Total Eclipse Of The Sun
Willow’s sitting at her desk, staring at her computer, the speakers turned off. She likes silence now – loves it, craves it.
Who ever knew she could be like that?
Fighting demons looked so easy when Buffy did it. So how come Willow felt so helpless, even armed with a knife?
Maybe because she was. Not like this demon seemed scared of her; which really wasn't too surprising. Even not being able to see herself, Willow was pretty sure she looked like a total geek right now, trying to remember how to wield this knife that felt so puny and worthless in her hand.
Now would be a really great time for Buffy to come to the rescue, but it looked like she was kinda busy with the other demon. By the way, was there a reason she’d begged to come out on patrol with Buffy? Because right now Willow was thinking this was her worst idea ever.
Ooh! She cut him! She actually cut the demon! She had his blood on her and everything! Too bad it just seemed to make him mad – at least as far as she could tell. It wasn't like the demon had much to say, what with not having a mouth and all. But he probably was mad. He sure wasn’t dissolving or anything. Why couldn’t there be demons who died when you cut their arm anyway?
Oh god. She was so going to die right now.
One question though: Why did this demon blood… itch?
Of course, she hadn’t died, had she? Nope. Buffy had fended off her demon and come to Willow’s rescue, killing the one she’d wounded.
Yesterday, Willow wished Buffy hadn’t bothered. Even now, she’s not so sure being alive and well is all that great.
”Aspect of the demon? Oh god! What if I get scales… Or a tail? Oh no! I don’t want a tail!”
“You might be sort of cute with a tail.”
Typical Oz reaction.
The memory doesn’t make her smile though. Not now. Not knowing what she knows. Things will never be the same. Why can’t they be the same? Is there a spell she could use to make herself forget? Xander forgot everything that happened while he was a hyena…didn’t he?
But Willow can’t forget. She can’t forget anything.
*I am my thoughts. If they exist in her, Willow contains everything that is me and she becomes me. She has my heart. Now she has my thoughts… I can’t do this. She already has too much of me. I’ll cease to exist. We’ll all cease to exist. She contains our thoughts and she becomes us. And what about Xander? She’s him, too. Does that make her happy? Is that what she really wants? Maybe I should have just let her go.*
“Is that how you feel?”
Later, when it was all over, he told her it wasn’t how he really felt, that he’d just been afraid, but Willow’s not sure that she believes that. In fact, she knows she doesn’t. For the first time, she’s glad they didn’t have sex. He doesn’t trust her so he would just have been using her, wouldn’t he?
Getting used… It’s a bad thing. She learned that lesson again yesterday.
”Hi, Angel.” He was surprised to see her, and hey – go figure. Because she and Angel were such close pals and they hung out together all the… well, never, actually. So how was she supposed to get him to think about Faith?
Why did she let Buffy talk her into this?
There are no words for how guilty she feels for trying to spy on Angel’s thoughts. Because it was sneaky and creepy and intentional and that’s wrong. She’d even think that what has happened between her and Oz is punishment except that it happened first. But who knows? Maybe the universe already knew she’d spy on Angel and punished her in advance.
”If she wants to know how I feel about her, she should just ask me.”
Angel sounded angry and he was…sort of scary, actually. Not Angelus-scary, but human-scary and that was much worse - because he had a right to this anger and it hurt. Willow should have known better.
“I’m glad I couldn’t read your mind.” She meant it, but she was pretty sure he didn’t believe her.
She’s still not sure why, after her – she guesses you’d call it betrayal – he had still been willing to help her.
”Make it stop. Make it stop.” Willow repeated the words over and over like a mantra but she could barely hear her own voice through the din of every thought in the neighborhood, her pillow pushed tight and useless over her ears – it did nothing to drown out the noise.
The thoughts belonged to everyone and no one, but at least they didn’t belong to her friends – no, they were all off trying to stop mass murder. That at least was the one up-side to the anything-but-a-gift that was peeling her fingers one by one from the cliff of sanity to which she desperately clung.
Giles was here in the room now. Talking – talking, not just thinking. “We can only pray that Angel finds the demon.”
He did. Angel came to the rescue with the demon’s heart and he’d held her fast as she drank down the potion Wesley had concocted – held her through agony and convulsions which paled in comparison to the torment that had been spilling into her head from every human being in every house in the neighborhood.
She still remembers the strange look on Buffy’s face later when she told her what had happened. Maybe she was just upset that Willow hadn’t found out what Angel was thinking. She thinks Buffy should count her blessings.
Willow walked down the hall, still surprised at the way she could hear more than what people were saying out loud.
Andrea from her calculus class was glaring at her. *Thanks for blowing the grade curve. God! Thanks to her now I’ll never get into Princeton. I hope she dies before the final. There’s still a chance if she just dies before the final.*
Oh god. Andrea had always been nice to her but all the time she’d really felt… Willow picked up the pace, sighing as Andrea’s thoughts faded. But then they were replaced.
