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by Duncan Johnson
This story takes place after season six.
Her death changed everything.
It shouldn't have. Not really. Not after all the death we had already seen. Jenny. Kendra. Tara. Even Mom.
But Willow was different.
* * *
'I love you, Will.'
Xander stands at the edge of the cliff, his back to the Satanic temple, reaching, in its twisted way, for the sky.
Willow, magnificent and terrible as a star in the midnight sky, pauses, hands outstretched before her, purple flame leaping from fingertip to fingertip.
'You don't understand,' she tells him. 'I have to do this. The pain it's too much.'
'No, I don't understand,' Xander agrees. 'How can you do this? This isn't you.'
'I can feel it, don't you see,' Willow says. 'I can feel their pain, everyone's pain, all that misery and suffering. And it's inside of me and it's clawing at me and I have to end it. I have to put them out of their misery.'
'How? By destroying the world?' Xander asks. 'Pardon me for saying so, Will, but that seems a little drastic.'
'It's the only way,' Willow insists.
'So you'd kill your friends?'
'Get out of the way, Xander,' Willow orders.
'I kinda like it here,' he says.
'Don't make me hurt you,' Willow threatens.
'Will, you're gonna blow up the world,' Xander responds. 'Seems to me I'm going to die anyway. Less you change your mind, that is.'
'I have to do this, Xander,' Willow protests through gritted teeth.
'No,' Xander replied. 'No, you don't. You can stop this.'
'You don't understand,' Willow repeats. 'That's just it. I can't.'
* * *
The thing with Willow, you see, was that we had brought on her death ourselves. I know that sounds crazy, but bear with me a moment, okay. It goes like this. All those other deaths had been down to external causes. Buffy might blame herself for Angel going bad, but she didnt force him to snap Jenny's neck any more than she was responsible for the tumour that killed Mom.
But Willow well, she was a victim of our lifestyle. The way we carried on, dabbling in the black arts and 'things beyond human understanding' like it was no more life-threatening than revising for a geometry test. And look where it had got us.
Willow's fate was a lesson to us all since it could all so easily have been any one of us.
* * *
'What do you mean you can't?' Xander asks.
'It's all this power,' Willow explains desperately. 'Its everywhere, inside of me, like its controlling me.'
'Then fight it,' Xander says, taking a step toward his friend. 'You can fight it, Will. I know you can.'
'It hurts,' Willow moans, tears rolling down her face. 'Xander, I dont know if I can.'
'You can,' Xander insists, gripping Willow by her shoulders. 'You're strong, Will, stronger than it. Let it go. Let it all go.'
And she does.
She tilts back her head and she screams and her scream echoes round the hilltop and down into the valley below. Violet flame bursts from her mouth and rockets into the sky like a fountain. It mixes with the dark clouds gathered above and thunder rumbles while lightning cracks. And as the energy leaves Willow so too does her strength. She seems to grow smaller in Xander's arms and she drains of colour, to the point where Xander can see the grass through her face.
And as the last of the flame is expelled, so she fades away completely.
And Xander is left cradling empty air.
* * *
And just like that it was over. The world was saved yet again.
But would it have even been in danger if it wasn't for us?
Maybe that's why it cost us our friend in order to make things right, to punish us for our arrogance.
The only consolation we could draw was that things couldn't possibly get any worse.
I guess we hadn't learned our lesson after all.
* * *
The storm lasted for three whole days.
I couldn't leave the house so I stood by my bedroom window and watched it rage. The clouds were a mix of purples and blues, like someone had beaten against the sky and it was now showing off its bruises. The white flashes of lightning were tinged with violet and the rain hammered relentlessly against the window-pane as the heavens cried for the death of their sister.
Speaking of sisters, Buffy was busying herself with household chores. I don't think the house had ever looked as shiny and new, even when it was new and we had just moved in. When was that? Six years ago? I know it's cliché, but it really did seem like a lifetime, not that it was far short for me, but you know what I mean.
