Your World In Dreams



by Which Witch

Series: Blood Rain I





1. Nightmares and Dreamscapes

"...

Your servant here, he has been told

To say it clear, to say it cold:

It's over, it ain't going

Any further.

And now the wheels of heaven stop

You feel the devil's riding crop

Get ready for the future:

It is MURDER.

..."



In Willow's nightmare, they were all watching her. She was lying helplessly on her bed, unable to move, unable to speak, although what she really wanted to do was scream at them. They were standing there at her French doors, divided by glass. She couldn't hear what they were saying, but she KNEW they were talking about her. Their faces were horrible: worried, scared, Xander's face was even disgusted. But the most horrible thing was that they all looked sympathetic looking at her with tilted heads, so she could almost hear them think: "poor Willow".

Oh, how she hated when they thought that!! She screamed no-sound again, and tried to move in the bed, but now she was tied to it, and it wasn't her bedroom, and not her French doors, and everyone was looking from the other side, behind a large window. She could see now that Buffy was crying. For her. Crying big red tears of sympathy. Her lips were saying: oh, why Willow? Why not me? It's all my fault, all me meme! And everyone but Xander started crying too weeping multicolor tears and touching Buffy's shoulder in sympathy Willow wanted to tear their faces off.

Suddenly, they all got closer to the window, to have a better look. Giles adjusted his glasses, then smiled at her attempt to be free of the restrains. He remarked something and they all smiled and laughed. Accept Xander. He was still disgusted.

Great sadness took Willow over. Loneliness that almost choked her. She started to cry. She knew with out any shadow of a doubt that soon she will be dead. The sympathetic and patronizing looks will eat her up from the inside out. There was no escaping and they were not going to help her. Why? You're my friends! Help me! Get me out of this!

All they did was to move to the right of the window, to make room for two others to joined and watched. Willow stared at them and panicked: Spike and Drucilla!!! No, no, get them out of here! They'll kill me, eat me up!! Buffy was still laughing, she didn't notice them standing there, but Willow started to believe that she wouldn't have done anything even if she did notice. She wouldn't stake them. She wouldn't do anything to help.

"OZ!" she yelled. Oz would help her. Oz loved her, he will get her out of this. "Oz help!" but her boyfriend looked at her with a confused look in his eyes "Me?" he said, "I'm not even IN this dream." And to her great panic, he dissolved in front of her eyes.

Spike and Drucilla stood hand in hand in the middle of the group laughing and looked in. Drucilla was looking very strange, not really like she was suppose to look. For one, she wasn't a brunet anymore, she was a redhead. Willow shook her head in confusion and fear, and the laughter got worse. Cordelia had to practically hold on to Angle to keep herself from falling with laughter. Even Xander cracked a smile a disgusted smile. The only one not laughing was Spike. He was dead serious when he got his face as close to the window as possible. He got closer and closer and suddenly his monster face was right above hers, getting inches away from her, no glass to come between him and her shivering neck, and she could feel the breath she knew he's not suppose to have on her face as he said:

HELL! ISN'T SHE DEAD YET?!?

Then just the laughter, that terrible sound, and drainage her body draining until there was no feeling in her limbs, no thought in her head, no consciousness accept life being sucked away from her and unbelievable undefeatable never-ending loneliness.

Then she was dead and nothing mattered anymore.



Lyrics: "THE FUTURE" by Leonard Cohen (from "The Future")



2. Doing it right

"Are you sure you're doing this right?"

"Yes, I'm quite sure"

"O.k. but. Maybe you're missing something How can you tell?"

"I can tell because I've done this demon-test dozens of times and always got a truthful result now, u-unless you think you can do this better then me, I suggest yougo back to class or something"

"I don't have any more classes today, and you must be doing it wrong!"

"Now, listen, you better find something to do away from me, since I haven't got time for this!"

"Wow!" Buffy said from the library door "You even got Giles pissed!"

Willow frowned angrily "I don't know what you're talking about" she said hotly and set on a desk, arms folded.

Buffy came up to her and threw her school bag on the polished wood "you've had a stake up your butt all day"

"So? I'm upset. What? I'm not allowed to be upset?"

"Well! Obviously we need to talk" Buffy said "the question is - is this a library-talk or a cup-of-coffee at the coffee place kinda talk?"

Giles seemed to be very fond of the last suggestion "would you mind? She's been driving me up the wall with this- this- demon test who shows no demons"

"Glad to!" Buffy said happily, pulling Willow off the table. If there wasn't any demon activity, she had no business being in the library, where any minute now Giles can remember she needs a bit of training. She much rather be sitting at the coffee place, thank you very much.

"O.k. then!" Willow was continuing the theme she started that morning "I know when I'm being thrown out of the library!"

And she pouted all the way to the coffeehouse.

"So, what's the deal, Will?" Buffy was obviously in a good mood.

"Oh, I'm just being stupid and paranoid, I guess. I had a dream"

Buffy's eyebrow shot up "Wow, was it a prophetic kinda dream?"

"No I don't think so well, I hope not! This dream was more on the nightmarish side" Willow then busied herself on stirring the coffee. She didn't usually drink coffee at all, but it seemed like today she needed it. It also seemed like no amount of coffee in the world can make her less tiered.

"Well, are you going to tell me about it or not?"

