Note: < > indicates thoughts *** indicates flashbacks
<It's a good thing
the LAPD computer system is ridiculously easy to hack into. > The redheaded
witch was finding it increasingly difficult to keep her eyes open.
Which, given that it was three in the afternoon and she
normally could function on a few hours sleep, was not good. Cordelia was beginning to look worried. Her houseguest, who had had the tact to say nothing about Cordelia's new living accommodations, looked like she was about ready to pass out.
Not that the poor lighting
in the detective agency was helping, but the witch looked unhealthily pale.
She also had purple circles under her usually bright eyes. Cordelia
wished that Angel would return early from the
case he working on. She hadn't seen him in five days. Willow had just said she was having bad dreams and refused to say more, brushing them off as unimportant. The young women's friendship was too new and tentative for her to press the issue comfortably. But Cordy had learned not long after coming to work for Angel that the witch and the vampire were close friends. They were constantly e-mailing each other. He could get her to confess whatever was bothering her.
<Maybe I should
just call it quits for now. > The couch was looking far too good.
<Sleeping won't help though; I just wake up more tired. > For
the two weeks, beginning around finals, Willow had been having very strange
dreams that jumped from time period to time period at random. Last night had been the Bronze Age. All of them were about a strange woman she had never seen before. The woman was tall and regal; she seemed to radiate
power. The dreams were vivid, like she had stepped inside a color TV. Every thing was three-dimensional. Willow was just an audience; she could only observe, even when she wanted to help the woman in the dreams. It
didn't seem to matter what happened in the dream; even if she was just watching the woman sit there it exhausted Willow. Suddenly she realized she had drifted off right in front of the computer. <Oops! > Cordelia had gone from looking worried to outright alarmed.
"Are you sure you're ok?" Cordy's voice sounded genuinely worried.
"I'm fine; I just need to get something to eat," she smiled weakly and shut down the computer," I got everything you needed anyway."
Cordy had called two
days ago to nervously ask Willow if she could came bail her out since Angel
had abruptly left town to pursue a nasty child porn case. This left
Cordy to deal with a regular client who needed someone
discreetly checked out. Her computer skills didn't cut it so she had bitten her lip, pretended to be nonchalant, and called "net-girl".
They turned off the lights and left; Cordelia looked decidedly unconvinced.
Night and the next morning_
She was in a forest
this time. It was daylight but heavy tree growth and drizzling rain
cut the light down to a soft glow. The air was fresh and sweet smelling.
Willow saw and moved towards the cottage she saw off to one
side, drifting through obstacles like a ghost. <Maybe I'm a ghost here. Wherever here is. > The woman was not in the cottage although there was food on the table and a small fire on the grate. There were also books, in
many languages, which struck Willow as odd, given the setting. Everything looked kind of medieval. There were pieces of parchment, partially covered in strange and foreign writing, scattered beside the food on the table.
< I have to find her. >
She felt the woman
come closer and left the cottage to find her. The woman wasn't far.
Looking at her confirmed the young witch's thoughts of the medieval.
She was wearing a long shirt and a lace-up vest; her hair was
permitted to fall loosely down to her shoulders. It was longer than in the last dream. The woman was watching a dark-haired young boy play in the woods, pretending to be a warrior. Willow felt herself begin to fade away. The dream was ending. As the forest blurred out of sight she felt the woman think a single word, a name <Duncan>.
Willow opened her eyes
to sunlight. <Morning already? These dreams seem so short. >
Cordelia was still asleep so Willow wriggled out her sleeping bag as quietly
as she could. In the bathroom she splashed cold water on her
face, but it failed to help. She looked at her face and cringed. Her eyes looked bruised and she was vampire pale. Willow wished she could taken a shower and ease muscles stiff from not moving through the entire night, but she didn't want to wake Cordy. <I kept her up most of the night talking. > Cordy had been missing talking to another girl and Willow had been trying to avoid closing her eyes.
She grabbed a pen and scribbled a quick note:
Went to the agency to use the computer. Promised to e-mail Giles today.
<Getting Giles to learn how to use the email on my computer was an interesting experience. > Willow thought with an amused grin. Fortunately she had done it before finals. The last couple of weeks she had lacked the energy she needed to badger the former librarian into it.
An hour later
Willow didn't realize
that her eyes had closed until her arm had brushed the desk as she began
to fall out her chair. That jerked her eyes back open, but the tired
feeling was overwhelming. She gave in <I haven't even written
the e-mail yet. I guess I'll just have to do it later. > She turned
off the computer and stumbled to the couch. As she curled up she
thought plaintively <Goddess, please don't let me dream. > She
closed her eyes and
gave into sleep.
If anything this dream
was more vivid than the others were. The woman's hair had been cut
and she was wearing jeans. She looked to be as tired as Willow. They
were in an alley this time and the woman was drawing a sword.
<Wait a minute! A sword! A sword, jeans and very modern looking alley --- it just doesn't make sense! Oh, Goddess, where did that guy come from?!> Her study of the changes in the woman had kept her from noticing the other person in the alley. It was a young man with an arrogant face, cocky, and he too was holding a drawn sword. He seemed to be challenging the woman.
They began to fight.
Watching so many of Buffy's practice sessions in the library helped Willow
follow the fight. At first the man seemed to be winning; the woman
was tired and it showed in her slow reactions. <Please
don't get hurt --- I don't want you to get hurt. > Then suddenly the outcome turned as the woman wove her sword in a complex pattern that revealed years of practice and experience with the weapon. The man couldn't follow the
move. And then she cut off his head. Willow didn't have much time to feel shock at what she was seeing. Faster than she could think she felt herself being pulled inside the woman's mind. Then all hell broke loose inside
Angel stood watching
the sleeping hacker. He had come in from his apartment to find the
lights on inside the office. Angel could think
of no reason for her to be there, but he was glad to see her, although
she looked pale
and ill. <What have you been doing to yourself little one? >
Suddenly Willow began
to toss violently, eyes shooting open to stare blankly at the ceiling.
She fell from the couch to the floor and flailed around hitting her arms
and legs against both Angel and the couch. He fell to his
knees and grabbed a hold of her and tried to hold her still. She didn't wake when he shook her.
The vampire felt more fear than he'd felt when he had remembered that he nearly killed Willow when he was Angelus. Suddenly Willow stiffened in his arms and began to scream, and Angel felt himself being thrown across the room to crash into the wall. Blue lightening flashed around her body on the floor; lightening lashed out exploding the light bulbs and cracking windows.
Then as fast as it started it ended. Angel stayed shocked and frozen for a few moments. A soft moan from Willow, curled in a ball in the middle of the room, made him scramble over to her. He gently turned her over and picked her up. She opened her eyes and looked at him, "Angel?" Then she moaned again, her eyes rolling up into her head. Willow passed out.
The door opened behind
Angel and Cordelia and Doyle walked in, bickering as usual. They
took one look at the darkened room, covered in bits of broken glass and
scorch marks and fell silent. Then they moved into the room
quickly with the glass crunching under their feet.
"What happened!" Cordelia exclaimed.
"Did someone break in?"
"What's wrong with Willow? Oh god, I should have made her tell me what was bothering her."
"When I came in she was sleeping. . ."
"She must have had another dream!" Cordelia realized.
"Then everything went crazy . . . Willow has been having unusual dreams?!" Angel said with some alarm. Unusual dreams were not good things for a witch who lived on the Hellmouth.
