On My Way Home


by Anya



"So, you're saying precisely what?" Buffy asked tersely, her thumbnail scratching the wooden stack with agitation. The big bad thingy was getting awfully close to that trapped bus, and as yet, the Slayer had no plan to deal with it before 27 little kiddies became lunch.

Her normal approach of hit it hard wasn't going to work. Anything that was a clean 20ft taller than her height with heels just wasn't going to be daunted by her little lovetaps. And if it snarled at her, with those rows of sharp shark-like teeth parted to let loose the howl, the sheer blast of air would blow her down the street.

Nope. Conventional slayage was not going to work here. That left just one option: Giles magical and supernatural strategic knowledge. The power of the almighty human brain to prevail of demonic forces, the strength of years of study and experience to win the war of good over evil.

Wouldn't it have been nice if he wasn't shaking his head so negatively? "I-I don't know, Buffy." Giles was nervous. The way he kept rolling his shoulders, and struggled to keep his feet from fidgeting were not comforting his Slayer by any means. "I'm not familiar with pit fiends. They don't usually roam the earth."

Buffy raised one eyebrow, still not happy about the situation, but very aware that Giles was leaving out some details. "Oh?"

"He's getting close to the bus." Angel reported, drawing Buffy back away from what Giles hadn't said, and back to the situation. "We've got to get those kids out of here." His weekend visiting old friends was not panning out as it should have.

"I'm open to suggestions." Buffy grumbled, locking down any emotions before the demon could do anything to any of those kids. Odds were, some of them wouldn't survive, no matter what she did. These were the battles she hated most. Throwing herself on a grenade was one thing, but kids? Innocent children didn't deserve to have their lives snuffed out because some stupid fool tried to control a big bad nasty of a demon.

Xander flinched, as the creature chuckled in it's own way, pleased by the hors d'oeuvres presented before it. "Can we move the bus? If Buffy gets past Mr. Ugly, can she drive it away fast enough?"

Angel grunted, considering the younger man's idea, but discarding it quickly. "Not with the damage done to the bus. Engine was pretty much punched out when they hit the demon."

Long nails scraped across the surface of the bus, creating a shrill sound reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard. As metal parted under that touch, the children's horrified screams reached Buffy's ears.

The Slayer was running before Giles' and Angel's protesting calls could stop her. Even if the cost of saving a few children was her life, it was a payment worth making. A local parish priest who knew of Buffy's fight had blessed the knife she carried. It was her best weapon against this creature, and yet, infinitesimal in the demon's eyes.

Fleetly, with speed that was inhuman but divinely blessed, Buffy darted close to the demon, avoiding the tail swinging with a destructive rampage. She knew that the height difference between her and the demon made the battle grossly unfair. But if Daniel could defeat Goliath, then Buffy could take down one measly pit fiend.

Faster than the demon could react, she jumped high, impaling her knife deep into the creature's hamstring, and tore the blade downwards. Reflexively, the pit fiend lashed it's tail, and Buffy wasn't able to get clear in time. The hard scales crashed into her body like a Tsunami wave, and threw her across the street and into a brick wall.

The world went momentarily dark as pain made it's claim on her consciousness. She was out mere seconds, wakening slightly as hands roughly pulled her up and away from the wall. "Broken ribs," she heard Angel shout to Giles. "...need a doctor!"

There wasn't time for a doctor, she wanted to say. They both knew if the demon wasn't stopped now, it wouldn't be happy until it destroyed all of California.

Angel swung her up into his arms, racing clear of the now approaching demon. Somehow, the demon failed to notice him, it's small eyes peering down into the shadows Buffy had fallen into. The crater left by Buffy's impact with the wall was sizable, but the only way it could NOT have noticed Angel's burden was if it wasn't sensitive to Angel as a living or unliving being.

"This is hopeless," Giles said, deftly touching Buffy's ribs to determine how severe her wounds were. "There is nothing we can do. I do not have the knowledge, or the power to cast it back; and Buffy can not fight this creature."

Angel grunted, passing the Slayer to Xander. He was reluctant to release his burden, but in order to protect her against the creature, he needed his arms free. "So we abandon the kids," he concluded for Giles. "And we do what?"