*There’s Rosenberg. Tight-ass, stuck-up bitch. She thinks she’s so smart. I’d like to bend her over the desk and teach her a real lesson.*
She barely knew the boy – was his name Eric? – who said that. He was in her history class. How could he… It was sick and terrifying. She had to get out of here. She had to get away.
Out of the frying pan… Because after that she’d gone to the library – the library where she’d gained knowledge she wishes she could forget.
But as hard as some of the things her friends thought are to deal with, they’re nowhere near as hard as…
God, how much she misses Oz – the Oz she knew before, not the Oz who doubts her and thinks she takes too much from him even when she can’t hear his thoughts. She loves him and it’s terrible to think that the heart she has given totally and completely to him is more than he wants from her.
The silence just keeps rolling over her and she wishes it would swallow her whole.
There’s a knock on her French doors and the sound is almost deafening. She leaps from her chair and turns to see who’s there.
It’s Angel. Which is a surprise.
This is not going to be easy, but maybe she’s grateful he’s here. Because she absolutely owes him an apology.
Oh and thanks, don’t forget the thanks. After all, as hard as it is dealing with her own thoughts right now, she’s so glad she doesn’t hear anyone else’s anymore. She just wishes she never had.
Still, this is not going to be easy after what she did. If she hadn’t been raving and barely aware, she isn’t sure, what with the guilt she feels to this minute, that she’d have even been willing to allow him to save her.
Shaking off any more memories, she goes to the door and opens it.
“Hi.” Wow. That’s some scintillating conversation-starter there, Willow. Okay, she’s nervous – really, really nervous – but she should still be able to think of something better, or more substantial, to say.
But he says “Hi” too and she thinks maybe he’s as uncomfortable as she is – only without the sweaty palms. Why?
He just stands there and oh god does she feel like a dork when she remembers he needs an invitation. The first time was ignorance, but now? Village Idiot. “Come in,” she says, standing back and allowing him to do just that.
Before he can say a word, she blurts out, “Thank you.”
There’s a brief pause and he stares at her strangely; then he chuckles. “You don’t have to thank me,” he says and she’s the one who’s staring strangely now.
“You saved me. I’d be all raving and hearing everyone’s thoughts still if it wasn’t for you.” She takes a deep breath and says what she really needs to say to him. “I’m sorry.”
“What for?” She can’t believe he just asked that. Is this some game to make her spell it all out so he can draw out her guilt and everything?
Okay. If it is, she deserves it, so here goes. “For trying to read your mind. You know, about Faith. I really am sorry. It wasn’t nice or right or…anything. Except wrong. It was definitely wrong and that’s a thing, so I guess it’s not not anything, but still…” For someone who has fallen in love with silence, she’s sure doing a great job of filling it up with not-silence.
He chuckles again but it’s a sad sound and she wonders what it means – except yeah, she’s glad she can’t find out unless he actually explains. Out loud. “I’m not angry at you,” he says. Is she imagining the subtle emphasis on the last word?
“Oh. Well, I’m still sorry. Friends don’t spy on each other.”
“Friends?” he asks and he’s looking at her like she’s just spoken some weird, unknown language.
Oh no. Maybe he doesn’t actually like her. Great job, Willow. You just can’t stop screwing up. “I… I just meant that, you know, you’re Buffy’s boyfriend and I’m her friend and…”
“Friends.” He repeats and it’s different this time. She breathes, and is shocked to realize she hasn’t done that for a moment or two. Is he smiling? It’s just a slight turning up of the corners of his mouth, but…yeah, it seems like a smile.
“I really am sorry,” she says, remembering each clumsy word she spoke trying to get him to think about Faith so she could tell Buffy.
“I know,” he says and the smile is gone. “But it’s not your fault. You were just trying to help Buffy. You were just trying to be a good friend.”
“I wasn’t being a good friend to you. And I should have been. Because even before you showed up with the demon heart… I mean, I always considered you a friend. At least when you had your soul.”
His face is solemn and stern and she hates herself for bringing up the past. But then… “Thank you,” he says softly. “I know I should have said it sooner, but I… I didn’t know how. How do you thank someone for giving you back your soul?”
Oh gosh. She didn’t even know he knew about that. “What are friends for?” she says and it sounds so small and silly, but really…what else is there to say?
“You’re something else.” He chuckles again and this time it sounds warm. For a guy with so few words and even fewer facial expressions, he sure has a lot of different chuckles.
Of course now she’s thinking of someone even more taciturn and monosyllabic and she wishes… “I’m really glad I couldn’t hear your thoughts,” she says before he can even reply to what she said before.
Staring again – he’s staring at her again and she thinks he can tell there’s more to her confession than gladness at having been unsuccessful as a spy. “Sometimes it’s better not to know too much,” he says – softly - and his eyes are locked on hers.
