When Willow realized she was going to be in London the day Dawn had to go to Heathrow to meet Spike in Tulsa, she volunteered to be the one to drive the teen, an offer gladly accepted by Giles.
The Watcher was in-over-his-head busy, as he'd been since the day Council headquarters had blown up going on three years ago, and had few people on hand to whom he would entrust Dawn's safe delivery. Andrew had gone back to Rome, to do whatever it was Andrew did there, and Xander had moved to Cleveland and its nascent Hellmouth with Faith six weeks earlier. (Willow wasn't clear on the details of what was going on between those two, but she planned on calling Xander and getting them. Just as soon as she had the chance. Maybe when she got back home to the flat in Cardiff that she shared with Bronwyn.)
Asking any of the Slayers to drive Dawn was as good as… well, driving under the magic and crashing the car herself. Been there, done that. Turned out Slayers and driving? Un-mixy things, and not just for Buffy. Who knew the ability to slay precluded the ability to drive?
All of which left her as taxi driver for one over-hyper teen with enough luggage to rival Imelda Marcos, but Willow didn't mind. It gave her the chance to catch up with Dawnie, and maybe offer some words of wisdom.
Willow clicked on her blinker and changed lanes, double-checking over her shoulder before merging. "It's just that we –" 'We' was a better word choice than 'I', even if not strictly the correct pronoun in this case. 'I' was judgmental and meddlesome, but 'we' carried the weight of authority and of combined wisdom. "We're worried about you getting your hopes up too high. What are the odds that Buffy is really in Tulsa?"
Dawn's face clouded over, chin jutting out in mulish defiance, before she shrugged it off. "I know. But how can I not try? She's my sister."
Is she? Willow wanted to retort, but held her tongue. Whoever that woman had been, it wasn't Buffy. Not the Buffy they'd known, at any rate. And, yeah, not her fault all her memories had been taken away and she didn't remember the people who knew and loved her, but it was almost like she hadn't even wanted to get her memories back.
Worse, she'd gone and abandoned Dawn. Just – poof. Sayonara, without so much as a forwarding address.
Definitely not the Buffster Willow knew and loved, but she could understand where Dawnie was coming from. She wanted her sister back. Hadn't Willow's own heart given a funny little leap when she'd heard the news of Spike's potential lead?
"Besides," Dawn was saying, "it's always been the plan for me to spend the summer with Spike. Even if we kinda stopped talking about it after awhile…"
They'd all stopped talking about it after awhile. Stopped talking about Buffy, period. The months had drifted by with no further word from her, and eventually the little gang of Sunnydale ex-pats had quit rushing for the phone every time it rang, or holding their breath whenever they checked their email, and gone on with their lives. Not because Buffy/not-Buffy had demanded it, but because what else could they do?
The world kept on turning, evil kept on evil-ing, and the opposition team had to keep on fighting the good fight, with or without Buffy.
"Okay, Dawnie," Willow said. She'd said her piece, and now it was time to drop it. Four years of playing surrogate mother to the girl had taught that lesson well. "Just so you know – we're all here for you. Always. Whether Buffy comes back or not –"
"Yeah, I know." Dawn reached out to grab Willow's hand, squeezing it quickly before letting go. "Thanks."
"So tell me," Willow said, a side-glance confirming just how much more Dawn had matured in the three months since she'd seen her last. How had so much time passed in between trips to London? "How were things with Candice during your final term? And don't give me that 'fine' business. I need all the details, so I can decide whether to turn her into a skink or not…"
If you'd asked Willow only that morning, she would have said she never expected to see Buffy again. Her friend had vanished over a year ago. Completely off the map, not-a-trace vanished, despite their efforts to find her, and likely to stay that way. There was a big wide world out there in which to disappear.
So it took her much longer than it should have to process Dawn's words.
"Say again?" she told the squealing, babbling teen on the other end.
"Buffy, Buffy, we found Buffy! And guess what, we're living with her! In her apartment! It's really her! Buffy! Oh my god, I was at the mall, looking for the jeans you wanted, and there she was! And then we saw her later, on patrol, but she didn't want to talk to us, except then Lindsey ran off – he was probably afraid Spike was going to beat the crap out of him – so Buffy came to us and…"
Dawn went on and on, a freight train of excitement in Willow's ear. Willow noticed the plant on the coffee table in front of her was looking more than a little singed, and quickly checked her magicks. Oops.
"That's amazing!" she said when Dawn paused for a breath. "You did it! And… you're really living with her? And Spike too?"
"Can you believe it? I still can't believe it."
"Are you sure that's the best idea?" Dawn's enthusiastic obliviousness to the danger of moving in with Buffy/not-Buffy had set off warning bells in Willow's head. "It's just – we never proved she was the really real deal. You should be careful."
"I know it's her," Dawn said. "I know it."
Willow flexed her neck. Too much tension. Not a good thing.
"That's great," she said. Dawn was happy. Spike was sure to be happy. So Willow was happy. Completely happy. Nothing but positive vibes on her end. "It's a miracle. You found her – and she didn't run away."
