Author: Jerri Cocke and Jon Dale
Summary: How do you deal with an addiction? What is the most important thing to you, or in this case, Willow?
Spoilers: To Gone
Disclaimer: Joss owns all, I own none. I do try not to break them too badly before I return them.
Distribution: If you have take, if not ask. http://geocities.com/lochnoir The Nekkid Shipper, Fire and Ice, Near Her Always, Saladin's Citadel
Feedback: It gives me a happy.
Dedication: To Micki, the bestest beta a person can have. Thank you for your untiring work on our behalf.
The redhead writhed on the bed, her agony palpable. Her body cried out for the seductive feel of the magic. She needed to feel it rushing through her veins. The tip of her tongue swept over her cracked lips. She could fix this with one tiny spell. Just one incantation and her pain would be gone. A few murmured words and the burning ache would be satisfied.
The witch opened her dry mouth, prepared to speak the words that would end the inhuman craving that wracked her fragile body. As her nerve endings burned with the need for sensation, she saw . . .
Rack standing before her with his confidence, his almost superhuman strength when it came to magic. The lovely colours she'd seen, as his spells wrapped around her, transporting her to the stars, she'd always longed to be a part of. She could remember being above, beneath and among the glowing spheres of light she'd adored from childhood. The power that coursed through her veins, that empowered her to be more than just herself. The ultimate joy that came with the knowledge that she, netgirl, research girl could affect the very cosmos. The power that drew her inexorably towards her destiny.
There was a beauty in the moments when she prepped for a spell, and the feelings of power that swept over her when she suceeded. Of course there were also the rather momumental failures she'd created. Of course those really didn't count. They were learning experiences, so what if there was a little turmoil when went slightly wrong. After all, she had given Angel his soul back. Hell, she'd brought Buffy back from the dead, what did the occasional spell gone wrong really matter? After all, she'd never really done real damage. Then she forced herself to remember ...
Spike cuddled up with Buffy, while Giles sat by, helpless, sightless. Xander bruised and battered because he was literally a demon magnet. Spike's desire to gargle with bleach to get the taste of slayer out of his mouth. Okay, so there had been a bit of hurt there, but ...
The moments spent wondering, questioning, why if they had, she had, gotten Buffy out of Hell, why had she not thanked her? Why'd she look like someone who'd had her life interrupted? She'd looked like the world had ended and there was nothing she could do. Well, said the little voice deep in Willow's soul, you understand that now. After all, there is a major difference between Hell dimension and Heaven. And you yanked her out of Heaven. Deal with it.
Willow say Tara's beautiful face, disappoinment etched on every delicate feature, when the massively gone wrong amnesia spell had been broken. Her memory flashed forward to the terrible minutes and hours she'd spent watching Tara pack her things. The agony she felt now, was nothing compared to what she'd felt when Tara walked out that door for the last time.
Her mind leapt forward once more to the night just passed. One small hand brushed across the bruise on her pale check. Dawn's screams of fear and pain resonated through her own pain. The redhead remmembered the look of distrust and fear on the teenagers pretty face. The disgust that coloured her voice, as she had told Willow to stay away from her.
Willow firmly pressed her lips together, refusing to give into the pain. Somehow, she knew this pain was transitory. The pain she would inflict on the people she loved if she surrendered to the desire for sensation ... that pain would never end. The family she'd created, they were worth the pain that raced across her mind and soul. For them, Willow could refuse to end her agony and she would.
Willow slowly looked around the shop; Giles was really gone. What was she supposed to do now? She'd driven Tara away with her addiction to magic, an addiction she really wasn't handling very well, though she was only willing to admit that to herself. If the gang, oh Goddess, if Buffy had any idea how tempted she was ... well that was another subject - or slaying - altogether. The redhead knew that if Buffy had a clue to the very real danger the hunger for magic caused her and how easy it would be to use that power, the danger to Dawn and the other Scoobies would make her crazy. Rightfully so, but that didn't make the witch any more eager to admit the whole story to the slayer.
Goddess, she needed Giles. He'd understand: he'd been there himself. She thought back to the whole Egyhon episode. Yes, Ripper would know what it felt like to have this incredible power yet not be able to use it. He'd remember what it was to have a gift that would (not could but would) destroy everything and everyone in the long run.