Buffy moaned in protest, not willing to give up the lives of children. Xander's strong arms tightened, preventing her from moving too much. "A witch," the Slayerette offered. "Could a real witch do anything?"

Giles nodded, abruptly turning away from the watching the demon. The fiend had given up on finding it's missing mosquito, and was returning to the succulent little sampler all contained in the metal box. Watching children die horrifically was a trauma Giles didn't need. Hearing it would be awful enough. "Yes, quite. I do wish Willow were here."

Three protests sounded. Willow, fellow Slayerette to Xander, was safely miles away in Los Angeles to visit friends. Protecting her was their primary goal, on most battles, the last thing anyone wanted was Willow exposed to this monster. "Willow isn't a witch, Giles!" Xander protested. "I mean, she's a witch, but not witchy enough..."

Metal scrunched. Instinctively, Angel pushed at Giles, using his body to encourage the group to move away. "No, she's not," the vampire agreed. "But she does have contacts. We need to hurry. Call her cell number. There has got to be a coven in San Fran that can renounce the demon!"

"Indeed," Giles agreed, his pace increasing. Clearing through the rubble the demon had made to the buildings was not going to speed their progress, and as loathe as they all were to abandoning children, far more lives depended on them doing just that. "A coven with a mature, seasoned witch. Innocence cannot comprehend such a creature, and it cannot raise sufficient powers to command a pit fiend back to hell. Willow would be as helpless as we all are against it. She is possible equal to a novitiate, but in no way as strong as a maiden. This is out of her league by way of her purity."


************************


Her skin was absolutely crawling by the time the coach reached the city skirts of San Francisco. The sensation of wrongness made her stomach twist violently. *I've been gone three days... what could happen in three miserable days?* Willow cursed silently.

Despite having slept since getting on the bus, she was exhausted. Her weekend escapes were not restorative to her energy levels. Invariably, she always expended far more than she had just to loose her personal demons. And this time, romping with Spike had really drained her. Physically and bodily, *But, voluntarily!* She almost chuckled, looking down at her neatly bandage wrist.

Leaving the vampire a few ounces of blood had been by way of a "Thank you for not killing me-and for some truly fantastic sex." Some girls left 'dear John' letters, but not Willow. She left a piece of herself.

Her rest had been disrupted ten miles outside of San Francisco. Slowly, the sense of evil had crept through her awareness, until finally it was consuming her. Rather like how talking about fleas could make skin itch, her entire body crawled with a need to be clean of such darkness. Which, in light of her alliances of last night, was almost ironic.

"What is going on? I don't need this on my way home, tonight!" Willow muttered, staring out the window to the south. The disturbance was perhaps ten minutes away. In the darkness, however, she couldn't quite see what the problem was. "I hope Buffy has it under control."

With great determination, Willow firmly pushed her back against the plush seat and ordered her body to relax. "I can't do anything. So chill. You need a shower, sleep and a change of clothes before anyone sees you!"

Closing her eyes, she inhaled and exhaled deeply, struggling to escape the chill in her soul. For a moment, she succeeded. One beautiful precious moment of velvet blackness, where her soul was the only glimmer of light against the backlit of a starry sky that was ripped apart by a bloody tear through the heart of the sky. Screams, a rising crescendo of horror in a children's choir tore through her subconscious, and threw Willow's attempt at calm to the winds.

Bolting straight, she looked again out the window, her eyes staring to the south. "No, no, no. Not tonight. Please, not tonight," she begged silently, her shivers intensifying with each second that the bus moved deeper. They were nearly at the nexus of the evil, it was definitely within walking distance now. *Or running distance. Please, don't let there be children!*

Hastily making her decision, as the screams she had ‘heard' echoed endlessly in the back of her head, Willow grabbed her backpack and inched past her seatmate. The bus hadn't arrived at the terminal, but she didn't care. Boldly, she walked to the front of the bus, snapping her fingers to get the driver's attention. "I'm getting off here." She said, once he looked at her. Eye-to-eye contact, and she could partially control his mental reflexes.

Wordlessly, the bus slowed to a stop, and the doors opened. Willow hit the ground running.