"She wanted to at first…" the other girl said, some of the wind out of her sails. "But she seems okay now. She's even sort of putting up with Spike. And we're doing our best not to pressure her. Let her come to us, that kind of thing. Spike and I are all with the gentle coaxing of the frightened wild animal routine."
"Good idea," said Willow. "Good –"
Her calm broke, crumbling under the weight of her emotions, and the poor, abused plant went up in a puff of smoke. Buffy. The windows shivered in their frames, rain lashing the panes, mimicking the tears rolling down Willow's face. Her heart ached for her lost friend, for their lost friendship.
She took a deep breath, doing her best to maintain a steady voice despite the way her hands shook. "Is she there? Can I talk to her?"
"Um," Dawn said. "I – so, Buffy doesn't know I'm calling you. Or anybody else. She's… skittish. I don't want to scare her off."
Oh. Oh. "Of course," Willow said. Very calmly. No judgment from her. No resentment that Buffy, even if she was not-Buffy, didn't want to see her, didn't miss her with a fierce ache that rivaled the hole left by Tara.
Willow didn't want to be blame-y. How could she? It would be like blaming a peg-legged man for not being able to compete in a marathon. Buffy was memory-challenged, and couldn't be blamed.
Maybe if Willow kept saying it, her heart would believe it.
She wiped her eyes. "Well, I'm sure you have more calls to make. Ring me back anytime and be sure to keep me updated."
Dawn signed off, but it wasn't long before Willow's phone rang again, this time with Spike on the other end.
"Nibblet gave you the news, then?"
"I don't expect to be able to hear out of my left ear anytime soon."
Spike chuckled. "Excited's an understatement." He paused a moment, before saying, "McDonald did a runner 'fore I could catch up with him, which puts us back at square one when it comes to solving Buffy's total recall issues. Guess it's back on you to save the day."
Not that Buffy wanted her to save the day, no, she'd rather just disappear and forget about her best friends…
Okay, irrational resentment becoming an issue, Rosenberg. Suck it up like a big Wicca.
Aloud, she said, "We tried everything we could think of before, when you sent her to us. What we need is to find our in absentia lawyer-slash-pseudo-Watcher."
"Know that, don't I?" Spike said, his frustration coming through loud and clear. "Problem is, he's got those tats again, means we can't find him. Not with technology, not with magic. Got no recourse but to gumshoe it, which… well, s'pose we did find Buffy…"
He trailed off, and Willow could almost imagine the look on his face. She'd seen it before, when Buffy had come back from the dead.
She gave him a moment to compose himself, then said, "Wesley erased Lindsey's tattoos before, I thought. Couldn't we try that again?"
"Right, but Elvis was in the building with us that time. Proximity seems to matter, seeing as Angel and Blue have tried the spell plenty since then, and the ink on our ghost-man was present and accounted for just the other day."
Willow furrowed her brow, trying to come up with an answer to their problem, while Spike's silence indicated he was doing the same on the other end.
"I wonder how close you have to be. For it to work," she said. "If Lindsey's still in Tulsa…"
Spike inhaled sharply. "Any chance you can teleport over here and try it out?"
"I'll try. But don't get your hopes up," Willow said. Her mouth twisted in a wry smile as she realized she'd told Dawn the same not that long ago. Perhaps the invocation would prove lucky a second time.
Willow hoped so. She missed her friend. Even if her friend didn't miss her.
Exhausted, Willow collapsed face-down onto the bed, arms flung wide, her slight weight making the pale green duvet fluff outward with a soft whump. One hand landed on a reclining Bronwyn's generous breast. Whether by accident or by design, Willow would never tell.
"You give too much of yourself, cariad," Bronwyn said, slipping off her glasses and putting down the book she'd been reading to pull Willow into a more comfortable embrace. She pressed her lips to the crown of Willow's head, and spoke into her hair. "What do you get back for you? There must be an equal exchange of energy." Bronwyn's lilting voice trickled down Willow's body, making her shiver. "The imbalance creates negative flow and invites darkness to rest within."
"I know, I know," Willow said. Her girlfriend, also head of the Cardiff Coven, was very passionate about balance. Bronwyn had been encouraging her to harmonize her energies ever since they'd moved in together a few months ago, something Willow had to admit she'd neglected to do for… well, ever.
Willow wanted to give. To matter. To be useful, helpful, needed. Except, when it went one way only, all give give give, it left her dry and empty, and oh so dark inside.
Bronwyn tsked. "Did you accomplish anything with this hurry-scurrying around the globe?"
"Not so much," she grumped. "No lost lawyers found, no amnesiacs de-amnesiacked. I was within a block of Buffy, but couldn't even go see her, in case she got frightened and went AWOL all over again. Dawn would've been devastated if she had."
"If Buffy doesn't appreciate your help, why give it? Amnesia or no, she should be grateful for all you do for her. A friend who runs is not a friend worth chasing."