She sat down in front of her laptop, studiously ignoring the magic texts and components around her. The tastes and scents of the herbs teased her nose and beckoned her to use them. With a slight, hardly noticeable tremor in her hand, she booted up her old friend, the computer, and ran a standard search protocol - first stop, Sunnydale P.D. She printed out the list of unexplained disappearances before moving on to the morgue's system. There were several deaths which warranted a look into or, more aptly, a graveside stake-out, pun intended, thought the hacker with a small giggle. Deft fingers typed a command into the computer, seemingly without guidance. In moments, Willow heard ringing from her speakers, followed by a groggy voice, slightly muffled as if by a pillow.
"Giles, I miss you and I . . . I need you."
"Willow, is that you?"
"Yes, Giles, it's me. I need your help. I . . . I have to stop using magic before I get someone killed. I've never done anything harder in my life, and I don't know how to get through this alone. Can you help me?"
"Willow, what's happened?"
"You already know about my glorious amnesia spell. That one nearly got everyone killed, and Tara left me because of it. Giles, I nearly got Dawnie killed. I did get her hurt, because of my lack of control. I got addicted to the power and I don't know how to stop. I only know one person who ever stopped, who let the power go. That's you." Her voice broke as she added, "Giles, will you help me?"
"Willow, when I turned my back on the dark arts, it was, indeed, the hardest thing I'd ever done. It felt like the fire was consuming my every nerve. It was extremely painful and I'm still not sure how or why I survived the experience. But if you are serious about your desire to give up your magic, then of course, I'll help you."
"Will you come back to Sunnydale?"
"No, that isn't possible at the moment, not to mention I feel it would be better for you to come to London."
"But, Giles, they need me here. I really don't think . . . "
"I believe that you stand a much greater chance of suceeding away from the hellmouth. The mystical energies are so much stronger there and would push you to the limits of your endurance."
"But, Buffy and the others, what if they need me?"
"I'm sure that they shall need you, and I'm equally as sure that they will survive well enough, without you. If you stay, you'll use your power. It will be for a good reason, but you'll still have lost the war."
"But . . ."
"No buts, Willow, this is to help you and to save those persons that you love. The people most likely to be harmed when, not if, you lose control. Because, if you stay, you will lose control and you will hurt someone. That I can promise you. Now, when can you come?"
"I guess I can leave anytime. I can transfer to a school there, I was recruited by Oxford, so I doubt I'll have a problem there."
"Then I shall call the airline and make the arrangements. I truly feel that distance from the hellmouth will greatly increase your chances of winning this battle. Are you at home?"
"No, I'm at the Magic Box. I'll stay here until I hear back from you. Thank you, Giles, I don't know how long I could go on like this."
"You're not alone any longer, Willow, and you shan't be alone in this battle again. I shall be here. I'll call directly back with the arrangements."
Willow sat back in relief as she tapped the keys that allowed her to end the phone call from her end and then began to delve into the fruitless search for Buffy's diamond eating, people freezing demon. The Scoobies gathered around the table as she worked, and the table slowly became loaded down with books as the research continued. Willow typed industriously away before she looked up to see the faces of three of the people she loved most in the world (and also Anya and Spike). She didn't want to do this, but there was really no choice: it had to be done.
"Buffy, Xander, everyone, I need to say something and it is one of the hardest things I've ever had to say so I would appreciate it if you would just let me get it out before you say anything." She paused for breath. "I talked to Giles today about my problem, you know 'cause of Ripper and all. He's agreed to help me, but he feels and I agree, that if I stay here, I'll use magic again. It may be safe for me to use magic sometime, but that time is nowhere near." She smiled sweetly at her friends, her family, before she continued. "My plane leaves tomorrow. I'm going to London, to Giles for awhile. I will miss all of you very much, but this is something I have to do. It is the only way I can survive this addiction."
She clutched her best friends' hands as she waited expectently for the storm. She wasn't disappointed. Nor was she surprised when the people who supported her trip were Anya, Spike, and Dawn. She'd known that Buffy and Xander would take this hard, but Giles was right. The only way, she could ever beat this addiction was to leave the hellmouth.
"But, Willow, you can't go. You won't know anyone but Giles, and he's old, so he doesn't really count. You need to be with us right now." The slayer looked aghast at the thought of the witch's loss.
"Yeah, Will, I guess G-Man could help you 'cause of the whole Ripper thing, but why can't he help you here? I mean, London is in another country and everything."
"Yes, London is in another country. A country Giles needs to stay in. You will love England, Willow, and you'll keep Giles away from my shop." Anya smiled brightly at the witch. "I'll help you pack."
