it. I was just spreading sweetness and light around wherever I went.”
Kate shook her head violently, ornate silver earrings whipping back and forth like lightening bolts. “You were wrong to do what you did, Willow. Or let's just say what you planned to do was wrong. What you actually did was kill a murderer and a warlock who got his kicks corrupting everyone he met. That's not so terrible, but don't tell anyone I said that and don't make a habit of it.” Willow opened her mouth, shocked at this but Kate ignored her confusion and continued. “Where you went wrong was getting so full of yourself that you decided to make everyone's life better for them. Same as you did when you messed with Tara's memory. You're arrogant, Willow. You've always been the brightest but you felt you had to keep your light hidden. That had to be galling. Magic has given you the chance to shine like the sun and - oh, you crazy diamond, you - that's just what you did.”
Willow looked totally lost at this point. Kate sighed. “It's a lyric from a Pink Floyd song. I got carried away.”
“Giles warned me about that,” Willow mentioned slyly.
“He did, did he? Ever hear his lecture on the mystical rites of the Babylonians? Take a sleeping bag along – you'll need it.” Kate stood. “The next story isn't so nice. People die. Does that make you feel better? Give you some more guilt to wallow in?”
Willow looked at her helplessly. “I tried to end the world! I should be punished, I _should_ feel bad.”
“Which is very nice for you but not so much fun for everyone else around you and not really very useful either. It's almost time for you to go back, Willow. They can't teach you much more here. The summer is nearly over and school is about to begin. Or are you going to drop out?”
Willow's face was anguished. “No, but I'm not ready, I can't go back and face them. Not yet. They must hate me and – ” her voice trailed off. “They're all I have left, now.”
Kate's voice was firm. “You always have yourself, Willow. And I don't get the impression that anyone over there hates you at all. They're worried and concerned but wouldn't you be?”
Willow nodded, reluctantly. Kate was trying to force to her to emerge from her cocoon of misery and spread her wings. “But I don't think I'll be a beautiful butterfly,” she thought wretchedly to herself. “More like one of those moths that make big holes in clothes and gets exterminated.”
Kate perched on the arm of a chair and looked at Willow seriously. “I'm showing you these glimpses, these slices of other people's lives for a reason. I want you to know, deep down in your gut, that what you do has consequences and they're so wide reaching that you must never, ever, assume you can predict them all. I don't want to hobble you to stop you from running; I just want you to look where you're going.” She stood up again. “Go read your book. If I remember that one, Dawn has the same lesson to learn. She has a midnight feast in her dorm and gives most of her friends food poisoning with some undercooked sausages.”
Willow smiled and reached for the book. “You give weird homework,” she murmured.
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