The screams were less imaginary and more real, now. Tearing across the streets in the most direct route she could, Willow let her training in magic take control of her responses. Sensitivities trained in three years of intense practice now reached out to identify the evil and the potential victims. There were kids, the feeling of youth and innocence were flags to her mind.

And there was a Baatezu, a pit fiend. *Shit, shit, oh man super-shit!* Willow groaned silently, wishing her sense of survival was strong enough to turn tail and run. The noble self-sacrifice streak ingrained in her by years of helping Buffy, however, weren't about to allow for the abandonment of children. *Okay, okay... we're thinking.* Willow calmed herself, jumping down stairs quickly. *They're magic sensitive, so I'll draw him out using me as bait. Gee, that's a great way to see my next birthday.* Savagely, she bit down on her already bruised lips. *So, then what? While it's thinking I'd make a great meal, what do I do? I can't attack it magically and win, so what?*

Pit Fiends lived in the deepest degrees of hell. They made vampires seem like puppy dogs, in terms of the death and destruction they caused. Earth, to them, was uninhabitable with all the little fleas on it. Humans made nice meals, but were, in general, great inconveniences. *So how did it get here? What moron would free a pit fiend? Certainly none of the covens around here!*

Dancing around the corner, she stepped into the most horrifying scene from her worst nightmare. Looking down a clear path at a pit fiend about to pluck a child from a bus. *Oh, sweet Goddess!* Freezing for only a second, she ran harder than ever down the street towards the demon, a plan forming even as her legs began pumping. *One way ticket back to hell. I hope you've already killed your summoner, I'm not up to a challenge.*

Pulling one hand in front of herself, she quickly sketched a couple of light protective spells, meant to keep her alive long enough to cast the monster back. Twenty feet away from the monster, Willow came to a dead stop, her feet placed shoulder width apart and arms stretched up in summoning. *And let the show begin!*

The shields Agatha's coven had so carefully taught her to create fell away from her mind as if they were nothing more but tissue paper. The energies and magicks that had infused her body seeped into the world around her, as clear as a fragrant cherry-blossom tree on a warm spring day.

It definitely attracted the Baatezu. The clawed hand froze just above the gaping opening in the bus, and it's incredibly ugly face swung in her direction. *That's it, big boy. Come and bite this little meal.* Willow taunted silently, now taking large steps backwards. The distance meant nothing, even running she could not outpace the demon, but she hoped her movements would entice it to move away from the bus. *Oh, goodie. I can still out think the bad guys.'*

Two steps shortened the distance between herself and the creature into a mere 10ft. *Oh Lord and Lady, help me tonight! I'm a little pooped for this, but I'm pretty sure you want those children to live!*

Squaring shoulders, Willow drew her power back around her, like a mantle about her shoulders. Head up, she licked her lips one, and the words seemed to fall off her lips before her mind had a chance to dream them up. Normally, before opening any portal anywhere, invoking the protection of the four quarters, and then requesting the Gods presence was done. This, however, was an emergency, and in an emergency any good witch knew to fake the entire ritual song and dance and get down into the actual workings.

Especially when a big leathery ugly with more teeth than it needed was about to breath down your throat.


*********************


Angel had sensed the power before they'd cleared the rubble. Stopping dead in his tracks, Giles had walked right into the vampire's back. "Angel?" The Watcher asked, the nervous tone in his voice not escaping anyone's notice. "Is the demon...?"

"There's a witch down there," the vampire breathed, turning away from the path and jumping back down a few meters. "My God, she's strong!" Moving further away, he scrambled to get a good view of the challenger. The demon blocked most of his view, just based on the pit fiend's sheer bulk.

Absently, he heard Giles and Xander return closer, silently cursing Xander for not keeping going. Giles might be certain that the slayer's own advanced healing abilities would take care of her wounds, but Angel lacked the same confidence. "Who is it? Good guy, bad guy? Can you see?" the boy asked.

Angel shook his head. "Not yet..." He muttered, blinking rapidly and straining his predator's gaze into the fray below. The fiend wasn't happy, the witch was definitely upsetting it. Already, it had moved away from the bus. A quick glance at the vehicle and Angel saw the opportunity they needed to save the kids. "Will Buffy be okay for a little while?" He asked, quickly. "If we move it, we can get those kids out!"