"Yeah, but all I could get her to tell me was that she was having bad dreams. She wouldn't tell me what they were about. They make her really tired though, all wobbly and pale."
"Do you think she's spoken to Giles about them?"
"No I don't think so. He's been out of town for a couple of weeks. From what she did say this hasn't been happening long."
"Um, not to butt in, but shouldn't we be laying her down or calling an ambulance?" interjected Doyle as he reached out to check her pulse, "Though her pulse seems strong enough."
"My apartment is best," said Angel, turning to the elevator. "The lightening storm makes me think that some sort of magic was involved. Giles will be more help."
Cordelia followed Doyle and Angel to the elevator then stopped with a confused look on her face, "Lighting storm?"
It took only a few
minutes to get Willow settled; she had already shed her shoes and earrings.
Angel picked up the phone and dialed from memory. After a few rings
it was picked up.
"Giles . . ."
"No it's Buffy. Is that you Angel? How are y. . ."
Angel cut her off, "I need to talk to Giles. Now."
The slayer voice went from friendly to cool in a split second. She
still didn't accept that Angel didn't want to be close anymore.
Even if she did have lots of guys wanting to date her. Which is why
he and Willow had kept their ever-stronger friendship a secret.
Willow hadn't wanted to upset Buffy or Xander. He didn't blame her.
Those two could be very vocal in their disapproval, and Willow was still
highly sensitive to
what others wanted of her.
"Angel?" The watcher sounded confused.
"Giles, has Willow asked you anything about dreams lately?"
"Dreams? No, what's wrong? Is Willow there; I got her note saying she was going to LA overnight, but she didn't email me this morning like she said she would. Is she all right?"
"She's unconscious . . ."
"What!" Angel could hear Buffy in the background asking what was wrong.
"I walked into the agency and found her asleep. Then she started thrashing and there was a short but powerful indoor lightening storm centered on her. She was conscious for a moment then she blacked out."
"It's just noon now. Buffy and I will begin researching dreams, and you drive her back to Sunnydale as soon as it gets dark. Call if she wakes up or says anything"
"I will," Angel hung up the phone. He turned to Cordelia, " You and Doyle need to go get Willow's things and get the car ready. I'll stay here and keep an eye on her." They left to get ready.
She didn't wake once during the long afternoon.
Angel brushed by Buffy
to place the now awake, but groggy, young witch on the sofa.
She had insisted that she was perfectly capable of walking but the vampire
had completely ignored her protests. He sat next to her and
pulled her back until she was leaning against him. Buffy began to look very confused, and rather upset. Willow and Angel looked very comfortable with each other.
"Willow, you must tell us about these dreams; they are endangering you, " Giles stated firmly.
Willow sighed and said,
"All right. It began about the middle of finals. They, the
dreams, are very vivid and three dimensional." She described the
dreams and the woman in the dreams as thoroughly as she could. Willow
remember all the dreams very clearly. "The last one, this morning, was the same as all the others until the end."
"What changed?" Angel asked.
"After she decapitated
the man, I - I felt myself being pulled inside her mind. For a moment
I was completely linked with her. I felt everything she felt.
She was aware of me!" Willow was pale, and she turned wide,
frightened eyes to her friends. Angel placed a comforting hand on hers. "She's a real person, Giles! This is so not good" Willow seemed to wilt with exhaustion, her eyes drooping.
"What was the lightening?"
"I saw blue light, but it was like I was seeing several peoples' lives all pressed together on fast-forward. I think it was what she was seeing," Willow's voice was very soft and by the end of her sentence she was asleep.
"Giles, is there somewhere she could sleep?"
"Yes, just put her in the guest room," Giles pointed.
Angel scooped up Willow again and quickly tucked her into bed. He watched her for a moment, and he reached out to touch her face. <She looks so worn out. > Angel turned and returned to the living room. He returned to find Buffy and Xander glaring at him.
"When did you two get so chummy?" Xander barked.
"We've been friends
since I got back from Hell." He realized now that sitting with Willow
had been a mistake. The fact that they were close friends had been
pretty evident. Her friends wanted some answers --- Now.
"We talk computers, history, and magic a lot"
"So you can spend time with my best friend but not with me," Buffy sounded decidedly irate.
Angel figured that
telling that he had nothing to talk to her about, that the thrill of forbidden
love was over, would be a decidedly bad idea. Suicidal even.
He wanted to laugh at the amount that Buffy didn't know about Willow, especially
Willow's magic. He knew from his observations of the last year and
Willow's e-mails that their relationship mostly consisted of Willow doing
things for Buffy. This was especially true lately. Angel
was saved from making an angry reply by Giles, who was standing to one side getting annoyed at his charge's apparent lack of regard for their friend's health.
"We have other things
to think about right now. Willow needs our help," Giles snapped.
He took a deep breath to calm himself. "Angel, I need you and
Xander to go get some magical supplies. Some of them will be at Willow
and Buffy's room at the dorms. The rest you should be able to find at the Wiccan store Willow frequents," he quickly wrote a list as he spoke, referring to a text he had grabbed and opened while Willow spoke. "I don't
think these are actual dreams. I think she is actually linked to someone; I don't know how. Willow needs rest so we will do a spell to block the link. That will give us time to find out what's going on. While I prepare the spell Buffy will go do a quick patrol."
Everyone moved to obey. Giles firm voice followed them out the door, "Try to be back in no more than two hours."
This certainly wasn't
the first time she had been drawn to a pupil, but things were not going
as Cassandra had expected them to. She felt almost completely drained.
<I've got to find this person or I'll pass out from
exhaustion. > The call of this budding immortal was incredibly strong; no effort was required on her part to keep the summons open. Instead she was struggling to keep her head from splitting open , and she couldn't sleep.
Almost a thousand years ago, when drawn to her second student, Cassandra had had to constantly work to keep the link open for three days while she found the young man. She'd only had the initial burst of connection between them to locate him by. He hadn't been a very good student.
She slid out of bed, rubbing her temples in a futile attempt to make the ache go away. <Two weeks and I still don't know where I'm going! I don't know anything about who I'm looking for! > The immortal witch walked into her bathroom, wincing at the glare of the hotel's cheap florescent lights. She looked in the mirror. After three thousand years her own powers could still surprise her. When the pull of a pre-immortal began two weeks ago she had expected visions to begin, filling her in on her new student's life, and she had also expected to find her or him within few days. That would have lined up with her two previous experiences. Cassandra hated going into this completely blind and unprepared. Instead of heading right where she was needed she was traveling west at random, hoping to somehow stumble across the right person and get rid of this persistent headache. Today's plane ticket would take her to New York. Europe hadn't held the person she was looking for.
Not so much as a scrap
of information had come through the link between them. Something was blocking
the draw She corrected herself, <No, it's more like interference.
If it was a complete block I would still be at home
and wouldn't be living out of a suitcase. > The strength of the pull had not given her much time to pack. She abruptly turned away from the mirror and stepped into the shower, mentally preparing herself for her fifth plane trip of the past two weeks.