"Am I don't know how to describe it it wasn't like the usual hellmouth- flashback nightmares I sometimes have. It didn't have a specific plot. Just this feeling that... well, when I woke up I was sure I was - " Willow glanced at Buffy for a second, then got closer to her friend's face, whispering: "Buffy, I woke up and I thought I died I was sure I was dead!"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean I actually lay there a few seconds, completely awake, and tried to check myself you know: Is this another dream, Is this my room, Am I feeling my body? Can I move my legs? Like that."

Buffy said nothing for a minute. What Willow said made her nervous "You dreamed someone killed you?" she whispered back.

"No, there was no actual killing. Just these images, and feelings of, well, distress I don't know. I told you - I don't remember much. Oh, god, I'm so tired" she leaned her head on her bent arm. She realized that even trying to describe this dream was draining her energy.

But Buffy had questions now "Why did you make Giles do that test-thing? Why do you think this is demon-related?"

"Well, there are only two things I can sorta remember. One was this part where I'm on my bed at my room, and I think where the wall is suppose to be there's this big window. And everyone is standing on the other side, and watching me - "

"Who's everyone?" Buffy asked

"Everyone. You. And Xander, and Giles, Cordilia, even Angel. Then I'm not in my room anymore, I'm in a strange bed, and I think... instead of you guys, there are two people looking at me from behind the glass. This is where it got really spooky it was Spike and Drucilla, looking at me from behind the glass and I'm not sure, talking about methen there was this suction feeling that's all."

There was a pause there, the two girls just looked at each other, then

Buffy said: "Oh, man, Will, what are you dreaming about Spike and Dru for?" Buffy smiled, trying to lighten the conversation. "Those demons are so passe"

It worked. Willow cracked a tired smile "I know, how lame is that? I should be dreaming about zombies or the watcher-woman, or maybe those two kids who tried to get us burned"

"Yeah, dream in the now!"

They both laughed and finished their coffees without mentioning the dream again. But Willow was still unbelievably tiered and distanced, and Buffy was still worried when they left the coffeehouse. Could this be just a late reaction of Willow's to the trauma of being kidnapped by Spike that time? Or was there actually something in those dreams? God knows dreams in Sunnydale were not something to be taken lightly. Come to think of it - nothing in Sunnydale was.

***

"Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head

And as I climb into an empty bed ...

Oh well. Enough said.

...

Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head

See, the sea wants to take me

The knife wants to slit me

Do you think you can help me?

..."



Willow was now running again, for what seemed to be forever. She could hardly breath, her lungs were burning and yet she didn't seem to be increasing the gap between her and her chaser.

"Well, I'm a vampire," Drucilla said behind her "I have super-speed."

Willow screamed when she realized how close Drucilla really was. The muscles in her legs felt like they were going to pop, and Drucilla sounded like she was making no effort at all. She wasn't even breathing hard.

"Well, of course not, silly," Drucilla said, "I'm a vampire! I don't breath at all."

< She is so close! > Willow panicked. It felt like the vampire was playing with her, like a cat plays with a mouse. Surly she was close enough to be able to stop her, to catch her all she needed to do was reach out and grab her.

"Oh OK!" Dru said with a happy little voice.

She reached out and grabbed Willow's shoulder, turning her so they faced each other.

Willow's eyes winded. "Who- who are you?"

The red headed demon in front of her didn't look like Drucilla at all, but she opened her mouth and spoke in Drucilla's voice:

"I'm a princess." She said

"But you don't look like - you're not -"

"I am too! My Spike said I am!"

< Dru had black hair, I'm sure of it > Willow reassured herself < so this is not her, and I shouldn't be afraid >

But her breath still got caught in her throat as the vampire started walking towards her, gliding toward her, her deep-purple dress dragging behind her.

"I am too a princess, dammnit!" she whispered. It horrified Willow to realize - she didn't sound crazy at all. "Aren't I Spike?"

Willow's head jerked to the left and there he was, standing, smiling, broken bottle in hand, looking at Drucilla with love-filled eyes. "That you are, my pet, that you are. And YOU!" he turned to Willow, startling her into whimpering. "Aren't you supposed to be DEAD ALREADY?"



Lyrics: " I KNOW IT'S OVER" by The Smiths (from: 'the Queen is Dead')





3. Worse

Locker combination never seemed harder to remember. A complete blackout. Willow tried again and the door still won't open. She took a breath and started again, but stopped after two numbers. Was it really worth it? It tired her way too much. She leaned her forehead on the cool locker door and closed her eyes. That felt good. Yeah, let's do that for a few seconds. Strange - she could feel her body getting ready to fall asleep... breath slowing down... eyes getting heavier in her scalp...

"Heya, Will!"

"Hah? What? I'm awake."

Xander and Buffy, snickering and smiling, leaned on the lockers on her two sides.

"Sure you are. Planning on letting the locker door go in time for next class?"

"Oh, yeah... I was just... em."

"Resting your eyes?" Buffy suggested.

"Yeah. Em... Xander, open the locker, will you? I seem to be having trouble with the combination."

Xander, ready to come to the rescue, took her place by the door. "What kind of trouble?"

"I can't remember it."

Xander gave her a teasing look "It's been the same since the very first day we GOT lockers... way back in 1853. It's your birth date, remember? Date of your birth? Comes about the same time every year, and we all go: wow! It's the same as her locker combination!"

"Oh, yes. It's all coming back to me now" she smiled, feeling better now that her locker was open and she could see her books and her photo of Oz.

"So what was with the leaning?" Buffy asked as they started walking towards class.

"I didn't get much sleep last night."

"Hey, I'm supposed to be the one with all the secret nightlife. Do you know, I barely get four hours sleep every night?"