"Buffy will be fine." The Slayer insisted in a rather shaky voice. "Get the kids. Now." The blondes eyes were open now, and the strength in them belied the strength of her body. "Leave me right here, and go!" Her tone brooked no argument.

Angel stripped off his jacket, leaving it around Buffy's shoulders as they propped her carefully. She hissed, despite herself, at the pain of her ribcage, but offered no other complaint. Silently, her eyes begged him to hurry.

Giles was already moving down the rubble, taking a great deal less care on his descent that he had on climbing up. Nodding quickly to Xander, Angel just began to throw his body down, indifferent as to whether he hit ground or not. With his superior strength, endurance and energy, he was past Giles and at the bus in minutes.

"Come on... Go! Go! Go!" He shouted at the kids, ripping the doors open. They were perhaps, ten or eleven. Based on the various clothing and bags, Angel was willing to guess that a school trip had been their reason for being out so late in the evening. The driver, and teacher up at the front of the bus were already dead, likely from impact.

Like a river, they flooded out of the bus, guided by Giles and Xander up towards the Slayer. Nimble little bodies with the passionate survival instinct rose like a flood, sweeping over the rubble of buildings and into the safe recesses behind.

Looking up after the kids, Angel smiled, seeing that Buffy had struggled to stand and was cautiously leading the kids to safety, with one arm wrapped across her abdomen. Turning away, he climbed into the bus to see if there were any wounded survivors left behind. Amazingly, only the adults had been killed. "Someone was looking out for these kids!" He muttered.

"Clear." Angel informed his two male companions. "Let's get going before the Witch.... Jesus Christ!"

Both Giles and Xander jumped, unaccustomed to hearing Angel swear in that manner at all. A good re-practicing Catholic, in as much as a vampire could practice, Angel avoiding using the Lord's name in vain in the hopes that such small honors would help his soul gain a right to heaven. It had taken Willow the better part of an entire evening to explain his reasoning to Xander, but once the boy had the concept mastered, Xander realized it was a belief he could respect.

Now, to hear Angel swear with such vehemence, Xander turned to find the source of the vampire's shock. The demon was in a rage, this was clear. The way the pit fiend was standing, legs braced securely, they all knew it was about to sweep it's tail in a wide circle. The force of such a blow was tremendous… Buffy was by no means fragile, and the damage such a smacking had done to her was extreme.

But that alone wasn't what shocked the vampire. Peering through the creatures parted legs, they all had a very clear view of the Witch that was taking the demon on. Slender, tiny and young, her shoulders were thrown back proudly, and arms outstretched with palms raised towards the darkened sky. The short black bomber jacket fluttered lightly in the night air revealing a thin strappy top beneath. Paired with a short black skirt and black boots, she was the preconceived image of what a witch really was.

And her name was Willow Rosenberg.


*************************


"Sweet God in heaven!" Giles breathed. "She'll be killed!" Realization created a motivation, and before any of the three men could do more than react, they were running down the street to try and distract the pit fiend.

Angel took the lead, heading straight for the demon's legs, much like Buffy had before. With his head tucked low and shoulders curved forward he had the grace of a jaguar, lithe, sleek and so very fast. However, with his focus solely on his target, and not on Willow, he missed a pertinent little detail – she was casting a circle.

Arms reached high into the air Willow's fingers dancing arcanely and nimbly creating glyphs of burning silver fire. Faster and faster her fingers moved, the symbols spinning out and falling down to the earth like a burning waterfall of silver. Flames kissed the ground and like a gas stove's pilot light, ignited a blinding circle of fire around herself and the demon.

Angel ran smack into the circle, and bounced off an invisible wall. It threw him backwards onto his ass. "No, Willow!" The vampire protested aimlessly. Climbing to his feet, in reached out for the barrier and cringed at both the feeling of the divine in it, and the pure strength of the wall it created. It would keep the demon from further external damage, but also kept Willow trapped inside with the creature.

