Arsenic and Old Souls
She’s seen Oz every day since his return and each time is more painful than the time before. She has a feeling the same is true for him. It’s so difficult to accept that soon he’ll be gone again, that the boy she loves will be leaving, that even if he weren’t (and even though he doesn’t know it), there could never be a future for them, no matter how they feel about each other.
Still, she clings to every moment, does her best to commit every word, every look on his face to memory, wanting to lock each of them up somewhere safe, though she’s learned that even her own box, the one she made from her will and her desperation, can’t hold Angel out. Besides, is there a point? She’s probably living one of her very last days.
“So, what do you think of the gowns?”
“Just glad I’m not wearing one.” Oz smiles.
“Cordelia tried hard to get them to go with teal, but maroon it is. Am I shallow for worrying that I’m going to die looking really bad?”
Oz chuckles as he pats her hand. “Not shallow at all.”
Buffy and Angel are off investigating Professor Worth’s murder. Everyone else is holed up with Giles, alternating between panic and research. But Willow and Oz are sitting outside the library, enjoying the moonlight in one of the few places in Sunnydale it’s actually safe to do so. Best to pack in all the beauty and peace that you can, she thinks.
“How about that visit from Mayor Wilkins?” Great way to kill the mood, Willow.
“Yeah, that was a little on the creepy side. Though it was kind of exciting when Giles ran him through.”
“Is there any way you could maybe not be so cool and nonchalant? Because tomorrow we could all be killed really gruesomely by a huge, ugly demon who my parents actually voted for and I’m thinking maybe now calm is not such a good thing.”
“You want me to panic?” Oz seems puzzled.
“Yes! Panic! That would be....” Willow ‘s about to finish her sentence when she feels a sharp, shooting pain in her back. “Ow!”
Oz immediately starts dragging her inside and she finds that she’s quite unsteady on her feet. She feels kind of woozy, in fact. What the heck is going on? “What are you doing?” she asks as Oz hustles her through the library doors.
“Panicking.” He sits her down in a chair but keeps her from leaning back. “Giles, Willow’s been shot.”
“Shot?” Five voices call out as one, including Willow’s. Giles goes behind her and quickly pulls something out from between her shoulder blades, holding it up for everyone to see.
“Ow!” Willow says for the second time in as many minutes. Still, she’s relieved, as is everyone else, to see that it’s not a bullet.
Wesley goes back to his book, apparently satisfied that a dart is hardly worth bothering about. Thanks, Wes.
“Fascinating,” he suddenly exclaims.
“What?” Giles, asks mechanically. He’s obviously more worried about Willow as he keeps his eyes on her the whole time. It’s nice, because she’s not feeling so hot right now. Why is that?
“It seems our Mr. Worth headed an expedition in Kauai digging through old lava beds near a dormant volcano.”
“I’m not fascinated yet,” Buffy chimes in from the doorway. When did she get back? In a flash she’s at Willow’s side. Angel stands at a discreet distance but she can feel a whole lot of worry through the bond. “Are you okay, Willow?”
“If I may continue?” Wesley’s irritated. “He found something underneath. A carcass, buried by an eruption.”
“A carcass?” Giles is interested now. So is Willow. If only she was less wonky.
“A very large one. Mr Worth posits that it might be some heretofore undiscovered dinosaur.”
“A demon?” Xander asks, though he’s staring at Angel...who’s staring at Willow. Great. Her day could hardly get worse.
Giles seems almost hopeful. “Yes, that would be something the Mayor would want to keep a secret. If it’s the same kind of demon he’s turning into and it’s dead, it means...well, he’s only impervious to harm until the Ascension. In its demon form, he can be killed.”
“Great. So all we need is a million tons of burning lava. We’re saved.” Of all the powers she’s had bestowed on her, you’d think that a Slayer might at least be given the power of positive thinking. Sheesh.
“Well it’s a start, anyway, I’ll go on the computer and...” Willow tries to get up. Speaking of powers, the power to stand up straight might be nice right now. She sure doesn’t seem to have it. Buffy catches her before she hits the floor.
Oz, in the meantime, grabs the dart and sniffs it. “Oh my God.”
