Good Bells


So, contacting the spirit world, harnessing the Delothrian ebb, focusing it through doomeriffic marble, and restoring the Muo-Ping's entropic equilibrium. Piece of cake, right? Next thing our heroes know, Angel's soul is freed, lickety-split, and Angelus is banished back to the badlands where he's forced to watch Angel rescue puppies and romance insipid blondes for all eternity, or all his immortality, which amounts to the same thing. In the meantime, Willow shows off her new less-evil badassedness to the new more-stubbly Wesley and more-incesty Cordelia, and gets to look all smart and mature and brilliantly witchy to two people who've known her a lot longer than Kennedy. Which, after discovering that she was actually kind of an addict and more easily swayed to the dark side than Anakin Skywalker, was a much needed reinforcement of her own sense of self-worth.

Except it didn't work that way. The Beast that darkened L.A. thought it was so baddass, but it was nothing to the evil that corrupted Willow. The First: a frigid and flavorless hunger that belittled even the grotesque rage she'd been drunk with after Tara's murder. It gloated in the back of her mind, so confident of its power that it didn't even bother to gobble her up now as it so surely could. In its eternal waiting, loathly and dead, even Willow's bravdao-laden struggles for autonomy afforded it some dim amusement.

"Open the window. Fill this stone," Willow chanted. It was the Beast who lashed out at Willow and tossed her across the floor like so much chaff, but it was the First that filled her heart, her mind, her voice. The First blackened her eyes and filled her mouth with power, the kind that fed and was never sated. The First filled her heart with joyful visions of the flesh ripping from Warren's living form. It layered under her nails the blood and skin she'd scratched in welts from Xander's face. Her tongue was thick with the taste of her own sin; she was the Gnarl, eating her own invisible flesh.

Willow struggled to retain control. Sunnydale and the first could wait until Angel was restored. If she could do the spell in ignorance from a hospital bed as an injured and foolish girl, she could sure as hell do it as a healthy and ridiculously powerful adult witch. "Inside, outside. Two made one," she said, slipping inside her own memories of innocent childhood in the hopes that would ward off the darkness.

Two made one. And what was that she'd thought about her so-called innocent childhood? Willow was drowning in moments of her youth -- Jesse and Xander banding together to tease her about her My Little Pony lunchbox in fifth grade; her tongue touching Xander's while Oz and Cordelia watched in horror; Faith and the Mayor holding her, threatening her life to blackmail Buffy; Oz and Veruca wrapped naked around each other in a cage; Oz so deep inside Willow that it was like they were one person; and tara tara tara everywhere she looked swam breathed was Tara Maclay inside her. Nanoseconds passed like millenia, like the great molasses flood of 2003, and Willow was lost in Tara Oz Buffy Tara Xander Giles Tara.

This plan was backfiring. True, it was harder for the First Evil to take hold on a Willow swimming in her past, bt how could she free Angel's soul from back here? She reached out through the historic soup and grasped on to the now to pull herself back into the hotel, to the task at hand. She reached in her mind and found -- what? Gunn wouldn't do; he'd left the room. Wesley was too close to her past to provide an anchor. Connor was too raw to provide a root. But Fred, now, Fred was perfect. Willow hooked onto the memory of herself and Fred just a few minutes before. "Good bells," Willow had said, and touched Fred's chin.

The memory was a still point in the swirl of magic. Calloused fingers on soft girl chin, bells in the lobby, smell of candles all pulled Willow back into the present, into the spell. "Alesh ashtoreth!" she called, and felt the magic take root.

The First didn't fight her, this time. Instead it filled the spell with power, with its dead and ravenous force. Effortlessly she batted off the Beast's master as she sought Angel's soul. Between heartbeats, Willow held tighter onto her anchor and felt the magic rush down the link. "Let loose the soul," she said, and was flooded with power. She held on to Fred so as not to get swept away, and felt a gasp. What the hell? Somehow, Fred was aware of the contact -- though the gasp and Willow's realisation took up only microscopic time. The raw energies Willow still didn't know how to control had somehow brought Fred into the spell, tangled her in as Willow held on to her image.

Unfrozen between eyeblinks, Fred stared at Willow in shock. Willow's remembered thumb ran along the memory of Fred's chin, tracing the jawline softly back and forth. It had been so long since there was someone else in her spells, someone to feel the power raging through her, body and soul. Kennedy was too real, too practical to leave the physical behind for any length of time. But here was Fred, her eyes almost as black as Willow's, if for a different reason. Fred tilted her head deliberately, and without losing eye contact with Willow, rubbed her chin against Willow's imaginary palm. She purred softly.

"Bring Angel back," said Fred, smiling oh-so-gently. Willow felt her heart pound, even stuck outside of time as she was. "And then you and I need to talk."

Fred smiled, and time restarted. Somewhere, a jar broke.