Giles was beside him, suddenly, the Watcher's hand clamping down on Angel's wrist and hauling it away from the barrier. "It's burning you, Angel. Let it go!" Giles ordered. Xander stood behind the vampire and sucker punched him in the lower back. It lacked the strength to harm Angel, but it did surprise him enough to turn around, pulling his hand clear of the protective circle Willow had created.

Instantly, now that it was free of the contact to the fiery wall, pain overwhelmed him. Giles still held onto Angel's wrist, his tongue clucking disapprovingly as he took a cursory examination of the wounded hand. The circle had acted much like a cross or holy water would to Angel's flesh. "I had no idea she was that strong!" Giles commented, surprised.

Xander stepped away from both men, now that Angel was safe, and stared hopelessly at Willow. "Can't we help her?" He pleaded, fixated only on his perception of Willow as fragile and weak, rather than the powerful witch Giles was implying that she was. "I thought you said that an innocent can't take this thing on."

"She can't," Giles confirmed. "She's containing it, but there is nothing else she can do." A death sentence self-imposed, his words implied. "A witches power grows in stages. A novice cannot raise a demon, much less contain it! A maiden might, but nothing else! Only a Priestess would have any resource of control."

As if his words were prediction, the demon let loose its scream, directly at Willow. The tail whipped around, as the creature twisted, intent on swatting out the inconvenience in front of it. Willow didn't flinch, nor did she stop her apparent chanting. The tail lashed towards her, stretching out longer and longer until it collided with the borders of the circle.

Fire arched as if fed by a blast of oxygen, the heat of the blaze unfelt by the observers. But, the were hot and as ferocious as lasers. The tail cut into the blaze and was seared off and incinerated. The pain, to the pit fiend was tremendous. Throwing back its head, eyes glowing incandescently, it lunged forward with it's scream.

Like a tornado, the air battered at Willow, tossing her jacket away from her shoulders, and blowing her hair back off her face. Still, she stood her ground, her lips still moving rhythmically. Pale skin against the darkness of night seemed to almost glow. The black fabric of her clothing only emphasized the creamy pallor of her flesh.

"What's that on her shoulder!" Xander shouted, leaning forward. His nose hit the circle's barrier, but unlike Angel, it did not burn him, it just kept him out of harms way. "What the hell is going on? Giles?"

Like black ink on a white canvas, a crescent moon and pentacle decorated Willow's chest, above her right breast. Not large, but still not small, it was almost decorative for the simple and clean lines of the marking. "Night-walker!" Angel breathed in astonishment. "She's a recognized witch to the night-people!"

Giles tossed the vampire a startled look. There were aspects of the supernatural that all the books the Watcher's had acquired had no knowledge of. Every so often, Angel would make a reference like this that had no meaning to Giles whatsoever. And, as always, the Watcher made a mental note of his questions, but shelved them for asking once the danger was past. Right now, his questions meant nothing, as they watched Willow battle on.


*************************


Lifting her hands from her sides, where they had fallen after the casting of the circle, Willow reached high into the night sky and tilted her head back. Power laced through her body, reviving fatigued limbs. There would be a price for such expenditures of energy, and already she could see what one of those prices would be. *Why do they have to be here?* She thought in a distant corner of her mind that was free of the struggle at hand.

Controlling a Baatezu was pointless. They were invulnerable to magic used against them, but not to magic used to the environment around them. Containing it was easy, once you understood that concept. A simple circle would work.

The problem was, containment couldn't last forever. Destroying it was really not likely. Since controlling a Pit Fiend was so difficult, summoning another to tear it apart was stupid. Physically taking it out on her own was a ridiculous idea, and casting it into stone, like Acathla would require a congregation of covens or, a high ritual that invoked the physical essences of the God and Goddess. Somehow, Willow was doubtful that was about to happen.

The only way she could see to actually come out of this alive was to send the demon right back to the pit it crawled out of. Opening a portal to hell wasn't too hard, but it did require a mature and balanced witch. Balanced in both light and dark magic – innocence and corruption. *Lucky me, I have all the prerequisites.* The complication was that Giles had to know what such a portal meant, and that she wasn't likely to be in any shape to deal with them afterwards. Her little secrets were about to come out for a full viewing.