The next evening
Cassandra sighed; her New York hotel room was almost an exact replica of her London hotel room. The only thing different was the color scheme. She was truly getting tired of hotel rooms. In general, she preferred to pick a spot where she could settle in for a couple of decades and then stay settled. She had managed to stay a lot longer than a decade or two in her cottage in Donan Woods. Cassandra had gotten her fill of the nomadic life centuries ago. It seemed, however, that the Goddesses had other ideas of what she should be doing right now.
three thousand year old witch had known the minute she stepped off of the
plane that New York wasn't far enough west. <Where are they sending
me?! Alaska? > She had used the need to do a little basic
shopping as an excuse to resist the call for a day or too and stay somewhere other than the airport hotel. A better hotel wasn't helping much; she still was unable to sleep for more then a few minutes without waking full of a strong urge to pack and get the next available flight to the Pacific coast. <That should be far enough west! > At eight in the evening, despite the exhaustion that made her want to do nothing but sleep, Cassandra left her hotel room. < I might as well walk. If nothing else, exercise tones down this stupid headache. > She pulled on clothing at random, grabbed her sword, and stalked out of the room, muttering under her breath in a language that very few people alive would have recognized.
An hour later
The only thing that kept her from losing the fight in the first two minutes was the fact that Cassandra had accumulated so much practice with a sword that her motions were almost automatic. Going into a fight exhausted was a poor way to come out of it alive. She hadn't even been aware that she was being followed until a young Immortal had stepped out of the alley behind her hotel and challenged her. Fortunately, the shock of that had forced enough adrenaline into her system to be able to fight reasonably well. <I can't believe the call completely drowned out the sound of the buzz.> She was fighting nowhere near her usual standard, sticking to basic defenses and not even trying to get a opening on the man in front of her. Therefore, she wasn't winning but was uninjured. Her opponent was fast, but he was also young and only moderately skilled. In fact his sword-work was downright sloppy, but as tired as she was Cassandra could only defend herself. The fight dragged on in the snow and garbage filled alley for several minutes without any blood drawn.
to fight offensively began to make her young opponent overly confident;
he increased the ferocity of his attack, using fancier moves that he could
perform only clumsily. The cold had slowed his motions.
<There!> Without knowing it he gave Cassandra the opening she needed. <Let's see if you've ever seen this move before. > He lost his head a moment later. He looked surprised.
Cassandra braced herself
for the Quickening. Then the unexpected happened. As
light began to fill the alley she felt her mind being pulled deeper into
the link that had been drawing her west. She was almost unaware of
Quickening as bits of the other half of the link's mind flickered through her own. Bits of memory, half seen faces and blurry remembrances of events, flew through her mind. She couldn't separate what was coming from the
Quickening and what coming through the link the Goddesses had created. As Cassandra began to pass out she caught a single unclouded thread of identity, which couldn't have belonged to the man she had just beheaded.
The thread was a woman, and she was a witch. <Well that explains why they're so determined to have me train her,> she thought, and then she blacked out.
Angel, Giles, Xander, Buffy, Anya, Cordelia, and Doyle stood in a circle around a still sleeping Willow. Giles had firmly insisted they all take part in the spell, making it as strong as possible. Pungent smoke poured from a small bowl in his hands, filling the room. The group chanted softly until a soft green glow came and went. Once the room was dark the circle broke apart.
"Do you think that will be enough?" Buffy asked quietly.
"It should be," Giles replied, "I believe the link was tied to Willow's magical abilities. The binding will block her powers and, therefore, the link."
Angel thought about this for a moment, considering the strength of Willow's powers. Strength that no one in this room knew about besides him. <Maybe I should have told them, but it's too late now anyway.> "Will it hurt her?"
Every eye in the room turned to Giles. He spoke quietly, "No it won't. Although it might make her a bit uncomfortable to not use her abilities. I am hoping that we will find something in our research to tell us where this link is coming from so we can eliminate the link itself."
"Then let's get to work." Giles flinched back a little from the intensity of Angel's dark eyes and the combination of barely withheld anger and worry in his voice. The Watcher hadn't realized, even with the tense exchange earlier, how close Willow and Angel had become over the last year. He only hoped it would not result in an outright battle between Buffy, Xander, and Angel. That was the last thing any of them needed on the Hellmouth.
New York, morning
Cassandra woke up more
refreshed and alert than she had been for days. After a couple of
moments she also realized that she was still behind a dumpster in the alley,
freezing cold. <Oh Goddess, the pull is completely
gone.> In shock and puzzling over the meaning of its sudden absence she quickly hid the body of her opponent, still nameless, in the dumpster. Sneaking up an old fire escape and breaking a widow lock she was able to get
back to her room without attracting unwanted attention. A hot shower took care of the cold that sleeping in alley in the middle of winter had caused. All through this she puzzled over what would cause the break in the link.
<It might have been
the Quickening. Sharing it like that may have been enough of a disruption
to sever it. She probably was pretty frightened by it too. >
Cassandra realized she had picked up a bit more information
during that moment of shared minds besides female and witch. The person she'd touched was young, barely more than a girl. Cassandra knew somehow that the girl had been aware of her during the Quickening. The sharing
hadn't been one sided.
Cassandra picked up the phone. She was now going to need outside help, and she knew one person who might be willing to give her the information she needed. <Finding her is going to be a real trick without the link to pull me in the right direction. >
"Hello, Joe's Bar?"
"Joe, it's Cassandra."
"Oh, do you want me to give the phone to Duncan?" Music and voices could be heard in the background.
"No, you're the one I need to talk to. I need your help. What do you know about any really new Immortals in Northern America, or people who are under watch as potentials?"
"Um, why do you need the information. I'm not really supposed to just hand it out." Joe's voice was somewhere between suspicious and confused.
"Well, it's is a very long story. . ."
Giles had been, as
it turned out over the following month and half, justifiably worried about
the side effects of trapping Willow's powers. She could sleep now.
For the past six weeks she had been able to sleep without
difficulty. Willow's emotional control and attention span were another matter entirely.
Her abilities, an integral part of who she was, had been tightly bound in the back of her mind as she slept. While it effectively blocked the intense dreams she had been having, she couldn't use magic at all without extreme pain. She had tried once, without thinking. Willow had ended up unconscious on the rug, and she had a migraine for three days. Angel had refused to leave her side for almost a week.
Willow's powers constantly
buzzed in the back of her mind, grating on her nerves and distracting her
from whatever she was doing; her nerves were completely shredded within
a few weeks. She broke into tears for no
apparent reason. Her temper was short, and she would yell, then burst into tears. Willow had registered for a full schedule of classes in November, but only a week into the spring term she had been forced to drop all but one
history class. With her inability to concentrate she couldn't handle more than that. Her closest friends took turns hovering over her. They tried to keep her busy; activity was the only thing that was keeping her somewhat
As the weeks went by
it had quickly become apparent to the rest of them that Angel was a huge
part of Willow's mental stability -- her emotional anchor.
They knew and understood each other far better than anyone else had
suspected. Angel was very open with Willow. Willow knew about parts of his past, ranging from his childhood to the Angelus years, that he had always kept from Buffy. The only time they spent apart was when she was asleep,
studying, or in class. Buffy had at first fumed with jealousy over the strong friendship the witch and the vampire shared. <Why is he so attached to her? She not his best friend, she's mine --- and why is he interested in her in the first place?! > She reflected on neither the validity nor the maturity of her thoughts. Only the Slayer's worry over a rapidly weakening Willow had forced her to keep her mouth shut. Xander had been a bit more vocal in his disapproval, but Willow's second bout of uncontrollable sobbing had been enough to convince him to keep his mouth shut as well. Both of them had chosen to simply make sure that whenever possible one of them was
with the almost inseparable pair. Buffy and Xander never actually talked about it -- they just did it.
Angel noticed what
they were doing, but he did nothing beyond an occasional pointed glare.