"And may I say - it doesn't show." Xander commented.

"Yeah, right. What with the patrolling and the slaying in all hours I'm getting virtually no beauty sleep and... this is really not my story, is it?"

Willow smiled. "Don't worry. I much rather be talking about the scary things YOU see at night."

"Wow." Buffy stopped her and turned her so they faced each other, amused mood all gone "are we talking another nightmare?"

"What nightmare?" Xander asked.

"It's nothing." Willow continues walking and got into class. "I've been having dreams."

"No, no. Buffy said nightmare. There is dreams, a good thing, and there is nightmares - bad."

"Ok, if you're gonna use correct English..." Buffy smiled.

"Actually he didn't." Willow said as she sagged in her chair.

"Now, that's the Will we know and love." Xander said and messed up her hair.

"Yeah. Except for the leaning again. See how she does that?"

Willow's head got away from the wood of the table and she managed to sit up as the teacher came in. "I'm fine, see? No leaning, no sleeping. 'Coz class is starting."

"Yeah. We see."

"And damn impressed."



But two days later there still was no change. Willow wasn't getting normal, if anything she was even more peculiar. Buffy was thinking about her friend a lot, and wondered if she should consult Xander about it. As she found out, he was not as obtuse as one might think.

"You're not going to eat all that, are you?" Buffy took a long disgusted look at Xander's tray.

"Yep. I need lots of nutrition after English class. It sucks the life out of me and I need restoration."

"A-ha."

"I'm not kidding, it's a medical condition. I should be excused from English all together."

"It's actually insulting that you're not. Who do they think they are, making you take English."

"Yeah. And speaking of a world gone crazy -"

"Were we?" Buffy wondered as they took a sit at the far end of the cafeteria.

"- was last night the return of the body-snatchers? Because I'm pretty sure - -"

"-What are you talking about?"

Xander gave her an angry glare "If you'd let me get to the point of the joke for

once, then you'd know, won't you?"

She rolled her eyes. "Ok, go ahead."

"Thank you!" Xander repositioned himself on the chair and said with

emphasis "BECAUSE... I'm pretty sure they got Willow." he gave her a look to

mark the jock-point. "Did you see the way she was in class? She had never been like that in my entire life."

"Yeah.. She was pretty weird. I couldn't believe it when she told Mrs. Banks to go - what is it?"

Xander was suddenly looking behind her and smiling tensely. "Will! Hey, look Buffy, it's our buddy Will. Or should I say - "

"Were you guys talking about me?" Willow looked angry.

"Am I never going to finish a joke again?" he sighed.

"Well it WAS my birthday wish, Xander, so we can only hope."

"Willow!" Xander said in complete Shock. She didn't even look like she's kidding.

"No." she said "If you guys have something to say, say it to my face."

"Come on Will, it's not like that. You've just been acting so strange -"

"Oh, I'm sorry Buffy, I forgot you have the monopoly on strange." Then her hand shot to her mouth. "Oh, god, Buffy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that, you know I didn't mean that." she sat hurriedly next to Buffy to make sure she was forgiven.

"What about me? Any apologies coming this way?" Xander asked but was ignored.

"It's fine Willow, I just want to know what's wrong. A few days ago you barely opened your eyes, today you talk back to a teacher and... us...- it's very unWillow of you."

"I know, it's just..." Willow buried her face in her hands "It's the nightmares, make me feel all paranoid and cranky. And a cranky Willow is not a good Willow. I just need a good night sleep." and then she whispered to herself "just ONE good night sleep..."

"Tell me what you dream about now."

"I... don't really wanna talk about it, Buffy."

Buffy grabbed her hand "Come on, Will, It's important -"

"Hey all." Oz came over to sit with them. Willow smiled at him, trying to

feel better for his sake. The nightmare on last night's menu involved him toasting with Drucilla on Willow's grave. The memory made her twitch a bit when he kissed her hello. Oz noticed, but he thought it was about something else.

"I'm sorry I stood you up last night. Couldn't be helped."

"It's ok, I know what the guys are like when they get all 'we're a band' like" Willow said with a smile. "So, what was the big meeting thing about? Did Devon learn a new chord?"

"No, nothing that major" Oz's mouth curved in appreciation of the inside joke. Willow was so much a part of his life now, he really didn't remember what it was like when she wasn't around. Didn't even try to.

"So, what is it then?" Buffy was asking between bites of her salad.

"It's nothing... we got an offer to go on the road, warming up this band."

"Really?" Willow looked at him "that's... big."

"Yeah. But not really. That band sucks worse then we do."

"So how come THEY'RE going on a tour?" Xander asked.

"Well..." Oz caught some greasy French fries with his fingertips "they have a manger."

"So are you guys gonna do it?" Willow asked carefully. She was doing her best to show support, when inside she was shouting: I knew you'd leave me! I KNEW I'd be alone at the end!

"Don't be crazy. I'm not leaving. And they'll probably chicken-out eventually."

"So what does it mean now?"

"Nothing much. More of what we call practice but is actually hanging around Jason's garage."

"Are you going to practice today?"

"No, full moon."

"Oh, right."

"You'll come sit with me?" he pulled one strand of hair behind her ear "read to me some more?"

Willow shifted in her sit. "I don't know, Oz. I really want to, but... I'm so tiered, I really need to sleep if I can. I'm sure Giles would -"

"Giles has a conference tonight." Buffy interrupted, monitoring the conversation closely.