“Yeah.” Things are so serious right now and she’s terrified. No one wants serious. Not from her. So she reaches inside for her trademark optimism and she makes a game play for reclaiming the bright side. “But at least I helped stop the cafeteria lady from killing everyone.”
Angel is still serious, shaking his head gently. “You shouldn’t have had to go through…”
“The whole mind-reading thing? It wasn’t that bad. Really.” While she’s doing her best to sound convincing, she can tell it’s not working.
“It was.” Something about the way he says it…
“Yeah, it was,” she admits. “But it’s not like it was your fault or anything.”
Silence again and the bloom is off the rose because she’s really kind of wishing Angel would say something…and then when he does… “You found things out. Things that change everything.” Okay, this is a little scary. Can he read her mind? “I was watching you,” he continues and she guesses it explains things. It reminds her that he’s …different. She forgets sometimes that demons are predators by nature and she wonders why. It's probably not something she should think about.
“How long were you out there?”
No answer so she’s guessing it was a long time. Instead, Angel says, “People… They can disappoint you. They don’t mean to. They don’t even realize. It’s just… You build up an image in your mind and sometimes it’s not something they can live up to.”
Why does she think Angel’s not just talking about her? Despite that insight, though, she doesn’t push. Instead, for some reason, she takes a chance and talks about herself. She knows there will never be another opportunity with anyone else. “Oz. He thinks I take too much. And he doesn’t trust me. I mean, I get the last part. What happened with Xander and all. But the taking too much… I never meant to. And I don’t know how I do it, so I don’t even know how to be better and…”
“It’s not you,” Angel interposes. He looks…angry and Willow has no idea why. “He’s just… He’s young. He thinks it’s all about him.”
Again, she’s not so sure that Angel is talking about her – well, not just her. “Are you mad at Buffy?” Of course, the minute she says it, she feels stupid. Angel’s never mad at Buffy. He loves Buffy. He…
“Yes.” And the word is a thunderclap.
“Oh.” Considering how stunned she is, Willow’s impressed that she even managed a syllable.
“She never should have… Sending you to read my mind instead of asking me about my feelings for Faith? It was immature and it was stupid and it was…” Another chuckle, rueful this time. “We’re not so different, you and me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oz doesn’t trust you. Buffy doesn’t trust me.”
Funny that Willow never thought of it that way herself. There is one key difference, though, or she thinks there is, anyway, but when she’s about to point it out, the words turn into, “Yeah and we both sort of kissed other people.”
No chuckle this time. Instead, it’s outright laughter. Strangely, it doesn’t bother her. For once, she knows it’s not at her.
A few seconds later, he pulls her into a hug and it’s…nice. The nicest thing that’s happened to her in what feels like forever even if forever was really only thirty-six hours ago. “He’s wrong, you know. About everything.” Serious again and she’s not sure she knows what he means. She could ask. She should ask.
She doesn’t ask.
“What about Buffy?” she asks instead as the embrace ends.
Another long pause and another unanswered question. “If I ask you to keep a secret…”
“Of course,” she replies and she means it. Even though she somehow knows it means keeping a secret from Buffy.
“I’m leaving,” he says, and Willow’s heart drops. She has this horrible feeling that he’s not talking about leaving her house and going home.
“You mean…” Her voice is tentative.
“Once we’ve defeated the Mayor. Yeah.”
“Oh,” she says. Again. Because what else can she really say? It’s not like she can say what she’s thinking, which is…
This sucks. Just when she and Angel have actually become friends, he’s going to leave. It hurts, probably more because of everything that demon’s ‘gift’ just cost her, and it’s… “It’s not fair.” She couldn’t stop herself from saying those last words aloud.
“Buffy will be better off,” he says and now she’s really angry.
“I wasn’t talking about Buffy.”
Now he’s the one who says “Oh.” But he’s looking at her with what she thinks is respect and she knows she’ll miss him so much just because of that.
“You’ll keep in touch, right? With me? Because friends do that. They keep in touch.”
He stares at her for a long moment. “Yeah. I’ll keep in touch…friend.” The way he says that last word gives it more meaning than she’d ever known it could have.
“I’d better go,” he says a few seconds later. It’s then that Willow looks at the clock and realizes that – wow – it’s almost sunrise.
She goes to the door and opens it for him. “Thanks.”
“For being my friend.” He looks at her and she thinks maybe he realizes that friendship means as much to her as it seems to mean to him.
“Thank you,” he says, and then he’s gone – melting into the last shadows before daylight.
Willow sighs and looks at her bed, wondering if she ought to try and catch an hour or two of sleep.
So much has happened. There are feelings she will have to reassess. There are things she knows that she can’t un-know even though she still thinks she wants to. There are relationships which will never be the same. But there was helping save lives and there’s new friendship, too, and she thinks maybe that last makes things…not perfect, but all right. Maybe all right.
She yawns and decides that any sleep, even what amounts to a nap, can only help. When she wakes up, there will be a secret to keep and she’ll keep it.
Things have changed.