He knew that a noisy confrontation would happen as soon as the binding
spell was lifted and Willow got her strength back. Willow, focused
on ignoring the persistent buzzing the back of her head, didn't notice.
It somewhat assuaged Angel's irritation at the unwanted company that everyone,
except occasionally for the Watcher, was completely excluded from their
prolonged conversations. Angel simply ignored the others and firmly
told himself that Willow saw him as a friend. < Yes, we're friends.
She's the best friend I've had in centuries --- bright, intelligent,
interesting, caring, beautiful . . . > Angel cut off his train of thought right there. <She's my friend, and I won't lose her. >
Angel had moved back into the mansion after the migraine incident. Before that it had just been weekends helping Giles research and staying for long talks on anything but magic with Willow. The detective agency was basically shut down, although he still had the property -- Cordelia was staying there and doing bit parts in commercials. Willow spent almost every free moment with Angel. He taught her every card game he had learned over the centuries, and her chessboard always had a game in-progress on it. Mostly, they just talked for hours; he was, in fact, the only one she could hold a prolonged conversation with without repeated emotional breakdowns.
piece of junk! This is not "guaranteed waterproof" behavior!! > Willow
glared at her water-damaged watch and walked faster. She'd dropped
it in the sink yesterday, and it had seemed to be unharmed. It had
stopped, unnoticed, while she was studying at the Sunnydale U. library.
Instead of going home while the sun was still well up in the sky she was
trying to speed walk to her temporary lodgings through a cloudy twilight
that was turning to night far faster than was comfortable. Giles
had insisted that she stay in his guest room, her home for almost six weeks,
until the binding spell could be lifted; he wanted to keep an eye on her.
When she finally woke from the deep sleep that the strange dream had brought on, she discovered that all of her belongings had already been moved --- even her computer. None of their research had told them anything that would explain what had happened to her.
It was beginning to rain, and Willow gave up on walking and ran the final block to Giles' apartment. The windows were dark, and his car wasn't there. <Oh, that's right. Mansion, research. > She walked to the door and reached inside her pocket for her key, letting her book-bag slide to the ground. Then she froze -- the key wasn't in her pocket. It wasn't in her book-bag either. Willow kicked the front door and fought the strong urge to have hysterics. The pitch of the buzzing in her head seemed to increase a couple of notches as a feeling of panic twisted her stomach. <Oh, this is not good. Definitely not good. More in the extremely, horribly bad and awful category. I won't have hysterics. I won't cry. I won't have hysterics. I won't cry. > Willow grabbed the stake and cross she always carried and took off running through the rainy night towards the mansion. Two blocks away she slipped and fell, spraining her ankle. She gave in and began to cry. In the bushes along the sidewalk -- something moved.
"Out so late?" Willow raised her head. She was cornered by two fledgling vampires. Hungry looking fledgling vampires. <But then they always look hungry don't they. Acckk!! >
The rental car appeared
to be in perfectly good condition. However, appearances proved to
be deceiving, and about forty-five minutes after leaving the airport Cassandra
saw smoke coming out the engine. "Oh, this is
just wonderful. Goddess!" She pulled over, swearing in several languages. She'd seen a payphone not too far back. <I should have stayed in Sacramento a couple more days. It was dry there. > Without the Goddess
given pull to guide her directly to her student Cassandra had been forced to spend the past six weeks wandering aimlessly around North America. Cassandra only had the hunch that the girl was in the U.S. and that she had
to go west. It was better than nothing, but she had been looking without success for weeks. She kept in contact with Joe Damson. He hadn't found anything of interest until a couple of days ago. In passing a recent visitor to Sunnydale, having a drink in Joe's bar at the time, had drunkenly told Joe about a girl who he'd seen fighting in a graveyard. Joe was pretty sure it was nothing, but it gave Cassandra a destination to check out.
As she walked, the rain slowly faded from her perception. Instead the peculiar feel of this ordinary-looking town filled her senses. It was an oddly familiar sensation. Even through she had never been there before, something about this place was familiar.
*** Plague was everywhere
you turned in the little village. Few still lived, and those who
did stayed huddled in their homes. Cassandra did the best she could
to help them, but nothing seemed to work. She left the village, following
reports of problems in a neighboring town. Plague was overtaking
this larger town as well. However, that was not what kept people
huddled behind doors. There were reports of demons, vampires, and
evils running loose. At first she rejected the tales, ascribing it to fear of the plague, but every day she spent in the town made her aware of a sense of evil. Then a vampire killed her. Before she escaped the town she heard one of the vampires say the word "Hellmouth" with greed and awe in his voice. She never forgot the word. ***
Cassandra shook herself,
bringing her mind back to the present. That was definitely not one
of her favorite memories. Rain was running down her face and
dripping off her hair. It took a minute for the sound that had
broken into her memories to register; it was a woman screaming. Cassandra drew her sword and turned. Suddenly for a brief moment the connection between Cassandra and the young women the Goddesses had chosen as her
student, missing for the past weeks, flared into life. <She's close! Goddess, is she the one screaming?! > The screams abruptly stopped. She ran in the direction of the now silent screams.
Willow didn't think she had ever been quite this frightened before. It fact, she was sure of it. She pushed to her knees, stomach knotting and trembling uncontrollably. She tried to find her stake, < Oh no, I lost it when I tripped! > The larger of the two vampires began to reach for her; panic overwhelmed the already terrified Willow -- she completely forgot the limits placed on her magic. Blindly she gathered the magic bound inside herself and threw it at the advancing vampire. It whipped out perfectly, turning the vampire into a glob of wet ashes. Then the magic Willow had sent out to defend herself flung itself back at her, obeying the binding spell. <Whoops! Maybe that wasn't a goo. . .! > It slammed into her, sending her down into deep unconsciousness. The slender witch pitched forward to land in a heap on the concrete
"Good, more for me,"
the remaining fledgling grinned. Not a particularly attractive expression
on a vampire in full game face. Attention fixed on his now helpless
meal, he never saw the glistening sword that came through
the rain to slice cleanly through his neck --- he turned to ash.
Cassandra knelt by
the crumpled figure she had just saved and gently turned the girl onto
her side. <This is a young one. Is she alive? > She reached
out and felt for a pulse; it was there, slow but steady.
touched the girl's head, gently reaching out to her new student's mind. <Blocked? Oh, a binding spell. That's what kept the link closed. I wonder who thought of that. > It wasn't easy, but she managed to delicately brush
across Willow's awareness -- calling her back.
<Ewwuooh, the world's sideways. > Willow squeezed her eye's shut again, trying to block out the disorientation and pain. She tried to sit up, discovering in the process that none of her muscles wanted to cooperate. <I must have knocked myself out again, head hurts, I'm still on the sidewalk --- Head really hurts. > A weight pressed softly against her temple, somehow soothing away the screaming pain. For a moment she relaxed into the unfamiliar touch, simply happy the pain was gone.
Then she remembered that second fledgling. Willow tried frantically to stand and face her companion, forgetting her ankle; the offended joint collapsed under her instantly. Cassandra caught her, looping her free arm around the young woman's waist. It was at this point that Willow saw the sword, and her eyes jerked to her rescuer's face. Her green eyes went very wide and her jaw dropped.
"It's y-you! You're real!!" Willow stammered.
<She knows me? Neither of the others I was sent to recognized me! Goddess, we have a lot to talk about. > "Yes, I'm real." Cassandra smiled gently at the wobbly young witch, "Can you walk if help you?"