The creature's tail swung wide, and Willow's eyes narrowed. Much like a human would to a fly, the Pit Fiend was trying to swat her out. Unlike a fly, though, Willow wasn't so defenseless. As the tail crashed into the circle's boundaries, the godfire incinerated it, blowing ash back to the ground as harmlessly as a spring shower.

The demon howled in pain, and the onslaught of its scream felt much like being in a wind tunnel. It took such strength to not be blown away, and to not falter in her spell-casting. The slightest error would trap her in hell too. Angel had suffered so greatly in the outer circles of Hell, so much so that Willow really didn't want to find out what the inner circles looked like on a personal level.

Focusing only on her spellwork, she hoped that her personal protections would keep her uneaten long enough to finish. The foundation was set. Anchoring the gate to the circle gave her a ticket back and a connection to her world. The problem with battle magic was that you didn't have the safeties and preparations that went into a structured casting. Normally, something like Stonehenge, or twin pillars of quartz were used as anchors. Using the circle itself was somewhat of a footloose risk, but Willow had to believe it would work.

Now came the challenge of opening a link between earth and hell. This was where innocence faltered. An innocent, a true unblemished soul, could not begin to reach out, touch and hold fast to the dimensional differences between earth and hell. Only an experienced mind could do that, which is why normally only coven elders worked this kind of magic. *Can't look anyone up, right now. I'll just wing it, and apologize later.'*

Seren, the local coven High Priestess, absolutely went wild when Willow did things beyond her range. The concept that devoted study, and practice of those lessons learned just to keep the good guys winning were the forces that pushed Willow forward. It wasn't a gift, in Willow's mind, or an aptitude for magic. More, it was a necessity to learn and learn it well that made her achievements so hallmark.

Unfortunately, it also enticed the younger coven members to take risks they weren't ready for, thinking that if a non-traditional Wiccan could do it, so could they.

Touching a bit of hell, like what Willow was, would have fried their brains and invited a demonic possession. *I wonder if that's how the first vampire was made?* Willow absently thought, spinning her fragment of hell into a small vortex. *Gotta look into that.*

Fingers curled, creating an imaginary spiral in the air. In her minds eye, that spiral twisted, turning faster and faster until it was a tangible presence. Casting it in the center of her sacred circle, Willow prepared to expand it.

The Pit Fiend screamed, sensing now what it was the Witch was doing. It wasn't utterly stupid, but a non-offensive attack did confuse it. Realizing that this nice tasty world was about to slip from its grasp, it lunged directly at Willow. A massive clawed forelimb reached down, wrapping around Willow's body and pulled tight.

The darkness was her first warning, so caught up in her castings as she was. Opening her eyes, she looked up just as the hand closed about her. *Oops!*


************************


"WILLOW!" Xander screamed at the top of his lungs, fists pounding into the circle's wall. "It's killing her! NO! Someone stop it! Stop it!"

Giles pulled Xander back, surprisingly strong arms steadying the younger man. "Stop it!" The Watcher shouted. "You're not helping her if you kill yourself trying to break a circle!" Giving Xander a quick shake, he was startled when the boy's body went limp. Head rigid, Xander stared straight across at where Willow had been.

Looking up, Giles felt his jaw fall open in surprise too.

The silver fire of the circle was nothing to the explosion of blue-white light that erupted in the creatures hand. Tearing through the limb as if it was a simple snowflake, the nimbus grew brighter and brighter.

Howling yet again, the pit fiend fell back, retracting it's wounded hand and cradling it against it's body. It took two great steps backwards, away from the witchling that was causing such pain.

To Giles, Xander and Angel's surprise, Willow emerged from the creature's shadow unscathed. "My heavens!" Giles breathed, astonished. Like a Goddess rising from an ocean, Willow's true power revealed itself. Her street clothing melted away in the glowing nimbus surrounding her, leaving a simple white shift. Barefoot, her hair falling loose down her back, the redhead seemed not like a sweet naïve child, and more like an exotic and powerful wisewoman. "I had no idea!" Giles continued.

"Giles?" Xander's voice had the tremulous quiver of a person in shock. "I…" The confusion was apparent. Even Angel's face reflected great confusion and tremendous surprise.