"Oh. Well, then, maybe you?..."

"No can do, have stuff to do."

"Xander -?"

"What?"

"Would you sit with Oz this time?"

"I'm not feeling insulted here, in case you're wondering" Oz said.

Willow ignored him and looked at Xander who still said nothing. "Xand?"

"Well... I'm trying to choose my words carefully. Don't wanna be telling a joke without noticing, upset you or something."

"Oh, common, help me."

"Oh, sure, insult me, don't apologize, then expect me to wolf-sit with your boyfriend."

"Hey, don't pick a fight over me or anything." Oz said, still feeling rejected.

"I'll make it up to you, Oz, I swear. As soon as... I get some sleep."

Buffy looked at her friends as they continued to talk about werewolves and joke about full moons. Nothing unusual for this group, if you don't notice that one of them is actually a million miles away. Buffy noticed, and she was action-girl, wasn't she? So something needed to be done, and fast.





4. Overreacting

"I'm telling you, it's bad"

"Buffy, don't you feel you're a tad overreacting?"

"Giles, Hello? I'm the Slayer. It's not possible for me to overreact. Occasionally I under-react, but that's another story."

Giles eyes rolled towards the library ceiling so Buffy hurried to get back to the point "There is something seriously wrong with her. Didn't you notice?"

"Well, I must admit Willow is not being her usual lively self, but - "

"Oh, cammon. She is practically competing for Zombie of the year. She's cranky, she won't go partying with us -"

"Again, not exactly convicting evidence of demon activity."

Buffy gave him the victorious look of someone who had an ace up her sleeve "She snapped at Mrs. Banks today, Giles." She said in a stern voice "she practically refused to read the assignment. Usually, you can't get Willow to STOP reading her assignments. In fact, the rest of us kinda count on her to go on and on so we won't get noticed. And-" she continued "She asked Xander to sit with Oz tonight. When did she EVER give up her quality-wolf-time? Oz says he feels like she's avoiding him, she says no no no, but he is still hurt, see, that's not normal Willowy behavior!"

Giles sighed. He put the books he was trying to sort out down.

"Fine. So she is not herself. Perhaps there is something em... troubling her. e-emotional issues and such. Perhaps she just needs hmm... Well, space."

"Giles!" The Slayer cried and stood right in front of him, hands on waist. "This is the HELL-MOUTH. Mouth of all things icky."

"Your point being?"

"The point is OF COURSE she's having issues! We ALL have issues! Hell, I'm queen of issues. But this is Willow. She is kind. She is vibrant. She cares about homework like it was a pet. She is not some weirdo sleepwalker who snaps at her favorite teacher. I'm telling you - there's a spell on her or... some other stuff I can't think of. But there's no way this is just the PMS talking."

Giles sighed, again. Then he got up. "All right, suppose you have a point. This is, as you said, the hellmouth. But I don't really see how we can pursue this further. I have already done the test on Willow herself and we got nothing. Maybe if she told us more about the nature of those dreams - "

"No, I tried that. She won't tell me anymore. In fact, she is being more and more distant and redrawn with each attempt we make at getting to the bottom of this."

"So what is it that you suggest? I am assuming you have a plan."

Buffy smiled broadly "Oh, yeah. A very simple one."

"Oh, lord help us all." Giles set on the edge of the table and took his spotless glasses off to clean them "All right, let's hear it."

"Well," she said and started pacing, getting into a lecture mode "we don't seem to find anything specifically wrong with her now, demon-wise. But we know she has been having dreams about vampires, plus the personality makeover thing - "

"Again, I feel you are over re-"

"Giles! I'm telling you. I have never seen her like that. It's like all life is being sucked out of her - - wow."

"What is it?"

"Life is being sucked away from her... Willow says she could remember a very real-like suction feeling in her nightmares. Does that ring any watcher-bells for you?"

"W-well. I can't say for certain. Of course there are demons known to suck life away during sleep but - "

"A-HA!"

"But - " he put his hand up to stop her cries of victory "non of them take their time."

Buffy stared for a second or two. "Hah?"

"I mean, th-they work quickly. The-they come at night, mythology has it, and enter one's dreams. By morning the person is dead. There is no waiting-period. It does not take days and days."

"Oh." Buffy sagged. "Ok. But I still like my plan. I think you should cast a protection spell on her."

"A spell? Out of the question."

"What? Why not? It makes perfect sense!"

"What are we protecting Willow from?"

"Why the hell does it matter?" she cried, throwing her arms up "from what EVER! What ever is coming after her!"

"It is not that simple, I'm sorry. Spells do NOT work that way. They have to be precise, or they just get out of control. And that is not a thing you just improvise. It takes time, preparation -"

"Well, let's prepare, tell me what to do!"

"I am sorry, but as much as I would like to trust your instincts about this, Buffy, I will have to say that this is very low on my priority list. There is plenty going on around here for me to watch, not to mention an extra-Slayer," Giles sighed at the thought of the unpredictable little addition to his duties, Faith. That girl was a hand full. He got up and turned to his office. "We are not casting a protection spell, and let that be an end to it."

Buffy looked at him in disbelief.

"Gee, one itsy-bitsy bad experience with a spell gone wrong and you turned into a complete chicken."

"There's no use trying to tease me, Buffy" his voice came from inside. "We are not casting the spell."

"So, what, we'll do nothing?"

He got out with his jacket draped on his arm "I didn't say that. We should probably check these abnormal behaviors of Willow just in case, keep an eye on. But no protection spells at this point."