Willow nodded, "Yeah, I think so."
They stood for a moment studying each other's face. "Where to?" Cassandra prodded, a small grin dancing across her face. Willow blushed, ducking her head, "Um, that way." She pointed in the direction of the mansion. They took off with Willow leaning heavily on Cassandra. The Immortal kept her sword arm free, scanning for trouble as they made their slow way to safety. By the time they made it to the mansion both of them were completely soaked. Willow's ankle was throbbing as if she had broken it.
It took a moment for
the door to be answered, and then Angel swung open the door. He looked
at the stranger on his doorstep with confusion. Then he saw Willow
collapsed against the wall. Cassandra found herself pinned
against the doorframe and sword-less, with a very pissed, game-faced, vampire holding her throat. <Interesting friends the child has, > she thought as she tried to breathe.
Willow threw herself
to her feet, lurching to grab Angel around the shoulders, holding him back.
"Angel, No! Stop! She saved my life --- it's the woman I saw in my
dreams!" When he failed to respond she pulled his
head around to face he. "Angel let her go!" Willow looked at his game face and changed tactics, "I'm wet and my ankle is hurt." She accompanied this statement with a look that would have done an injured, wet kitten proud.
The fact that water was running off her nose didn't hurt. < Nothing wrong with this one's mind at least, > Cassandra thought with amusement as the vampire released her. Angel scooped the redhead off of her feet, concern covering his face, and carried her inside. The door closed behind him. Cassandra stared at the closed door for a moment, torn between anger at being disarmed and left outside and laughter at the child's tactics. She
rescued her sword from its resting-place in the bushes, tucked it into its hiding place, and opened the door to follow them in.
Willow told Angel that she was just fine repeatedly as he swept her past a startled Giles and deposited her in a chair in front of the fire. He wrapped her in a blanket and checked her over for major injuries. She looked at his face, <He gets so upset when he's worried, > and said to him, "you're still, um, grrr."
Angel looked startled, then embarrassed. Quickly, he took control of his anger over her bedraggled appearance and slipped his human face back on, "Sorry." A look of concern filled his eyes. "Are you ok? What happened?"
"My watch broke.
I lost my key. It rained. I sprained my ankle. Got jumped by
two fledglings. Knocked myself out using magic. The lady from
my dreams," Willow pointed to Cassandra, "took care of the second vamp
helped me get here." She smiled reassuringly at her friends. "I'm okay, the only part of me that's hurt is my ankle."
Giles looked puzzled, "How is it that you are conscious after using magic?"
"I revived her," Cassandra stated. "It didn't seem like a good idea to wait in the rain until she woke up on her own. I take it you placed the binding spell on her?"
"You know about the binding spell?"
"Yes, it cut off the contact between us. Why did you do it?
"The dreams were draining
her. And she got caught up in some sort of lightning storm --- indoors.
We worried for her safety." Giles wasn't sure whether to trust this
woman, but she seemed to already be aware of a number
of things -- like magic and vampires. The unusual situation didn't seem to bother the mystery woman at all.
Angel definitely wasn't ready to trust her, "What contact between you?"
the vampire calmly. She managed to look quite regal despite the water
dripping off of her, which was why Giles had answered her question without
thinking about it. "I'm a witch, like her. On two
previous occasions I have been drawn to a student." <Let's just let them think those students were witches. > "Both times I had dreams about the person and felt a pull to the area they lived in. This time I only felt the
pull. " She turned to Willow, who had fallen into a half doze despite her fascination with the woman standing in front of her, "You recognized me when I found you outside. These dreams he mentioned," Cassandra pointed at
Giles, " Were they about me?"
"Yes, they were very vivid. I don't know how I knew you were real but I did." Willow murmured, looking interested.
"The Hellmouth must have scrambled the pull somehow; you got part and I got part." Cassandra looked thoughtful, considering how she was going to train this girl, and how she was going to get past the child's overprotective vampire. <How on earth did the child become friends with a vampire? Only on a Hellmouth; they tend to make events go very strangely. >
Giles jumped on one part of what she had said, " You know about the Hellmouth! How?!"
"I've been at one before; the area felt familiar. "
"You can feel the Hellmouth?" Giles stuttered.
Angel cut in, wanting to get the conversation back to the woman's identity, "First, who are you? Second, Will's dreams were in different time periods, so what are you?" His face said that if she didn't tell the truth, or if she posed a threat to Willow, he would dispose of her quickly.
"My name is Cassandra. As for what I am . . ." here she paused, <Better to just tell them. Strange things happen on Hellmouths so they need to know what to expect around me. Plus, they know what she saw in her dreams. The secret's already been lost. > She continued, not showing the debate running through her head, "I am an Immortal. I'm not the only one, although there aren't that many of us. We don't know why, but after our first death we wake up and never age after that. We are alive. Immortals can die, but we don't stay dead most of the time."
"Most of the time?" Giles queried, "Then what can kill you -- permanently I mean?" The Watcher looked fascinated.
That is part of the Game." Cassandra noticed that this wasn't enough
of an explanation to satisfy either man. The little redhead had waken
up enough to look curious as well, <I'll need to tell her about
this at some point anyway. > She spoke before Angel could. "We don't know want the purpose of the Game is; we just know that it is. In the end there can be only one Immortal. When one Immortal kills another the victor takes the power and memories of the slain in a Quickening. It looks like a lightening storm. We shared one through the link." Cassandra nodded towards Willow.
"Do you have to fight?" asked Willow, leaning forward.
"Some of us try to avoid it; I do, but others seek out the power actively. We call them headhunters. If you are challenged you generally have no choice but to fight if you wish to live. Going to holy ground helps; fighting is forbidden for us there, but that is only a temporary respite."
"Is that why you carry a sword?"
Angel moved to stand between Cassandra and Willow. He didn't like how easily Willow trusted this woman. "What do you want with Willow?" His voice was firm.
<So that's her name. > "I just am just here to train her. The Goddesses pulled me to her so I could do so."
Angel opened his mouth to question her further when the door slammed open and Buffy and Xander came barreling into the room, escaping the rain.
"Hey G-man," Xander flung himself on the couch, oblivious to the tension in the room.
Buffy chimed in, "The rain is keeping the vamps at home, and . . . " At this point the Slayer noticed that there was a stranger in the room, " Um, . . . who are you?"
Willow quickly introduced
Cassandra to her friends, explaining that she was here to teach her magic.
Neither was really willing to extend immediate trust to Cassandra, especially
after she gave a quick recap of what she had
already told to Willow, Giles and Angel. Willow insisted that she already knew a lot about Cassandra from her dreams and truly believed that the Immortal could be trusted. Cassandra thought, <it may be a good thing that
she had the dreams; otherwise, her friends would have driven me out of town. > After several reassurances from Willow, the humans in the room seemed willing to accept Cassandra for the time being.
Angel, on the other
hand, wasn't feeling quite so trusting. <If Willow spends any
time with this woman --- I'm going to be there too! > He would have
interrogated Cassandra further but Willow chose that moment to yawn
until her jaw popped. Giles stood and looked out the door.
"The rain has let up. I believe we should all go get some sleep and continue this discussion in the morning." He turned to Cassandra; "Do you have anyplace to stay?"
"Yes, I have hotel reservations. My car broke down, though."
"We can pick up your
things and drop you off on our way." At this, the group dispersed.
Willow attempted to hobble to the door, but Angel firmly wrapped her back
up in the blanket and carried her to the car. When they
dropped Cassandra off, Giles promised to come pick her up the next day around nine.