And wasn't that exactly what Willow had been thinking?
Didn't Buffy, even if she was not-Buffy, know Willow would do anything for her? And Willow had done anything and everything – she'd given up any chance at a 'normal' life to follow Buffy. She'd given up going to Oxford to stay and help with the Hellmouth. She'd gotten into magic for Buffy's sake, delving into forces that, while exhilarating, had also been terrifying. She'd almost died how many times – hey, anybody but her remember that night she'd almost been burned at the stake? – and had held Tara as she died from a bullet meant for Buffy.
The old, familiar rage built, clawing at her insides.
Bronwyn lifted Willow's chin and met her gaze, pale blue eyes deeply concerned. "Your Buffy is draining your energy, sure as any vampire. I can see how she hurts you."
"I'm not –"
Shushing her with a calloused fingertip to the lips, Bronwyn said, "The dark place in you is restless. If you do not create balance, it will find a foothold."
Willow sighed, and twined her hand through her lover's hair, absently toying with the ebony curls. "Right now, Buffy is not-Buffy. No matter how much it hurts, my brain knows I can't blame her for being all standoffish." She waited for her emotions to catch up to her logic. When they got as close as she figured they ever would, Willow went on. "And as for balance, Buffy has nothing to give back; in fact, I probably owe her energy. We put her through a lot after Spike and Angel sent her to us. If we'd handled it better, maybe she never would've felt the need to run."
"Are you sure about that? This Slayer of yours sounds very selfish. Losing her memories didn't change who she is; you've told me before how she runs when she doesn't want to cope. Her personality hasn't changed with the amnesia. It has always been about her, hasn't it?"
Willow frowned. What Bronwyn was saying was true… but it also wasn't.
"Sure Buffy can be selfish. Who isn't selfish, now and then? But she's also one of the least selfish people I've ever met. Every day, she gives and gives and gives, to save the world. The world that doesn't even know she exists! She gives to her sister, she gives to us – she put up with so much, over the years. And if she can't do that right now? That's okay. What kind of friend would I be to give up on her? She never gave up on me – never – no matter what I did."
Not even when she'd killed a man. Or tried to kill Dawn. Or almost ended the world.
Willow bolted upright, ramrod straight. "I'm not going to give up on her," she said, full of fire and determination. "It's Buffy."
"Ah," Bronwyn said, a slow smile making the corners of her eyes crease like miniature fans. Willow frowned at her, confused, and the other woman encircled the space in front of Willow's head and torso with a graceful loop of her hand. "The blackness is receding." She studied Willow, her smile radiant. "You have cleared your heart and chosen your path through truth. Now, when you give to Buffy, it will be because you wish to help your friend out of love, not because you wish for her to acknowledge your help. You see the difference? Your energies are still going to your friend, but it will not drain you the same way."
Willow scrunched her nose. "Why do I feel like I've just been led down the path you wanted me to take?"
Bronwyn laced her fingers with Willow's. "I goaded you into making a choice, one way or the other, this is true. But you made the choice, Willow, cariad. All on your own."
"So, how are things with you and Faith," Willow said several minutes into her conversation with Xander, after they'd exhausted the topic of Dawn and Spike moving in with Buffy.
"Oh, you know, same as they've been." She could almost hear the shrug on the other end. "You know," he repeated.
No, she didn't know. Somehow, more than three weeks had slipped by since her resolution to catch up with Xander. She was done feeling sorry for herself, and done being a bad friend. "Nope, not good enough, mister. I need the straight dope."
"Long as you're not partaking of the funny dope."
"Har har. Seriously, Xander. How've you been? It seems like forever since we talked." At least ten weeks, by her calculation.
He sighed. "I kinda felt it was time for a change… but no matter where I go, turns out my life doesn't much change," he said. "Cleveland has all the fun of a Hellmouth, but without the charm of small town California. Got a part-time gig serving drinks down at one of the demon bars –"
Willow jerked. "Like The Alibi Room? Because you remember how often Willy used to get beat up…"
"Non-violence spell. I'm probably safer there than anywhere else in Cleveland. And I have a direct line to all the goings on in town. I am Information Man, which makes me the man of the hour. Speaking of, holy crap, I think I just figured something out –"
"And you and Faith?" she interrupted.
Xander clicked his tongue. "When there's something to tell, I'll tell. Sadly, there is nothing to tell, and I'll thank you not to keep reminding me." He cleared his throat. "Now, as I was saying. Important news. I have it."
"Well?" she said when he remained silent.
"Just making sure I have your attention."
Willow rolled her eyes, not that he could see. "You have my full and undivided attention, Information Man. Speak."
"Excellent. So, yesterday, at the bar, there were these three little old men. Robes, wrinkles, ratty sandals. The full monk ensemble. I didn't make the connection then, because hey, Cleveland, not Tulsa. But it's a small world, especially given the way our lives work."
"The point," he said, "is that these little old men are searching for a thirty-something year old human male. Who used to be a lawyer. And – get this – goes by the name of Lindsey."