"But I want to!" she whined.

"But you can't." Giles said, walking right pass her and through the library doors.

She looked at the door for a few seconds. Then a dangerous expression crossed her face.

"...But I will."





5. What with Amy being a rat...

Buffy surveyed the emptying halls of the Sunnydale high school. The bell had just rang and everyone was in a rush to get to class. < I suppose I should be doing the same >... she thought but then she spotted the one person who could help her, someone she's been looking for all morning. < I guess I can ask Giles to give me a note again >

So instead of joining the stream of students entering the chemistry lab, she made her way towards the end of the hall to where he was wrestling with his locker.

"Hey!" she said with a big smile.

He looked at her suspiciously "Hey. What."

"What? Nothing, who said there's a what?"

"There always is. So, what is it? Are there some guys waiting around the corner to bit me up or something?"

"What? -No! Why would you think-"

" 'cause the only time you ever talk to me is when you rescue me out of the hands of high school Neanderthals".

Buffy felt her face getting all red "Oh, that's not true... we talked... a few times. I seem to remember..."

"Yeah, when Willow was around, or when Amy was... human".

Well, he does have a point there... and he IS leaving.

She rushed after him "o.k. So maybe you're right. We don't exactly hang. But I did save your ass on a number of occasions..."

He gave her a look under his black mascara, which was very impressive.

"And?"

"And now you have a shiny opportunity to pay me back."

"Pay you back? What can I POSSIBLY do that you can't?"

"Well, I can't ask Willow and what with Amy being a rat and all... well, in short..." Buffy looked around quickly, and said with a law voice: "I need you to help me with a spell."

There were a few seconds when Michael just looked at her, surprised.

"Oh" he said finally, then smiled a wide smile that simply melted all the bitterness in his face away, and showed the kid underneath "Why didn't you just say? I can totally do it!"





6. Remember when graveyards were fun?

"...

A dreaded sunny day

so I meet you at the cemetery gates

...

So we go inside and we gravely read the stones

all those people, all those lives

Where are they now?

With loves, and hates

And passions just like mine

They were born

And then they lived

And then they died

It seems so unfair

I want to cry

..."

A big, beautiful full moon hovered low over the graveyard. A light breeze ruffled the leaves on the trees, and everything was calm and peaceful, and creepy, as graveyards always were.

< It's funny > Buffy was thinking < if someone would have told me a few years ago that I would feel completely at ease strolling down the rows of tombstones in the middle of the night... That I would even find this setting romantic, god help me... > she smiled to herself. Of course, it could be the company that makes all the deference...

"What are you smiling about?" Angel asked. Her smile got broader. "Oh nothing much, just... the night, you know, the full moon..."

< That made her smile? > He thought. He was feeling a lot like crying, himself. He sent a quick glimpse towards the blond girl walking next to him and felt it again - a twinge of pain way deep in his chest where his heart should be beating.

The full moon she was so amused with was making her look even more beautiful to him - all shiny and smooth. She was dressed appropriately for a girl on a demon hunt on a warm night, with dark slacks and a sleeveless blouse that gave him a perfect view of... well... everything. That wasn't new or anything. Buffy always dressed like that and he always enjoyed the advantage his height gave him on this matter.

But now, with the circumstances being as they are, with him supposed to be staying away from her, not looking, not touching, not smelling her hair...

"- Anyway, thank you." She said, and he snapped his attention to what she was saying.

"Ah... Sure, any time." Angel hoped that was the right response.

"I really didn't feel like doing this alone tonight."

"Why isn't Faith helping then?"

Buffy shrugged. "She's AWOL. Off to some big party in LA or something. Besides, she's not the problem."

"Why? What's wrong?"

"I don't really know. Things are just kinda weird. Willow's going through something and she won't share." Buffy shrugged "I guess I'm feeling a little left out. I mean, this is best-friend stuff. Why won't she tell me?" she stopped at a big white headstone and leaned on it "Plus, I'm really worried that it's also a Slayer-thing more then anything else."

Angel stood in front of her and put his hands in his pockets so he won't be tempted to touch the strands of hair that fell on her face.

"What kind of Slayer thing? What did Giles say?"

She tucked a loose strand behind her ear and considered whether or not to tell him about her plan for Willow's protection. She looked up at him, all dark and beautiful with his concentrated face. He was such a good listener, she can probably tell him anything and he won't judge her.

But maybe he'll try to stop her, change her mind, and they'll just get into a big fight. Angel and Giles had been known to sometime think a like in the worst way. She couldn't risk him objecting enough to actually telling on her to her watcher just to protect her or something lame like that... she shook her head and looked down to inspect her shoes.

"He says to wait and see."

Angel nodded. "Well, he usually has the right idea."

< Yeah, well, not in this case. > Buffy thought, a little annoyed. And he knew her too well. He tilted his head a bit to look in her eyes. "Doesn't he, Buffy?" he more said then asked.

"Ah... yeah, of course."

This felt too much like lying, and she felt like crap lying to Angel. And felt like telling him again, but then she remembered Willow's response earlier that evening, when she asked her to go patrolling with her.

Buffy thought that if she could just get some quality time with her friend alone, she'll get to the bottom of things, maybe get some more information on the dreams that freaked Willow out. But her witch friend just gave her a cold "no".