During the quiet trip
to her hotel, Cassandra tried to think of a way to separate Willow from
her friends (and the Hellmouth) for the child's
training. The Immortal didn't want to be constantly interrupted by demons or other assorted nasties throughout training. Worrying about getting challenged by another Immortal, with Willow there and vulnerable, was bad enough.
By the time she got to her hotel room, she had reviewed every detail of the conversation that had taken place at the Mansion -- every expression and gesture. She realized that leaving town simply wouldn't work. It looked like moving into the area for a couple of years was the only choice she had. <Living on a Hellmouth is not my idea of fun! > She knew that any attempt to take Willow to Europe for training was hopeless. If she even suggested the idea, the child's friends and protectors would protest. The dark-haired vampire would probably be violent about his objections. Cassandra had a suspicion that, even if she somehow talked Willow into leaving, Angel would track them down.
Despite her vehement
objections to the Hellmouth, she agreed with the Goddess' decision to send
her here. The slender girl was lucky to not have already met her
first death; she desperately needed to be trained. Cassandra considered
various ways to conceal Willow's status as a
pre-Immortal from her friends. <She's weak from the dreams and all that time under the binding spell. I'll suggest martial arts training to get her
strength back. > With a wicked little grin she decided to make that vampire help train the child. Cassandra was willing to bet that he would hover over Willow to keep her safe. As far as Cassandra was concerned, his constant presence might as well be useful. <And if he does that part of the training, they're less likely to guess I'm not here just to train her in magic. If Willow is going to survive the Game she'll need more than magic. > Cassandra thought about the protective way the vampire looked at Willow. <I wonder if she knows he's in love with her. >
Cassandra dropped her bags on the floor , sat gracefully down in the chair nearest the phone, and then dialed from memory.
"Cassandra. What do you need?" He asked in a surprised voice. Joe had called her a few times to pass on possible leads, but she hadn't called him since that first unexpected request for help. It was the first time he had ever heard of a link that pulled a mentor to a student who hadn't had their first death yet. Joe was anxious to hear how the story turned out. "How did that last lead turn out? Anything?"
"You led me right to her. She's alive and still pre-Immortal."
"Good, I was afraid she had died, and we'd never find out why you lost contact with her."
Cassandra quickly described Willow, and told Joe about the unusual town the young woman was living in. <I'm not sure, but I think he's going to pass out. I can almost see his jaw hanging open. > She knew that much of what she was telling him was outside of his experience. She even told him about her flashback. If it hadn't been for his knowledge of Cassandra's own witchcraft and for what he'd seen of Duncan's experience with a demon, she wouldn't have expected him to believe most of what she was saying. Finally, she finished speaking and listened to the silence on the other end to the line.
Joe's mind was reeling. As a Watcher, he knew there was more to the world than the average person knew, but this was beyond even his experience. For several moments he tried to think of something to say. The only coherent question he could came up with was, "You told them you're an Immortal?"
"Yes, I didn't have
much choice. Her dreams made it necessary for me to explain what I am.
Living on the Hellmouth they're accustomed to the
unusual, and they won't go blabbing to the tabloids. However, they are used to the unusual being a threat." Cassandra's voice was calm.
Joe asked, more calmly, "Why did you tell me all this? You could have just told me that you found her."
"I'm not going to be
able to get her to move away for training. Her friends, especially
the vampire, are very protective. They don't trust me
yet. I need you to bring some of the things I left in Europe to Sunnydale. I don't want to trust anyone else with some of the items or their location."
Joe agreed quickly, noting down the things she wanted. She told him that a normal moving company would handle the rest of the things she needed. His curiosity was in full gear; the Watcher wanted to meet the unusual people Cassandra had described. He was also rather pleased to have the Immortal's unexpected trust.
Giles arrived promptly at nine the next morning. Cassandra met him in the lobby; she decided to question the man while they drove. She wanted to know more about the other people she'd encountered at the Mansion.
"That was Buffy, the Slayer, and Xander, a long time friend of Willow's" Giles was consumed by his own curiosity, but he felt slightly uncomfortable around Cassandra. Partially it was because he wasn't yet sure if he could trust her, but he also couldn't figure out what to ask her first. So he was rather glad that she was asking questions instead. There was also something very reserved and regal about her, something that made him feel it was inappropriate to question her.
"The Slayer? I've heard that term before, but I've never met someone who was willing to explain it." Cassandra asked with genuine interest. Her student appeared to have been living a very unusual life, with very unusual friends.
Giles quickly explained the role of the chosen one, giving a brief summary of Buffy's adventures as the Slayer. He also gave a succinct description of Angel's life. "He and Willow seem to have become very close friends over the past year. I don't know why; I wasn't aware of how close they were until Willow became ill."
"So Willow has been helping Buffy since the Slayer arrived here? Magically?"
"Mostly in research, actually. Willow isn't a very strong witch, and she knows only rudimentary magic."
Cassandra seriously doubted that Willow was magically weak, remembering what she had picked up during their shared Quickening. <But he's unaware of it. > Discovering that Willow lacked training was no surprise. Discovering what experience Willow actually had would have to wait until they were alone. Just as Giles built up the courage to ask her a question they arrived at his apartment.
Willow watched Giles leave with a happy smile on her face. Despite the fact that she had slept only a short time the night before she felt bouncy and energetic, almost euphoric. She had a sudden urge to skip around the room. Both the dreams and the binding spell, which Giles had removed last night, had been tiring for the young witch, and now she was completely free of them. Furthermore, she now had the teacher she'd been longing for. <No more trying to learn out of a book with incomplete instructions! Yippee! > Willow bounced happily.
She had frequently complained to Angel, during long discussions on magic, that the spells in the books she had gotten a hold of were only partial. Not only that, much magic wasn't done with a spell at all, and had to be taught directly. The only two pieces of major magic she had ever attempted were the restoration of his soul and the traumatic rescue out of Hell. The second had been successful only through raw luck -- just beginners luck and a friend's determination. She'd been horribly weak afterwards and had told everyone she had the flu. Angel had hidden in her basement, undiscovered since her parents were once again out of town. Buffy had wanted to come over but reminders of contagion had kept her away.
The only other magic she could reliably do was float and propel small objects. A few times she had managed to do spirit walks and peek at other realities when meditating. She couldn't always do it. Last night, even through the binding spell, she had been able to see Cassandra's strong aura. The woman seemed to glow. <She's very strong, and I can tell she knows a lot. >
Despite her own excitement and joy, Willow hadn't missed her closest friend's concern. <How can I convince Angel that we can trust her? I know her. She didn't try to lie about being Immortal. > Willow paused to wonder about this new addition to her knowledge of the weird and unusual. This was definitely better than another new kind of demon. <Though those headhunters she talked about don't sound very nice. I wonder how old she is. > Her mind rambled over various topics, from magic, to Angel, back to magic again, and then finally back to Cassandra's past, carried along on the bubbling energy left in the wake of the binding spell.
The idea of long life
wasn't new to Willow, even if it was an 'unlife' in Angel's case.