Boy, Oz seems like he really is panicking. It’s just a dart, right? A tranquilizer dart or something? She’ll sleep for an hour or so and wake up good as new. So why is Oz suddenly as pale as Angel, who also seems pretty panicky?
“It’s poisoned. Something magical, I think.”
“How do you know?”
Despite slightly blurry vision, she sees Oz point to his nose, and Angel snatches the dart from him, sniffing it as well. He doesn’t look like he’s about to disagree with Oz. Oh no. This is bad. This is really bad. She starts to cry.
Immediately, Cordelia and Xander are kneeling beside her, hugging her. Giles is speaking in a very low voice to Oz and Angel. Wesley joins them.
“I think I’m gonna barf, guys.” Willow starts to feel horribly sick and hot, and her body hurts but is numb at the same time. She really hates this.
“We need to get her home.” Buffy is being take-charge girl, something for which Willow is very grateful.
“I’ve got the van.”
“Did you see who did this?” That’s actually a very pertinent question. Good one, Xander.
“Oh please, like we don’t know that it was Faith? Who else would it be?” Cordelia has a point.
“We have to find out what sort of poison this is.” Giles, voice of reason.
“The Council has all the known toxins on file, mystical or otherwise. I’ll contact them immediately.”
“Thanks, Wesley,” Willow murmurs weakly, already feeling worse than ever. Right now, she really hates Faith.
“Don’t talk. Save your strength.” Angel’s concern fills her. His emotions are doing nothing to reassure her. She has enough terror of her own, thank you very much, without his being added. A few seconds later, however, she’s hoisted up in his arms. “Where are you parked?” Angel asks Oz.
Oz must have said something she didn’t quite catch, because seconds later he’s leading a parade of people out of the library. Xander and Cordelia get into the Mercedes, waiting for Oz to pull out of the parking lot before following them into traffic. Willow tries to remember if she told Xander about the ownership change on the car. Her mind is annoyingly fuzzy right now.
The drive takes almost no time. Buffy and Angel are with her in the back of the van, while Oz keeps his eyes glued to her in the rearview mirror. She’s very grateful that he doesn’t get in a wreck, because he does not for one moment look at the road in front of him. Though, come to think of it, she might actually welcome a fatal accident right now. She feels absolutely awful.
Angel pulls out a handkerchief and begins wiping the sweat from her face. She feels as if she’s trapped inside an oven.
“Hot,” she mumbles redundantly.
“We’ll be at your house soon,” Buffy replies, in a tone more suited to soothing a two year old than an almost-grown woman. Is that her own irritation she’s feeling or Angel’s? It’s getting hard to tell.
Oh well, at least Buffy’s right, they arrive at her home within moments and, quick as can be, she’s out of the van, Oz and Angel supporting her as she insists on trying to walk to the front door.
Much to her shock, Cordelia and Xander are already there. Weren’t they following the van? They must have pulled out ahead of them or something at some point, because Cordelia is tapping her foot impatiently as she waits for them on the threshold.
“Took you long enough. What, did you borrow the engine from Giles’s car or something?”
“Sorry,” Oz mumbles. Willow feels terrible for him. It’s not his fault that he isn’t driving an illegally-owned example of the finest in German engineering.
“Cordelia,” Willow admonishes her in a pained voice.
“Sorry. I was just worried.” Cordelia turns and glares at Angel. “The freeloading vampire locked the door so we couldn’t get in, otherwise I’d have already turned down your bed for you.”
Willow would laugh if it didn’t hurt so much. There are times when Cordelia’s complete absence of tact is truly wonderful. Right now is one of those times.
She can feel how badly Angel wants to tell her blunt friend off, enjoying the fact that she can currently separate her own feelings from his. It’s about the only good thing in the world to her at this moment, as another wave of agony and heat flows through her.
“Can we go inside, please?” Oz asks, realizing that Willow’s getting worse, not better, as everyone stands around kibitzing on the stoop.
Xander grabs her purse and fishes for her keys, bless his heart, and thereupon they’re immediately heading into Willow’s living room, then up the stairs to her bedroom. She collapses on the bed the minute she’s there.
“Hot,” she says again, wishing she had the energy to come up with something more interesting and less obvious.