"Why not? Are you too tired, or do you have other plans?" Buffy tried carefully. And she could tell that Willow was thinking about an excuse, considering giving her one. It shouldn't be hard. She could say she has too much homework, or that she wants to stay with Oz, this being the full moon. But it seems that she didn't even care enough to say those things. She said:

"No, don't wanna. I have enough creepy-crawlers in my sleep."

"Would you tell me what you're dreaming about, then?"

"No. I don't want to talk about that anymore. And there's nothing you can do."

"I can be a friend."

"I'll take care of it."

"How?"

That was when Willow snapped "Oh, just leave this alone, will you? I know you think you can take care of everything, but this is non of your business, so just stop interfering, ok?"

And she hung up the phone on Buffy, who set down in complete shock. Willow never said things like that to her, ever. And she never hung up on her, or anyone Buffy suspected, in her life.

So now, she was more sure then ever that some protection is in order. And since she herself wasn't allowed to help, that just left a spell. And she was going to do it, there was nothing that could change her mind. Not even Angel, so way bother him with it? Things between them were complicated enough as it was, with the both of them pretending they were just good friends.

She knew he was still waiting for her to say something. She quickly changed the subject, and smiled "well, let's not waist this gorgeous night on talking."

Angel blinked once "What do you mean?" < if she's talking about making-out, god help me, I'm not saying no >

"Let's go catch some bad guys."

"Oh... Yeah... let's do that..." he turned and started walking. Can someone who is already dead die of disappointment?

***

They walked in silence through the headstones. < this is so strange > Buffy was thinking < doing this with him again. There were times when patrolling with Angel was the one thing I looked forward to all day long. Of course, that was because the hunting and fighting were just an excuse for kissing and touching... better not go there. No point in thinking about stuff you can't have. Thinking only leads to wanting. And wanting, well... > she glimpsed quickly in his direction. He was looking anywhere but in her's < better not go there. >

"God, this is boring." she said finally, just for the sake of some kind of sound passing between them. She knew he could walk forever without saying a thing. "Where is everybody? What is this, a vampire national holiday?"

"Not that I can recall..." Angel said and frowned in thoughts. Buffy laughed

"I was kidding, god, you got to learn to lighten up, Angel."

He smiled at her and tried to relax, but the impulse to touch her was gaining on him. He needed distance. "Maybe we should call it a night. Go home, get some... sleep. Nothing much is happening here anyway."

"Yeah, I guess so." she said. Spending the night walking with Angel wasn't as much fun as it used to be. No point on drugging this out. No point at all.

And so they walked out of the graveyard, but only managed a few steps out of the gate, when Angel's head suddenly turned. He was looking down the street, towards the small park that surrounded Sunnydale's 11th cemetery.

Buffy felt how his entire being is coming to life. Something was wrong.

"What?"

"Can't you smell that?"

"Obviously not." She said in annoyance, and found herself staring at his back as he hurried to the woods. She soon caught up and was running beside him.

"What is it? What do you smell?"

"Blood."

".... Blood." she repeated.

"Lot's of it. And also... death."

"Well, this IS a cemetery." She panted as they reached the trees and got into the shadows.

"This is fresh." Angel said. Buffy felt her skin crawling. She quickened her step. Which is why she slammed so hard into him when he suddenly stopped.

"Angel, what? - -"

But she saw.

Couldn't breathe.

Her eyes winded, her hand shot to her throat. At first, her mind couldn't take it all in. at first, all she saw was flashes of images:

A girl. Naked. On the ground. Her hands and legs spread. Three candles - one over each shoulder, one between her knees. A circle made out of stones and corals. Symbols drawn in red... blood. All over the girl, all over the ground. So much blood... she couldn't breathe. Couldn't move, couldn't stop staring at the horrible scene.

"Angel..." she whispered after what seemed to be forever "what is this?"

"I would have to say murder."

"Yes." she clenched his hand "and also..."

"Rape."

He heard her take in a sharp breath. He knew she could see it too, but she still couldn't face that conclusion.

"Oh, no no. This can't be..." Buffy's trembling fingers went through her hair "I know this girl... oh, my god, I know her... how could this have happened - I was just a few feet away... oh, no..."

"You know her? How?"

Angel watched in increasing fear how she turned into a complete mess in front of him. She hugged herself and almost fell to her knees.

"H-her name is Mary Hannigan... she goes to school with us."



Lyrics: "CEMETRY GATES" by The Smiths (from 'The Queen Is Dead')





7. A heap of rubbish

Buffy didn't know how she managed to get away from that bloody place

between the trees. Didn't know how she got to the street, how she got to the

phone. She was numb all over.

Murder. Murder. Murder... the word kept repeating in her mind. And something else, the other word, the 'also', the word she didn't want in her mind.

She called Giles. Could hardly speak. All she could say at first was that she found something, that it was horrible. So horrible. Angle eventually took the phone from her cold hands and explained.

Giles came over, Xander and Willow came too. By that time Angel had already covered the body of the young girl. And still, everywhere there was blood, and the clear evidence of a ritual.

As soon as Giles got there Buffy took a few steps back and let him do his thing. Angel, Xander and her stood close together as him and Willow surveyed the signs and mystical drawings on the ground and trees.

The silence was deafening.

Eventually they stopped, joined the others. Giles looked tired, Willow just looked detached.

"Well?" Xander asked "what do you make of all this?"

Willow shrugged "I don't get it." She looked at Giles but he was lost in thoughts still, so she continued "I recognized some of this stuff. That one over there is the sign for Tihamath worshipers, which is a cult I thought hasn't existed for thousands of years -"

"Tihamath? What the HELL is that?"