You know, it seems horrible to admit it now, but I'd always been jealous of Buffy and Willow, jealous of that friendship they had. Sure, I had friends, but I didn't feel I could confide in them the way Buffy did in Willow. Janice, Drew and the others, I couldn't tell any of them about this. About my secret double-life as a demon hunter. Strange to think that phrase used to sound cool. Maybe it still does to you. I don't know. My point is that I may have friends, but I don't have - what's the word - a confidant. And, like I said, I resented Buffy because she did.
Not any more.
I was glad that I didn't have anyone who was that close to me because however bad I felt about Willow's death, whatever Buffy was going through was a whole lot worse.
* * *
My door was open, so Buffy knocked on the frame before stepping inside.
'Hey,' she said.
'Hey,' I replied.
'Some light show, huh?'
'I suppose,' I said. 'Buffy, do you think it's her up there? I mean, you heard what Xander said, about her turning into flame and stuff and I was wondering if, well, maybe she was still hanging on as, you know, the storm.'
'Willow's gone,' Buffy promised me, shaking her head. 'And she's in a much better place than this. I should know.'
But I wondered if maybe she wasn't. If maybe, given all that she had done in her last days, if maybe she hadn't been allowed in that place after all. And I hated myself for thinking it. But I couldn't stop wondering.
'Listen, Dawn,' Buffy continued, 'I'm going to make a start on sorting out Willow's stuff. I was wondering if you might like to help. I know you two were close and I'm sure she wouldn't mind if you wanted to hang on to a few bits and pieces, you know, to remember her by.'
'I can't,' I replied.
Buffy looked at me with pity in her eyes. God, how could she? She was hurting most of all, but still she was able to feel sorry for me.
'I know,' she said. 'I shouldn't have suggested it. It's too soon.'
'It's not that,' I insisted hurriedly. 'It's just well, it's that room.'
'The room's stupid?'
'No, I am,' I said. 'I mean, no I'm not, but the idea's stupid.'
'And the idea is?' Buffy prompted.
'Well, I think the room might be well, it's just an idea, but well, it might be cursed.'
'Yeah,' I said. 'Think about it. It was Mom's room, right, and now she's dead. And then Willow and Tara moved in and they shared that room and then Tara got shot. In that room. And now Willow's gone and I can't help thinking that maybe '
'The rooms not cursed, Dawn,' Buffy promised me with a reassuring smile.
'I know,' I agreed. 'Like I said, it was a stupid idea.'
'So, are you going to come give me a hand?' Buffy asked.
I turned back to the window after Buffy had left.
Of course, there was another possibility. If it wasn't the room, there was another connection between Mom, Tara and Willow.
Maybe I was the reason Buffy had died, too, even if she had got better.
The more I thought about it, the more the idea made a sick kind of sense.
And I collapsed on the bed and cried.
* * *
But I should know better than to try and get any sympathy from you, right? And it wasn't as if I was the only one who was suffering.
Think about this, for a moment. When Willow died, she didn't leave us a body. Now before you start thinking I'm being morbid, let me get to the point. With no body, how could we prove she was dead. And we couldn't tell anyone what had really happened because sure they'd believe us. Yeah, like that was gonna happen.
So Willow was officially listed as missing.
So when you think of us, grieving because we knew our friend had died, spare a thought for Mr and Mrs Rosenberg, who didn't even have the comfort of knowing what had really happened to their daughter.
Shortly after Willow's 'disappearance', Ira Rosenberg, Willow's dad, paid us a visit. I was upstairs at the time - I'd been spending a lot of time in my room lately, scribbling my thoughts in my diary - but I could hear shouting coming from downstairs so I decided to investigate.
'I told you, I don't know where she is.'
Buffy was in the lounge, standing in front of the couch rather than sitting on it and sounding as if she was trying very hard not to shout.
'But you must know something.'