They had spoken all night once about the strangeness of
seeing society and technology change around you. He described what his time had been like. His perspective on history fascinated Willow. < I wonder what things she has seen change. >
Willow's thoughts strayed away from Cassandra and began to focus on Angel. He had been so - sweet - when he had gotten worried about her last night. A warm feeling settled around the redhead as she thought of Angel. He had been the most wonderful friend the past six weeks. She knew she wouldn't have kept her sanity without his help. That had been one benefit of the binding spell; it had gotten Angel to return from LA. <I missed him so much; email isn't the same. >
Her thoughts drifted away from his mind and she stared thinking about his dark eyes and occasional smiles. <He's gorgeous. What would it be like to kiss him? > The warm feeling suddenly increased to a tingle that sent a shiver down her back. Blushing, Willow suddenly realized how she was thinking about her best friend. <Bad Willow! Angel is your friend. He sees you as a friend. > Willow repeated this to herself while she resolutely tried to shake the warm, wobbly feeling she'd gotten at the idea of kissing Angel. < Dark eyes. Sexy mouth. Stop it, Willow! > Fortunately for the redhead's peace of mind, the sound of Giles' car pulling up distracted her from these thoughts, returning her to happy anticipation.
Willow was nearly incoherent with excitement when Cassandra and Giles came in; finally, she would get beyond fragmented basics in magic. Then, suddenly, she felt shy as she realized the Goddesses had basically dragged Cassandra to Sunnydale. < Maybe she doesn't want to teach me? >
"Is it, do you, I mean
do really want to teach me? I mean, I'll understand if you don't want to."
Willow blushed, biting her lower lip. She felt like
an incredible opportunity was going to disappear forever, and she had volunteered to let it go. Her stomach knotted, the euphoria dissolving.
Both she and Giles turned to look at the older witch.
Cassandra smiled at
her reassuringly. <Nice girl. Thoughtful. > "If you want
to learn, then I want to teach you. If I really didn't want to do
I would have gone home when the pull of our link got cut off."
Willow bounced a little and her face lit up. " Thank you!" She made a visible effort to calm herself down. "Um, when do we start?"
"We'll save actual
lessons for after I get a house to live in, but if you want to go for a
walk we can get started now." She turned to Giles, "I
would prefer it if you would stay here."
Giles frowned and suspicion returned to his face. "Why?" His voice was completely flat.
"Giles!" Willow exclaimed, protesting his overprotective attitude. Angel's worrying was bad enough; she didn't need Giles doing it too.
<Protective, aren't we. > "Because you'll distract her. Willow will need to concentrate." Willow was already putting her coat on Cassandra noted with a bit of amusement. She managed not to smile.
He relaxed at Cassandra's logical explanation. It also helped that Willow, who had contact with Cassandra's mind, seemed to trust the woman completely. Her belief that Cassandra meant her no harm seemed to overwhelm his instinct to distrust.
As they headed down the street, Willow asked Cassandra, "Where do you want to go?"
"Someplace with space -- outdoors -- and no other people. If that's possible."
Willow suggested the graveyard. It was daytime, and without vampires the graveyard would be fairly unoccupied.
All the way to the graveyard Willow had to fight to keep from skipping. It felt like a heavy weight had been lifted off of her mind. To make things even better, she was getting one of her biggest wishes fulfilled. After a brief search the two women found a small clearing, surrounded by large tombs that would prevent observers. It was a little smaller than Cassandra would have liked, but for a single lesson it would do. Neither one of them noticed Xander, who was doing surprisingly good job of tailing them.
Now that the initial danger to Willow seemed to be gone, Buffy's thoughts had immediately centered on rebuilding her relationship with Angel and reclaiming Willow as her best friend. She alternated back and forth as to which was more important. The Slayer was willing to accept Willow's trust of Cassandra, but Xander wasn't willing to accept dreams as the basis of trust. He knew Angel felt the same way and felt a reluctant gratitude that Willow was friends with the vampire. Angel could provide some impressive protection. But it was daytime now, so Xander crept from tombstone to tombstone, getting mud stains on his knees, making sure that his friend was safe.
Willow nearly started to dance when Cassandra told her that they were going to start with glamours and illusions. The only genuine magic text that Angel had been able to dig up had had only confusing and vague directions on making things appear other that they were. In a number of places the ancient book had seemed to assume more knowledge in the reader than either she or Angel could claim.
"The bond is still there between us; it will make this easier. First, I want you to center yourself. " Cassandra waited a few minutes, then touched the younger witch over the link between them. Willow was calmer now, her mind open.
"I'll create an illusion first. You watch my mind; follow how I do it," Cassandra instructed. She worked slowly to let Willow have time to observe. In the middle of the clearing a gray haze formed. For a moment it stayed nebulous and transparent, then formed into the tangled branches of a large hedge. Cassandra gestured to Willow, "Go ahead, examine it."
Willow approached the illusion, aware of Cassandra's mind at the back of her own. The whole thing was incredibly lifelike. Its branches were even moving slightly in the cool morning breeze. She reached out to touch a single small leaf and then jumped when it was solid under her fingertips, smooth and flexible like a real leaf. A couple of leaves fell to the ground as if knocked off by her jump. Behind the mossy tombstone that was his hide out, Xander's jaw was hanging open.
"It's best to copy
an image you are familiar with; if someone is going to look at the
illusion closely you need to get the detail right. The clearer
the image is in your head, the better the illusion will be. I find these kind of magics are good for concealment or distraction."
"It, it's solid," Willow's voice shook, "I thought illusions didn't have substance."
"They don't, I shaped
the air under the leaf you touched. Touch my mind again, and I'll show
you." The lesson proceeded quickly from there.
Willow's quick mind absorbed the patterns she saw in Cassandra's mind without difficulty. Over the next hour she created and discarded several illusions and cast and discarded a few glamours over her appearance. Unfortunately, the redheaded witch grew tired quickly, her excited energy finally running out, or she would have continued experimenting all day.
"That's enough for now; you need to rest." Cassandra smiled at Willow's look of rueful disappointment. Her student clearly wanted to continue but felt too worn out to protest stopping. "Let's head over to the Mansion. It's close to here, isn't it?"
"Sure, it's not far
at all. I can't wait to tell Angel about this" Willow bubbled, some
energy returning at the thought of telling her friend about
her exciting morning..
Xander continued to follow them as soon as his legs, numb from kneeling behind that tombstone, would permit him to. He caught up with them just as Angel let them in. Picking a spot near a window he settled in to continue listening.
Angel was pleased that
Willow was here. He had guessed that Giles would remove the debilitating
binding spell, which would leave Willow free to begin training with Cassandra.
He had brooded and worried about it all though the rainy night. Having
Willow show up, a little tired but
completely unharmed, made him feel much better. He firmly ignored the effect Willow's happy smile and sparkling eyes were having on him, as they dispelled the chill that always seemed to be with him. He pulled her to sit near him on the couch, across from Cassandra. Without thinking about it, he wrapped Willow's slender hand in his. Cassandra had to fight a grin when she noticed.
"Not that I'm unhappy to see you," Angel grinned openly at the redhead, "but Giles said you wouldn't be here until this evening."
The vampire was torn between renewed worry and delight at Willow's obvious joy as she described her morning's adventures. Angel didn't want to destroy her cheerful mood, but he still didn't trust Cassandra. He turned to look at Immortal with his mixed emotions clearly written on his face.
Cassandra decided to take advantage of his confusion and keep him from shifting fully into his protective and suspicious mode -- the one involving fangs. "I would like you to be involved in Willow's training." Noticing that this had only deepened the confusion on his face, she continued, "Not the magic part of it. I'll handle that. I want you to train her in martial arts; Mr. Giles told me that you are quite skilled."
had to admit that he liked this idea. It implied that, whatever else
Cassandra intended, she didn't want Willow getting hurt. It
also supplied him with the perfect excuse to continue spending almost every waking moment with Willow.