"A... Em... death and chaos goddess of ancient times. One of the first goddesses ever to exist actually." Giles jumped in. he seemed impressed at the knowledge Willow exhibited "and it hasn't been worshiped, as far as we know, since the days of the Bible." He gestured at Willow to continue.

"Well, this one over there with all the arms is the sign for Kaily, also goddess of death. The candles-triangle is similar to a ritual Wiccas use for soul catching. That's all I recognize. And I don't get it."

"Wow, it must be powerful stuff then" Xander whispered. He already was starting to dread what lies a head.

"Actually," Giles said, "it's a heap of rubbish."

Four sets of bewildered eyes rested upon him. "Say what?" Buffy asked.

"Willow does not get it because it makes no sense. There is no connection. This is somewhat of a- a- well, mishmash of mystical and cultural symbols."

"So, this person is taking a little out of everything to make his magic?"

Giles shook his head "You don't follow. Understand this, spells are a lot like an electrical current, the energy, you see. In order for it to work some kind of a circle must be closed... the, em, spell should be completely accurate, or it will not be more then a batch of, well, symbols and signs. And that is what we have here."

"Oh." Buffy's fingers were in her hair again "oh. So, this was not witchcraft at all?" she looked at Giles. "This is what you're telling me, right? Who ever did this - the PSICHO who did this to her thought he was playing around with cool magic stuff? He thought he was performing some kind of an occult-type ritual, and he killed and he - he -" she couldn't make herself say it "-did this to Mary just cause he's a... freak... oh, I can't take this, I really can't."

Xander's eyes widened and he looked totally freaked at what Buffy had said "No, no. That's not what he means... it's not what you mean, Giles, right?"

"I'm afraid so, Xander."

"No real witchcraft? Nothing hell-mouthy at all? Just a murderer and a rapist lunatic roaming the streets of Sunnydale... well. That's a change I'm not liking."

He turned away from the body. They all stood there, nobody really knew what to do now. Human acts of insanity were not something on their to-do list.

Angel put his arm around Buffy for support. She seemed to be needing that more then anyone. She took it badly, he was amazed at how badly. And the boy was also very upset. The watcher and Willow however, seemed levelheaded enough considering the circumstances. Angle thought Giles looked like he couldn't wait for them to get over what they just found out so he could go to his books and start connecting the dots on this. And Willow... she was the most baffling of all.

She should have been the most upset of all, he was thinking, as it turned out that the dead girl Mary used to be one of her students in the computer class she was substituting. She knew her better then anyone there but it didn't seem to be affecting her as much as it did the others. She looked very cold and detached, like her mind was somewhere else. He figured it had something to do with what Buffy was on about earlier and realized something WAS very wrong with the girl. This behavior was not like her, not one bit. Right now, for example, she was leaving the group and walking towards the murder scene.

They all looked at her in amazement as she started kicking the ground with her shoe, making the signs dissolve. She took off the short sweater she had above her blouse and used the sleeve to wipe the bloody symbols off the tree-trunks.

"Willow!" Giles woke up from the shock of watching her and run to stop her "what in all hell are you doing?? We need this! We have to study these in order to understand what it is this person is doing!"

She turned to him, a harsh look on her face. "Then we'll have to do it by memory. I'm not leaving this stuff here for the police to find and start another witch-hunt. One burning at the stake was enough for me."

"She's right" Buffy said, and started kicking the ground herself. Giles was beside himself with exasperation "may I remind you girls that those people were under the influence of a --"

"Didn't care one bit when we were tied to the stake." Willow cut him.

"You know, the police have ways of knowing someone messed up the crime scene..." Xander tried.

Buffy snorted "Oh, yes. Sunnydale's police force - known as the best in the land. I mess up practically every crime scene in this town on a nightly basis. You don't see them knocking at my door, do ya?"

"Good point." He said, and started picking up the remains of the candles, trying hard not to touch or look or think of the body.

"You're all mad." Giles mattered and pulled a notepad and a pencil out of his pocket. Started quickly drawing the symbols they haven't gotten to before those too will disappear. "You're all out of control."

And looking as an outsider, Angel couldn't agree with him more.

It felt like, again, everything was starting to fall apart.





8. The longest night ever

A soft light of late afternoon entered the library through the skylight, giving the place and the people in it a romantic atmosphere of calmness and friendship.

It was very much the opposite of what they all felt.

Siting in the traditional sits around the big desk, they all held a book or a bunch of papers, they all were reading quietly. They all had the same expression of despair.

"I think this is by far the creepiest thing we have ever researched" Xander commented quietly.

Giles approached the table with a big leather-bound book "Indeed. There is nothing more disturbing then a disturbed human being."

"Oh, I think this guy deserves way more then just disturbed. I think this is way deep in completely fucked-up land".

They all got very quiet, brooding on this person they were looking for and he's sick mind.

"We gotta find him, guys" Buffy said for the millionth time since she found Mary Hannigan's corpse.

"We will" Giles said, and patted her head as he walked passed her to put a book in front of Willow.

"Oh, look. Yet another book." Willow said complaining. "Gee, I wonder if the key to this whole thing lies in one of it's..." her hand flipped through it quickly "742 pages, not including foot notes."

Giles stopped dead on his way from the table. "Well, you... you don't have to... em... go through that book if you don't want to..." he tried a chuckle "I can see how you can get sick of those. You can try the net again, if you'd rather, Willow."