Mr Rosenberg stood in front of her. He was not a tall man and, bent by grief, he was scarcely taller than Buffy.
'If I could help you, I would,' Buffy insisted.
'Willow lived here,' Mr Rosenberg continued. 'You were her best friend. She must have told you something. Anything. Some hint of what she was planning to do.'
'I wish she had,' Buffy replied, 'but she didn't.'
'I knew you were trouble from the start,' Mr Rosenberg said. 'Always into that strange New Age rubbish. Filling Willow's head with crazy ideas. I wouldn't be surprised to find that you're involved in this somehow. That's it, isn't it? That's why you won't talk to me.'
'That's not fair,' I protested from the doorway.
They both turned to look at me.
'Go back upstairs, Dawn,' Buffy said.
'Go,' she repeated. 'Mr Rosenberg was just leaving.' She turned back to Willow's father. 'The reason I won't talk to you is that I have nothing to tell you. Now I'd like you to leave my house.'
'Oh, I'll go,' Mr Rosenberg told her, 'but I'll be back. And I'll being the police with me.'
He opened the front door, but paused on the threshold.
As he turned back, his eyes met mine. He seemed to be fighting back tears.
'I just want my daughter back,' he said.
'So do I,' Buffy responded. 'So do I.'
* * *
True to his word, Mr Rosenberg did call the police and they did come round to question us. They didn't find anything, though - what was there for them to find? - but part of me wished that they had done.
* * *
The weeks dragged by. Janice called repeatedly, wanting to know why I was avoiding her. It wasn't just her. I was avoiding everyone.
But I couldn't stay hidden forever so eventually I agreed to go with her to the Bronze, though I did warn her that I might not be particularly good company.
'Any company'd be an improvement,' she told me over the phone.
I told Buffy I was going out and asked her if maybe she'd like to come with me. It might do us both some good to get back into circulation.
She told me that she and Willow had gone to the Bronze on the day they met.
I let the matter drop.
* * *
The Bronze was just as I remembered it, which is to say it was heaving (well, it was the only decent club in town). Fortunately, Janice had decided to wait for me outside.
'Hey, Dawnie, been awhile,' she said. 'You look great.'
'Really?' I asked.
Janice looked me up and down sceptically.
'Honestly?' she said. 'You look like you haven't done this for a while. But we'll get you back into the swing of things in no time. You'll see.'
We went inside and Janice led me to wear the rest of the gang were waiting.
'Jeez, Dawn, you look terrible,' Chrissie said. 'Did you let big sis dress you?'
'Ignore her,' Janice said to me. 'Surely you remember that much.'
* * *
I have to admit that I enjoyed myself that night. It was great to just hang out with friends and not have to worry about anything, you know.
Buffy should have come along. Let her hair down for a bit. Then again, she wouldn't have known anyone here. But she could have met someone. Or maybe it was too soon for that.
We had managed to capture a big leather sofa in the corner. It wasn't big enough for all of us, so Drew perched on one of the arms. Well, he did until Chrissie got up to get another drink. Then he stole her place.
'So, what's going on in the wonderful world of the Dawn?' he asked.
'Nothing much,' I replied.
'Come on,' Drew persisted. 'You've been holed up and home for like, what, three weeks now? And you're telling me that was nothing?'
I debated how much I could tell them.
'It's Buffy,' I said. 'One of her friends has disappeared. She's pretty cut up about it.'
'Man, that sucks,' Drew said.
We sat in silence for a while. Well, we were silent, even if the music continued to shake the walls. I felt guilty for ruining their night, but Drew had asked. Would it have been any better if I'd held out on them?
'Was she anywhere near the old warehouse on Chapel Street,' Drew asked, 'you know, when she disappeared?'
'I don't know,' I lied. 'I don't think so. Why?'
'Oh, no reason,' Drew said.
'No, you've got that look,' I said. And he had. 'Now, spill.'
'Okay, okay. It's just this story I'm working on.' Drew worked for the school paper.