“Cordelia? Why don’t you and Buffy get her out of those clothes and into something comfortable? We’ll head down and get ice and water for her.”
Hate him though she may, Willow’s grateful to Angel right now. Cooler clothes and some ice sound like great ideas. Knowing that he can feel her relief at his suggestions sucks, though.
She is happily anticipating that ice, however, and she’s even happier when Oz and Xander don’t argue or hesitate, they simply follow him out the door.
But if she thinks that there’s going to be hasty attendance to her rather pressing needs, she’s dead wrong. The moment the door closes behind them, it starts.
“Can I just say that the next time something evil is going to happen to someone, it really ought to happen to you? Because you’re the Chosen One; it’s your job to deal with misery and pain. So why does everything crappy have to happen to Willow?”
“Hey! Bad stuff happens to me, too, you know.”
Willow moans. No one pays attention.
“Boo hoo! So you sent Angel to Hell. Cry me a river. Willow was raped! And she was kidnapped by skanky ol’ Faith, who also poisoned her. Oh, and let’s not forget that her boyfriend was driven out of town for no reason at all...”
“No reason?!? He killed Scott!”
“Again - boo hoo. It’s not like you were all broken up about it. You flirted with Angel over his dead body!”
Willow moans, louder this time. She’s hot, and miserable, and she really needs them to get her into a t-shirt or something so that ice thing can happen.
“Oh God! Willow, are you okay?”
Is she okay? That may be the stupidest question Buffy has ever asked. And considering how many classes they share, Willow would know. She’s wracked with pain, she’s burning up, she’s probably going to die without her diploma (does that mean she won’t be a high school graduate?)...no, she is anything but okay.
“Well if you hadn’t started an argument with me, we’d already have her undressed by now.”
“I started an argument with you?” Buffy shrieks. “You’re the one who...”
“Guys,” Willow rasps out, as loudly as she can manage. Thankfully, the bickering stops and, at last, the clothes-changing starts.
She closes her eyes, listening to the sound of her dresser drawers being rifled through as her shoes are removed and her socks taken off. She’s guessing the person going through her wardrobe is Cordelia, and she’s proven correct by the commentary she soon hears.
“Is there anything in here that might actually be attractive? When this is over, Willow, we are so going shopping.”
“Cordelia, Willow is running a high fever and this isn’t a fashion show. Can you just grab something and give it to me?”
“Fine,” Cordelia grumbles, mumbling something that might be cursing but could just as easily be a weather report for all that Willow can make out the words. Things are once more getting very fuzzy.
She’s down to nothing but her panties for a moment, though. She can feel that. And seconds later she feels what must be one of her nightshirts being pulled over her head. Short sleeves - thank heavens it has short sleeves.
The door opens and she can vaguely hear Buffy saying something and there’s a bunch of garbled conversation and footsteps that must mean that Angel and Xander and Oz are all in her room now. She’d say something, or at least open her eyes, but she just doesn’t have the strength.
Shortly, she feels an ice pack on her forehead. It may be the closest thing to true ecstacy she has ever experienced. She sighs. Though she can’t understand a word he’s saying, she knows she hears Oz’s voice. It’s comforting as she drifts into oblivion.
“Well, Miss Rosenberg, have you finally learned your lessons?” Miss Calendar asks in an admonishing tone.
She’s sitting in the front row of what looks like an empty classroom. Still, Willow feels the presence of others and she’s nervous. She remembers what happened the *last* time she answered a question incorrectly for Miss Calendar.
“I...I think so.”
Laughter erupts from what sounds like dozens of people, though Willow can’t see any of them.
“You *think* so. Of course, that’s predicated on the assumption that you can actually *think*, and we’re far from having established that as truth, wouldn’t you agree?”
More laughter. Willow can feel her skin burning with shame.
Jenny speaks again. “Now, class, let’s give her a chance.” Snickering follows, but quieter than the previous raucous mirth. “Willow, here’s a question you must know the answer to by now...”
There’s a pause. Willow almost feels confident. She’s sure she knows what question Jenny is going to ask.
Seconds pass, but no question is asked. Willow sits expectantly, waiting.
“Well, Miss Rosenberg? Were you planning on answering any time today?”