Willow closed the book with a laud thump, releasing a small Claud of dust. She got up with an annoyed look and went over to sit by the computer again. "Get sick of books, yeah." she muttered bitterly "in this rate I'll be sick of computers too."

Buffy looked at her in disbelief. The concept of Willow being sarcastic was way too strange. The things she was saying were way too Cordelia. And insulting Giles like that? Even Xander could see that the way she answered him got to him. He walked away towards his office with an obvious cringe.

"Hey, you." Xander said. Willow raised her head with a questioning look. "Yeah, you with the attitude. What's with you already?"

"Leave me alone."

"Yeah, like that's gonna happen." he said. They stared at each other. Willow looked away first, but just for a second. Then she looked back really pissed "what do you want?"

"I want you to tell me who you are and what have you done with Willow -"

"Hey, guys --"

"- I want you to tell me why you feel this burning desire to insult Giles. I want you to tell me what the hell has been biting you the last few weeks."

"Xander, come on." Buffy said, in a warning tone. Couldn't he tell Willow was in a dangerous mood?

"No!" Xander jumped out of his sit and approached Willow. He stood opposite her and leaned close, placing his hands on the table. "I wanna know why a guy running around town raping and maiming is something little Willow Rosenberg couldn't care less about."

Willow's head was down, she didn't look at him. She just held her stomach and tried to block out his voice and harsh words. She was so tired and Xander so angry was not something she could handle just then.

"Leave her alone, can't you see you're upsetting her?"

"I'm upsetting her? I'm very sorry but I would think that this thing we're looking for might be a little more upsetting. But she's acting like it's all so boring. What? Not enough black magic for ya, Will? You think you could do better?"

"Shut up!" Willow rose to her feet, tears in her eyes "just shut up, Xander! I can't...." she held trembling fingers to her forehead "I can't... think... I'm getting out of here."

She pushed her way passed him.

"You're leaving??" Buffy asked in disbelief.

"Well, hey, there's a whole big world out there," Xander mocked "Why stay cooped up in the library with your friends when you could be roaming the streets being psycho-killer bait?"

Willow turned to him "CAN'T - YOU - LEAVE - ME - ALONE - FOR JUST - ONE - NIGHT??" she yelled "For god sake, I haven't slept in weeks, when I do all I get is images of my own death, and when I wake up I have to read and read and read about all the deferent ways people use to kill other people, and - and " she smeared the tears with her sleeve"three whole days before I should be . Having my period I'm already having the cramps from hell, and I'm - I'm - so SICK of being expected to- oh"

And she run and left the room, leaving harsh silence behind her.

Xander swallowed hard and glimpsed at the astonished faces of Buffy and Giles.

"Nice going, Xander!" Buffy said finally, crossing her arms. "Sometimes I think only surgery will remove that foot from your mouth."

***

A loud thump coming from outside woke Willow up from her peaceless sleep, full of images of herself drowning in her own blood. A branch was beating at her window, and she felt completely grateful to it.

She sat up in her bed and held herself to stop from shaking.

She sat there for a while, thinking, breathing, letting tears dry.

This can't go on. She'll go mad. She was already letting this change her life. Change the way she treated people she loved.

She had fallen on her bed after coming home from school, must have been so tired she just fell asleep.

Oh, school… the things she said to Xander…and - oh, to Giles!

But she couldn't think about that now.

She needed to remember the dream she had, to understand it. She started recording those nightmares, writing down as much as she could remember, in an attempt to get to the bottom of it.

She started to believe there was a message there, for her.

Willow got out of bed and walked to the big window. Looked outside. There were times when she thought she is going to see everything she feared standing outside looking back at her.

It was two o'clock in the morning, and she knew she can forget all about sleeping for now. She sighed and turned the computer on, got on-line.

She needed answers, because there was no way that all those feelings and dreams were just a phase, like her dad seemed to think. She knew something was wrong with her, very wrong.

She signed-in to the chat room, searched the list to see if the person she wanted to talk to was there. He wasn't.

Willow drove her hand along her tired face. Waiting for this guy to show up can take all night but she kinda had all night, and he was suppose to have some answers for her tonight. So she opened a new room and waited for him there.

And fell asleep again.

She could see herself in a park, lying on the ground, naked. The grass was wet and red. The Willow laying on it was looking upwards in dismay. There was someone else with her there, but she couldn't see him. She could just hear him laughing, laughing... he was saying "I got it for ya, bitch, I got it for ya right here". She could here a bell ringing once. And the scenery changed, they were in an alleyway somewhere. She was still naked, he was still laughing. The bell rang again, once. Willow's head jerked off the desk.

She stared blindly at her computer screen. There was another person in the chat room with her, trying to get her attention by sending her bell sounds. She blinked and shoved the nightmare as best she could to the furthest corner of her mind. A sigh crept behind her lips unbidden. Mary's body, the library, now this... won't this night ever end??

But as it turned out, waiting around for him, even falling asleep like that, was worth it. Not bothering with polite small talk, he typed:

--I got it for u--

Willow's breath quickened.

-- What? -- She typed, fear made her tremble, dream and reality got messed up in her brain.

--The spell. But lots of this will be hard to come by--

--I have my resources-- Willow answered, and her eyes scanned the recipe he was typing for her, the spell that would let her know what prophesy lays in her dreams, if any. There was too much to remember, too many ingredients. She eventually made a printout of the conversation, and then, after briefly thanking him, she put on her clothes and left the house, the piece of paper clutched between her fingers as if her life depended on it.

Her life did.

Continued