"It's best if Willow
is in optimal physical condition for training -- makes it easier
to concentrate and maintain a spell." Cassandra turned her
compelling gaze on Willow, "You got tired far too fast this morning. It's just a side effect of the binding spell -- exercise will help get your
strength and endurance back. I'm also a bit nervous about you living on a Hellmouth -- you need to be able to defend yourself. It takes concentration to defend yourself with magic, and it takes quite a bit of time to achieve that kind of concentration."
Angel liked that Cassandra was worried for Willow's wellbeing. It made him feel much better about this whole training deal. He also remembered that he had been sent help by higher powers before -- it did happen. However, the brooding vampire wasn't willing to let go of all of his suspicion just yet. "What kind of magic are you planning to teach Willow?"
Willow sat quietly during Angel's questioning of Cassandra. While she wasn't happy about his obvious distrust, she knew that it was the only way he would be reassured about the Immortal. Anyway, he was asking the very things she wanted to know herself. That and having his large, cool hand wrapped around hers was incredibly distracting. It was hard to stay annoyed when he was sitting so close to her. <Goddess, he's wonderful. Bad Willow! Think magic. >
"I started with illusions
because they are good for building concentration. <If I keep him completely
involved in Willow's training, he won't be able to interfere -- well, interfere
as much. > "They are also a fairly safe place for a beginner to start."
< Ah, you like caution don't you. > "I like to use illusion for
self-defense since it's generally non-confrontational." Cassandra
noted that Angel's face relaxed just a fraction. <Although that
could have more to do with the fact that he's still holding her hand. >
"We'll move on to more complex exercises, such as matter control and
healing, after I'm sure Willow has mastered illusion and has the concentration necessary."
Her practical, cautious, and sensible approach to training Willow went a long way to easing Angel's worries. The vampire visibly relaxed. Willow quietly breathed a small sigh of relief. <Thank Goddess! > Cassandra once again had to suppress a grin at the intensely protective behavior. Outside the window, Xander was also allowing himself to relax. This Cassandra person sounded all right, and she wasn't trying to take Willow away or separate her from her friends.
talking. <Best if we get all of the introductory things out of
the way now. > "I think it would best if you told me what
magic experience you already have, Willow. As your teacher I should know what your experience level is." <That and I want to know what that major magic I picked up off you during that Quickening was. It was more than the soul restoration. >
Willow leaned forward a bit from her perch on the couch. " I can float small objects and move them, and I restored Angel's soul last year." A look of deep pain flashed over Angel's face. He quickly suppressed it, but Cassandra noticed. < A lot of bad memories there; better move on. >
"Yes, Mr. Giles told me about that. Anything else?"
"Um, well, I've been able to do a few small spirit walks, to other dimensions. I can't do it very well. Most of the time I can't do it at all."
"It takes practice.
It can also be dangerous. I would rather you don't try to do it again
until you are more advanced and we've had a chance to
train in that area."
"OK." Willow blushed a little; she didn't have much magic experience at all.
"Willow I want to be honest with you. When I touched your mind through the link, during the Quickening we shared, I picked up the residue of some major magic. Too big to be even the soul restoration. Mr. Giles didn't mention any other major spells. I need to know -- it will give me a better idea of what your capabilities are." Cassandra was interested to note that both of her companions tensed when she asked this question. The young witch's grip on Angel's hand tightened until her knuckles went white. <So there is something the Watcher doesn't know about. I knew it! ---- Why are they so nervous? >
"Um, there was something else," Willow spoke very softly, almost whispering, and looked unwilling to continue.
Cassandra gave her a reassuring smile, "Whatever you tell me doesn't have to go beyond this room if you don't want it to."
Outside Xander strained to hear everything. <Willow, my Will, has another secret! What now! As if being best friends with Deadboy wasn't bad enough. >
Willow looked at Angel, took a deep breath, and then stumbled back into speech. "I um, I was the one, uh . . . Angel didn't get back from Hell on his own. I brought him back."
help it, her jaw dropped. "You went to Hell -- and came back
-- and you lived through it!! > Her normally clam voice shook.
The Immortal was in shock. This was a bit more than she had expected to hear. "How?!"
"Well, I found part
of a spell on the Internet, and I was able to find the rest of it in one
Giles' books. It seemed fairly simple, so I tried it. I
don't really remember much after the first couple of minutes -- it's a big blur. When I came to here, Angel was back and still unconscious. Everyone was out of town, so I was able to get him to my house. I hid him in the basement and told everyone I had the flu. I tied Angel up until he was sane again." This entire speech was given in a soft, wavering voice. This had clearly been a frightening time for the young woman.
<You shouldn't have tried that alone, child. Why did you? > Cassandra thought.
"Why didn't you tell anyone?" The Immortal kept her voice gentle and non-judgmental.
Angel chose to be the one to answer. Cassandra was surprised to see blood tears hovering in his eyes. "Angelus caused a lot of pain when he was free. The others were just as likely to want me dead. Willow risked more than Hell itself when she came after me. Her friends reacted poorly to my return."
Willow dropped Angel's hand and turned to hug him fiercely. His voice had been full of guilt over the trouble he'd caused her. The first couple days after his reappearance was discovered had been brutal. Her friendships with Buffy and Xander had nearly ended, and Angel had nearly been staked several times. Then he had saved Giles from a demon. Things had returned to 'normal' with amazing speed. Except, Angel hadn't responded to Buffy's attempts to renew their love, and Willow had remained the person closest to him.
Cassandra struggled to deal with her shock. <She just had to be living on a Hellmouth. > The situation got more complex every time she blinked. <No wonder these two are so close. >
"How did the others find out he was back?"
"Oh, Angel dusted some vamps who tried to hurt me, and Buffy over heard some other vamps talking about Angel being back from Hell -- with his soul. She followed him to my house." Willow stopped talking, the expression on her face making it clear that she did not want to talk about that period anymore.
Outside, Xander had fainted.
Cassandra noticed that it was getting dark; the magic lesson and ensuing conversation had taken quite a bit of time. Abruptly, she remembered she still needed to find somewhere to live besides the hotel. She needed to have an address to give the moving company. "I need to be going," she looked at Willow, who was beginning to look very tired. "Do you know of a good realtor?"
"Um, yeah. Why?" Willow asked sleepily.
"I need to find a place to live -- preferably suitable for training and convenient."
"Why not live here?" Angel interjected smoothly. <That way I can keep an eye on you and Willow. > "After all you want me to train her too. There's plenty of room for your stuff, and it's convenient but private.
Cassandra knew he had ulterior motives for offering a place to live. However, his given reasons were good ones, and it would save her the bother of buying a place. It would also prevent the vampire from trying to keep her away from Willow.
"Thank you, Angel; that is a generous offer. I accept. I will see you tomorrow. Make sure you get plenty of rest, Willow." Cassandra pulled on her coat and left.
Angel watched the Immortal leave. He didn't move to see her out because Willow was leaning on him, half asleep. He watched her for a moment, reveling in the patterns the firelight made on her red hair. In one smooth movement he scooped her off the couch and walked to his guestroom. Willow had taken naps there before. "I'll call Giles to come pick you up." Willow mumbled a barely audible assent. He tucked her under a blanket -- she was already sound asleep. Before his brain could catch on to what he was doing, Angel leaned forward and softly kissed her forehead. Then he went to call Giles.