'Drew, it's the holidays,' Janice said. 'Take a break.'
'I would,' Drew said, 'but I've just got a feeling about this one. I think it could be the big one.'
The 'big one' for Drew would be the story that got him noticed, the one that got him a job on one of the national papers.
'Well, go on,' I said. 'Tell us all about it.'
Drew leaned closer. He was probably trying to create an aura of mystery, but there was an outside chance he was just using it as an excuse to try and look down my top. Okay, better than outside.
'It's like this,' he began. 'You know Emily? Red head girl, sits at the front in Mr Chopski's class. Well, she was supposed to meet me last Saturday night.'
'Hang about,' Chrissie said. She had dragged over a chair rather than suffer the indignity if sitting on the sofa's arm. 'You expect us to believe you actually convinced a girl to go out with you?'
'It was about the paper,' Drew retorted. 'She was going to share the by-line on a story with me.'
'And where was this meeting going to happen?' Janice asked.
Drew ran a finger round the collar of his shirt.
'At the pictures,' he admitted. 'Look, can we get back to the case.'
'But this is so much more fun,' Chrissie purred wickedly.
'Oh, let him finish his story, Chrissie,' I said. 'Then we can tease him.'
'You're all heart you are,' Drew remarked. 'I keep asking myself what I see in you.'
'We're female?' I suggested.
'That could be it,' he agreed. 'Anyway, Emily didn't turn up. First off, I thought she might have given me the brush off.'
'That would have been my guess,' Chrissie said.
'But then I started asking around,' Drew continued, ignoring her, 'and it turned out that no one had seen her. She'd just disappeared.'
'And if I thought you were asking after me, I'd disappear, too,' Chrissie commented.
'Chrissie,' I complained.
'Well, I would.'
'But then I found out that she wasn't the only one,' Drew said. 'So far I've found out about five girls, all in our year, all of whom have just vanished.'
'And what are the cops doing about it?' Janice asked.
'Nothing,' Drew replied.
'Nothing. Nada. Zip,' Drew confirmed. 'It's as if they're trying to sweep the whole thing under the rug.'
'But why would they want to do that?' Janice asked.
'Beats me,' Drew said, 'but if I can figure that out, well, then maybe I'll finally have the big one.'
'But what was that about Chapel Street?' I asked.
'That was the other thing I found out,' Drew replied. 'Four of the five girls were last seen on Chapel Street.'
* * *
Now, there could have been any number of explanations as to what had happened to the girls. But this was Sunnydale. What do you think had happened to them?
This was a job for the Slayer.
Assuming the Slayer was up to it.
She was sitting on the couch, rooting through the contents of a cardboard box.
She looked up as I entered.
'Dawn,' she said. 'You're back late.'
'Yeah, well, I '
But Buffy wasn't interested in my carefully prepared excuses.
'Xander brought this stuff round,' she said. 'They found some of Willow's things when they were clearing the Magic Box.'
She held something up. Don't ask me what it was, but it was a weird looking whatever.
'I was with Will when she bought this,' Buffy continued. 'She was so excited because she'd been looking for one of these for weeks. She was practically floating off the ground. Actually, I think she was and I had to drag her back down before somebody noticed. We couldn't stop laughing about it all the way home. I remember us laughing a lot back then. Before well, you know.'
'I know,' I told her.
Now was not a good time.
Buffy still needed time to heal, but time was something those girls might not have.
I practically ran up the stairs. In Buffy's absence, I would have to resort to Plan B.
I snuck into her room. The chest was at the foot of the bed, but it was locked. Buffy thought that I didn't know where she kept the key, but, lets be honest, she doesn't really know me that well. I had the chest open in moments. (What, you thought I was going to tell you where she kept the key. Guess you don't know me that well either.)
I paused for a moment, kneeling beside the open chest, admiring the gleaming weapons within.
Then I reached for what I wanted.
Look out, world, here comes Dawn the Vampire Slayer.
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