"She's a witch," Giles simply said. The words alone couldn't convey what he wanted to say. "A Priestess of a coven, perhaps. I never thought anyone so young could rise so far…."

Unspoken went what they were all thinking. Somewhere, somehow when no one was looking, Willow had lost her innocence and naivete. The girl they saw every day was a façade to the woman beneath.

"She's sending it back to Hell." Angel summarized, feeling the prickly sensation of an opening to Hell. Unlike the Hellmouth, however, he could also feel the rigid control and temporary nature of this portal.

Giles flinched, startled. His jaw opened, and closed. "Dear sweet God. What has that child been mucking with?"


********************


"Grant this Release!" Willow intoned formally, her voice rising as if in song. Poignant, deep it was like a rich wine. "Witness me!"

The vortex was maturing, about ready to physically manifest. "I am standing subservient, grant this world peace!" Throwing her head back, Willow welcomed the passions of her chosen God and Goddess to infuse her.

The vortex erupted full grown as power flowed into her and then outwards. Bare arms snaked upwards, an exotic dance with minimal movement, and spread wide into a ‘v'. As if that were a sign to begin, the portal unleashed it's vacuum, pulling the creature in.

Surrendering to the divine powers that consumed her, the pleasure enough to destroy an inexperienced mind, Willow let the Gods anchor her to this world, and was able to resist the suction into Hell.

The air cleared about her, as Baatezu shrieked it's last protest before disappearing. Opening her eyes, Willow gazed blankly at the churning vortex, the violent colors in it a fine representation of the horrors of the creature's natural habitat.

Leaving the portal open too long was to invite more monster's into Earth, Willow knew. Despite the struggle to free herself from the ecstasy of divine communion, she pulled her mind clear. Amazingly, as hard as it was to open a controlled portal, it was ridiculously easy to collapse it.

Reaching wide with her mind and magic, Willow shepherded the strains of magic that fed the portal, keeping it alive and pulled them back into herself. Tense like a guitar string, they snapped beautifully and the vortex fell in upon itself, dwindling to nothingness in mere seconds.

The urgency was gone now, and Willow felt the adrenaline leave her body. Quickly, before she made any mistakes, she made quick reparations of thanks to her circle's guardians, and dismantled the circle. Power flitted away in a rush, leaving her weak-kneed. "Tomorrow is going to hurt," she predicted softly.

Breathing carefully, trying to keep black spots from clouding her vision, Willow was startled when warm arms slid about her body, pulling her up. "Willow! Oh my God, Willow! Are you okay?" Xander's voice filled her ear. Pulling her tighter, he failed to notice her rather scanty clothing, he was so far gone on making sure she was real.

"Peachy, I'm tired. Can I go home now?" Willow muttered, pulling away from Xander. Looking over his shoulder, she watched Giles and Angel's steady approach. *Uh-oh.* Vampires could sense another vampire's presence without much difficulty. Willow just hoped that vampires couldn't sense another vampire's fingerprints on a human. Having Angel figure out that she had just returned from a frolic with a vampire, much less Spike, would not be good.

The illusion of who she was had serious cracks in it, right now. That would be the straw that shattered the camel's back. They expected a meek, quiet, mousy Willow whose idea of adventure was a new webpage. It was safe, easy, simple and utterly boring. It was also the hardest life to live… walking two separate paths but keeping one hidden. Unbidden, Spike's words slipped through her mind. *So why do you bother being what they expect, then?*

"Shuddup." Willow muttered, unintentionally aloud.

"Willow?" Giles spoke, wondering who the girl was talking to. "Are you alright?"

A long night was about to get much longer. She could just feel it. "Marvelous," Willow replied dryly, studiously avoiding Angel's eyes. "A little on this side of exhausted, but just marvelous. I didn't burn my brain out, the hands and feet all work. I can still do algebraic equations, and have no fear of a computer… can we go home now? I was on my way home to bed when I got sidetracked."

The three men exchanged quick glances, all making the same conclusion. Despite their abundant questions, Willow was definitely not in any mood to answer them. Prudence being their best course, irritating a very tired and very powerful witch was not a good idea.