"An! We don't want Willow to leave Sunnydale. We want her to stay with us."
"But, Xander, Giles is right. Willow stands a better chance of beating this away from the hellmouth."
"How can you say that Anya?" The slayer looked at the ex-demon, perplexed. "We are her friends and we support her. She'd be practically alone in London, except for Giles, and he's old." Her answer came from the vampire.
"Don't you get it? If you silly sots keep the witch here, she'll use magic again. She'll do it for all of you and her motives will be the best in the world. She'll save one of you lot and lose herself in the process." The blond threw up his hands. "If you want to lose the silly bint to the dark side, than keep her here." He leered at the small redhead, then added, "Of course, she would be a delicious addtition to the forces of darkness. Stay if you want to Red."
"Now wait just a minute, Fangless, you can't talk about Will that way!" The brunette menaced the black clad demon.
Buffy put herself between the combatents, "Back off, you two. Spike has a point. Xander, if Will stays, she'll use magic again. Willow has to go to England." The slayer shot a glance at her best friend. "I know she wouldn't mean to, but she would. If it came down to losing us versus using magic, we'd win everytime. She loves us, like we love her, so she'd do what she had to do. She'd save us, no matter what it cost her. And eventually, we'd all pay for it."
Spike leaned against the bookcase, a wicked smirk firmly on his sharp features. The brunette sat between his fiancee and his best friend. Anya stroked his cheek, soothingly. Buffy seemed to fold in on herself at this new loss. She squared her shoulders, resolved to face her sorrow.
The redhead looked at her friends, emerald eyes glistening with unshed tears. With the exceptions of Tara and Giles, the people she loved most in the world were gathered around her. They were right: if she stayed, she would use her powers. If she used magic at all, everything would be lost, and that was too large a price to pay. "My plane leaves tomorrow morning. I love you all." She stood and hugged everyone, with special attention to Xander, Buffy, and Dawn, and held back tears as she walked out the door. With just one more night to get through, the worst was nearly over.
Something woke Willow from her deep sleep. She looked around her, confusion evident in her gaze before she figured out where she was. Airplane cabin, flight from L.A. to London ... Okay. That was where she was, but what had wakened her?
She remembered boarding the plane, seating herself in the cabin, and being impressed with Giles' thoughtfulness. First class, that was special. She'd listened to the flight attendant's lecture on safety, then apparently she'd gone to sleep. And it was the best sleep she'd had in weeks. For a change, she hadn't woken sweating and crying in the throes of a nightmare.
A faint bump was accompanied by chimes that reminded the passengers to fasten their seatbelts. A few moments later there was a somewhat more significant bump. Willow held on to her armrest after she fastened her belt securely. The turbulence increased as the minutes passed. As she was jolted about in her seat, she raised one hand. She caught herself, just as she started to murmur the words that would have smoothed the flight out. Goddess, she had nearly done it again. How could she expect to get over this, if she couldn't control the urge to use her magic? The redhead lowered her hand, gingerly placed it on her lap then lowered her head and wept.
They would be safe with her away: she couldn't harm them if she failed. She needed to remember that every time she got homesick. They were safe from her and that was important. She couldn't call herself Wiccan anymore, not with the sacrifice she'd performed to get Buffy back. She'd taken a life; an innocent animal had died because of her. She would never be sorry that the ritual had worked, but she regretted the loss of that fawn's life more than anything she'd ever done. She forced the memory of the trusting animal away. That was her past. She was here to face her future. Her magic-free future. Only Giles would know about her power. She could be Netgirl and Research Girl, and if things worked out right, she might even take her Master's degree at Oxford. Just how cool would *that* be? Inside of the hour, she would be with Giles.
She smiled softly as she remembered the crush she'd had on him so many years ago. Well, not that many years ago, 'cause hey, only known him six years. But they had lived a lifetime in those six years. All the Scoobies had and she had admired him so much.
Her smile faded as the imaginary angel seated on her shoulder whispered in her ear, "...And you disappointed him so much. He trusted you to know the limits, to abide by them, to have more sense..." She shook her head hard to chase away that train of thought. Damned conscience. It had to remind her of that.
A slight smile crossed her lips as she thought back to high school. She'd been head over heels for the Englishman, way before Oz had appeared on her personal horizon. Xander had ignored her, Giles had protected her, but Oz had wanted her. That had been heady for a girl who'd never had that kind of attention. If nothing else, the wolf had given her the beginnings of the confidence that had sustained her through until . . . well, until Buffy had died. That had thrown her for the final loop.
She'd managed to deal with the chaos and terror that Glory had thrust into the life they'd all led ... somehow.
The rest of the flight passed in a haze that seemed to go on for an enternity. Willow was finally pulled out of her self absorption by the flight attendant's warning to prepare for arrival. It seemed the weather was a balmy 49 degrees and it was - surprise, surprise - foggy. Apparently Giles had pulled out all the stops for her. She raised her seat to the upright postion and checked to make sure the tray table was locked in place. Willow was ready for this flight to end, she'd already come much to close to falling. It scared her to consider how easy it would have been for her to simply cast the spell. Her surrender would have been that simple and that profound.
She listened with less than perfect attention to the attendant's Welcome to Merry Olde London Towne speech as she rummaged for her carry-on bags. She was so close to the help she craved more strongly than she craved the magic. All she had to do was get through customs and she would be with Giles. And Giles would help her, guide her and protect her as he'd always done.
"Miss, can I see your passport? Do you have you anything to declare?"
The small redhead looked up at the heavyset woman clad in the garb of Her Majesty's Customs Services. She shook her head to clear it and handed over her travel documents. "No, nothing to declare, thank you."
"What's the purpose of your visit?"
"I'm here to visit a friend and to check out the possibility of attending university here."
The customs officer stamped approved on her visa. "Welcome to Britain, Miss Rosenburg. Enjoy your stay."
"Thank you." Willow picked up her bags and placed them back on the trolley. She followed the corridor to the arrivals lounge, her eyes searching for the face of her mentor; her saviour. The crowd parted and she saw him standing there, waiting for her.
Giles opened his arms and she ran into them, feeling secure for the first time in days. Willow buried her face in his chest inhaling the familiar scent and drawing strength from it. With his strength to buttress her, she could face anything.
"I've made reservations for a hotel this evening. Tomorrow we'll take the train back to Oxford. Although, if you would prefer, we can go tonight. It's only about an hour and a half away." The British accent didn't grate this time, it just reassured.
"Thank you. I'm really tired. Could we just stay here tonight?" Willow pulled out of Giles' warm embrace. When he threw an arm around her shoulders, she snuggled under it, reluctant to lose the comfort of his presence.
"Well then, shall we get a taxi? And eat dinner at the hotel?"
"Yes, please." Green eyes met hazel, "Giles, I ... Thank you. It...this matters to me, more than I can ever tell you."
Giles pulled back the heavy chair with elaborate courtesy. Willow flashed him a weary smile and accepted the menu the maitre`d offered her. Giles chattered on about the various libraries and museums he wanted her to see.
"That's lovely, Giles, but right now, I just want to get started on the rest of my life without magic. I just don't know how to do that."
"You've already taken the first step. You recognised there is a problem. Have you used your magical abilities at all since this occurred?"
"No, I haven't, but it's been so hard. Giles, I've never done anything harder in my life." She interrupted herself to give her order to the attentive waitress. Her throat burned with the dryness that had plagued her since she'd given up her magic. Her hand trembled as she picked up the crystal water glass. "I nearly use magic a hundred times a day. It would be so easy, and I know if I did, I wouldn't be hurting nearly as much."
"That's true, your body wouldn't crave the magic immediately after use, but Willow," Giles took one of her hands in his and anchored her with his touch, "it would only feel better until you went without magic again. And speaking from the perspective of one who has been there, it's the first spell that would get you, not the last."
"Um, excuse me, I hate to quote Xander, but `huh'?"
An easy grin crossed the handsome Englishman's face. "Let me see if I can put it another way." He thought for a long moment. "Willow, if you were stranded on railroad tracks, unable to move, and a train was coming, which would hit you first? The engine or the last carriage?"
"The engine, of course."
"Look at magic as a train. Right now, you're stuck on the tracks. The train is magic. If you don't use a spell, the train never comes. If you use magic, the engine, the first spell, will run you over."
Willow looked slightly ill at the thought. "I'm never going to be better, am I?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, you will. But I won't lie to you and tell you it's going to be easy. I have every faith in you, however. You can win this battle. You will win this battle." The austere Englishman glanced away to hide his strong emotions.
"Losing you is not an option."