"Yeah, sure," Xander answered soothingly. Wrapping one arm across her alarmingly bare shoulders, he pulled her towards the other end of the street. "We just have to go find Buffy and the kids, and then we can go."

Willow looked up, suddenly remembering the children she had risked her life for. "The kids! Oh! Are they okay?" She asked anxiously, looking to Giles, Xander and then, finally, Angel.

Angel smiled, the kind of expression that was like a little boys wistful expression on Christmas Eve. "Fine," he promised. "None were hurt, and they scampered away faster than you'd believe!"

Wearily, Willow smiled. In distracting Baatezu, she'd given no further thought to the children. Hopefully, that didn't make her a bad person. *Just a tired one!* After the risks she'd taken these past few days, adding bad karma to the mix was the last thing she needed. "Thanks for getting them out!"

"Doing our duty, ma'am,." Xander droned comically. "Glad to be of service."

It took a few minutes, with Angel finally picking Willow up and carrying her up the hill as her fatigue slowed her down, before they found Buffy and the children. The Slayer was sitting, favoring her one side noticeably, with the kids cluttered about her. From the way she was moving one hand and talking, it was clear that she was amusing the elementary school children with a story.

Her voice trailed off as she saw them clear the rubble, blue eyes widening dramatically to take in Willow. Buffy's mouth parted in a silent ‘Oh!' as her eyes slid from Willow's wild red hair to her bare feet.

"WILLOW!" A small tornado whipped through the center of the clustered children, barreling straight at the witch. "Willow! Willow! Willow! I knew you were coming! I knew you'd save us!" Before any adult present could stop her, a tiny blond girl with masses of ringlets, hurled herself into Willow's arms. "I told Barron too! He didn't believe me!"

"Dana!" Willow gasped, sinking to her knees as her arms wrapped around the child. "Oh Goddess! What are you doing here? Where's Barron?"

Dana twisted in her arms, freeing one arm to point back into the crowd at a dark haired little boy watching them both. "There!" The little girl informed everyone. "He didn't believe me!" She turned back to Willow, making the accusation gravely. "I saw the bad thing, and I said you were coming, but he didn't listen!"

Willow smirked, amused. The child was a coven child, the youngest daughter of one of the more respected coven leaders in San Francisco. She was also the biggest bundle of energy Willow had ever seen, and was always claiming to have a new ability, just after hearing about it in someone else. A veritable hypochondriac for magic. "You saw me, hmm?" Willow teased.

Dana nodded, brown eyes serious. "Uh huh. Last night. I saw you in my dreams. Baatezu was eating Matt, and then you came and saved me and Barron! And you did!"

Willow looked past Dana to Barron, surprised when the boy nodded confirmation. If the girl really was beginning to develop Sight, it was something her mother needed to know immediately. "I see," Willow murmured, slowly standing. She kept the girl in her arms, the four-year-old child not a tremendous weight to carry.

It didn't take much more than that for Giles' curiosity to manifest. "Second sight, I take it?" He commented softly to Willow. "I suppose these are Wiccan children?" Smiling warmly at the boy, he glanced back at the girl in Willow's arms.

"Uh huh!" Dana nodded eagerly. "I saw the Wisp in my head, yesterday! She left the Hunter's bed in Sanctuary to come save us! I saw it all!"

"Wisp?" Buffy asked, growing confused. The way the girl was talking, it sounded almost like she meant Willow.

Willow's hand clamped on Dana's mouth before the child could condemn Willow's respectable image to a shallow grave. Casting the child a warning look, and making mental note to have a very long chat with the girl's mother, she lifted her fingers slowly.

"Willow!" Barron was the nail in Willow's coffin. "The Grandmother always calls Willow a Wisp, ‘cause she blows in like fairy dust and stirs up trouble. Dana said she saw Willow with a Hunter to Mama. And mama got all red." Turning to Willow, the five year old boy looked up with earnest interest. "Why'd Mama turn red ‘cause you were sleeping over with a Hunter?"

Willow groaned silently, feeling four pairs of adult and knowing eyes turn to study her. *I should have gone to Harvard.*


End

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