Willow winced slightly as the car entered the traffic circle. Goddess, I just thought California drivers were suicidal. "Giles, you worked hard on keeping me alive for six long years, is there a reason you're trying to kill me now?"
Giles' warm laugh filled the small car. "You'll get used to roundabouts. This is a relatively quiet one. Not a lot of traffic, besides they do actually work from time to time, you know. Although to the uninitiated they do seem to be a bit ... daunting."
The train had been crowded, but not uncomfortably so and the trip had been quickly over. Giles and she had talked the entire ride. She had given him the low-down on everyone and everything, though she hadn't told him her suspicions about Buffy and the whole Spike thing. Somehow, she just didn't think he'd take that very well.
The elaborate preparations for Xander and Anya's wedding had amused him. He'd laughed over the seating charts and on-going arguments on where to put her demon acquaintances and Xander's family and friends. Giles had wryly commented that all of Xander's friends knew about demons, so that only left his family.
He was concerned about the problems with Dawn, but he observed that without Willow to distract Buffy, perhaps she would be more inclined to deal with Dawn's problems. I certainly hope so, ran through Willow's mind.
Giles drew Willow's attention back to the present as he exited the intersection. "We're approaching Magdalen Bridge. I think you will find it quite beautiful. And just past the bridge on High Street is Magdalen College."
"This is beautiful, though I think I could have done without the extra laps of the ... roundabout, you called it." Willow was a bit breathless as a result of her introduction to England's infamous traffic system. "Which of the colleges did you attend?"
"Magdalen as it happens. A wonderful school for ancient history and the classics. It has wonderful grounds."
"Oh, then I'll look at it when I'm arranging to transfer here."
"You're going to attend University here? I wish I'd known, I'd have made arrangements for you to have the necessary appointments for your interviews while you are with me. And to have brought the completed examples of your work that they might require. The admission
standards are quite stiff."
"Well, I brought my transcripts."
"Willow, I fear that you are in for a small shock. It is much harder to gain admittance to University here. The requirements are very stringent. In fact, I'm afraid there might be problems with financing and the like."
"But, I was accepted to Oxford, when I was a senior. I brought the letter they sent me. And, I have scholarships, lots of scholarships. And why is the financing such a problem? There shouldn't be a major hold up. It might take a bit after the start of the term for it all to come through, but it will."
"I'm afraid you don't understand, you haven't lived in England for three years, so you will be subject to the overseas student rates, which are quite high. In addition, you have to pay for the term in advance and you have to present letters from parents and bankers proving you have the where withal to pay all living expenses. That is if you can get in at this late date."
The redhead looked slightly overwhelmed. "They sure do make it hard to go to school here. Though, I'm not worried. School I can do." A small smile graced her lips, "Of course, they do have a reputation to protect."
"Quite. At any rate, we are approaching the centre of town. My flat is there. I hope you don't mind sharing the spare room with my books. I've ensured that the only texts there are the research volumes. The magical tomes have been removed to my parents home."
Astonished green eyes stared at him, "You have parents?"
"Yes Willow, I have parents, in fact I have a matched set. You shall no doubt meet them while you are here, though I should give you fair warning that my father will be stuffy and disdainful of your colonial upbringing and my mum will make an attempt to ... ah, put meat on your bones."
"Wait until I tell the gang, you have parents. Why didn't you ever tell us you had parents? Were you ashamed of them? Or, oh Giles, were you ashamed of us? I mean, I know that we didn't behave the way you expected us to. And lots of the time we ignored you completely, but were you really ashamed of us?" The note of pathos in her voice was almost heartbreaking.
"No, Willow, I am not now, nor have I ever been ashamed of you. Xander, on the other hand ... " His voice trailed off as he realized that hadn't got the giggle he was trying to elicit. "Willow, listen to me. I am very proud of all of you. My parents just never came up when we were facing the various apocalypses that living on the Hellmouth engendered."
The car pulled to a stop in front of an ornate building. "Be it ever so humble, welcome home, Willow."
It only took a few minutes to unload the bags and reach the door. It swung open to reveal ... oh Goddess, it was home. Books occupied every empty space in the spacious flat. The antiques that had seemed out of place in Sunnydale were right at home here. The soaring ceilings complemented the striped pine floors, covered with richly coloured oriental carpets.
"Kitchen, bathroom, my room, and ..." the door was opened on a book filled heaven, "your room. Please get settled and we'll get started on the rest later."
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