The sniggering makes her want to sink through the floor. But wait...Jenny never asked a question.
“I’m...you didn’t ask me anything yet.”
“Oh really? I think it’s more that *someone* just wasn’t paying attention.” She addresses the unseen gallery. “Did I or did I not ask Miss Rosenberg a question?”
“Yes, Miss Calendar, you asked her a question,” a chorus of voices replies.
“No.” Willow looks around frantically, but still can’t see anyone. “I would have heard you...I... Could you please repeat the question?”
Jenny’s face is hard and cold; there’s none of the warmth Willow had once been used to seeing in her eyes. “I don’t think so. I don’t have time to waste on trying to teach someone who clearly does *not* want to learn.”
“But, Miss Calendar, please...”
Her words seem to fall on deaf ears. “Enyos!” Jenny calls out.
Now Willow *does* see someone. A man, tall and imposing, wearing a hat that keeps his face in shadow, emerges from the corner of the room.
“So this is the girl.” His accent is heavy. There’s something about him that Willow knows - not his face, not his voice, but...something.
“Yes, Uncle. This is the girl - the girl who just doesn’t get it. Care to see if you can make a dent in that thick skull of hers? I’m completely out of patience.”
“I will try.” He faces Willow, next clearly addressing her. “Come.” It’s a tone of voice that clearly brooks no insubordination. Willow has no choice but to obey. She gets up from her seat and, eyes downcast, follows the man out of the room.
The hallway is dark and deserted. It’s creepy and somehow unfamiliar. It shouldn’t be like that, should it? This is her school, her second home. She knows every inch of it like the back of her hand. She’s safe here...isn’t she?
She’s supposed to be learning something from this, or she should already know it, but try as she might, her brain seems determined to work slowly or not at all.
“You know, it’s possible to be too curious, to learn too much. It’s the best students who are the biggest fools.”
Huh? This all sounds cheesy; fortune cookie aphorisms. Next thing you know he’ll pipe up with “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” or some other hoary old cliche. And how does this tie into the fact that he’s supposed to be teaching her something because she *hasn’t* been learning?
Willow’s head aches with irritation and confusion, but she knows better than to be snappish or insolent with this man. He’s...powerful. Suddenly, it hits her - what she knows.
“You! You were...the night I...you spoke through me!”
“Very good, my dear. It seems my niece was wrong about you.” He smiles at her indulgently, but there’s something disturbing under the patronizing expression. “Do you know why?”
Again - huh? “I... No, I... I don’t know what you mean.”
“Imbecile,” he mutters under his breath. Tears start to form in Willow’s eyes. “Do - you - know - why - I -spoke - through - you?” He sounds out each word as if he was speaking to a small child of limited intellect.
“No,” Willow says, barely able to get the word out through her tears and embarrassment.
“Because,” he shouts, his voice rebounding off the walls, “you had the audacity to interfere with our vengeance!”
What? But...she wasn’t interfering! All she did was perform the curse that Jenny had found. How was that interfering?
He hears her question before she even asks it. “We *cursed* Angelus, you little fool, to make him suffer, to make him bleed, to cause him eternal agony. But *you*, you wanted to *give* him his soul - like a Christmas present.” The man’s voice is mocking now, cruel. “You wanted him to be *happy*, to live like a fairy tale prince with your little friend, The Slayer. This is *not* a part of our vengeance. This is *not* the use to which our curse was to be put!”
Oh no! But...it wasn’t her fault! It’s not as if she’d ever thought that motive might matter. The curse had absolutely no warnings on it whatsoever. And what did her state of mind matter anyway? And how did they even know?
Something strikes her for the first time: Isn’t Enyos dead? Just like Jenny? How can she be talking to either one of them? Is she dreaming?
Again, Enyos seems to read her mind. “Silly, stupid girl. So much knowledge and none of it means anything to you. All this time, all you have seen, and you still think death is final, that it means the end of everything.” He snorts, then mutters under his breath, “Why bother even teaching women to read? Stupid creatures.”
Now doesn’t seem like the time to enlighten him on female equality, and besides, Willow has another question. “I...I kind of understand why you’re mad, I mean about the curse and everything. But what does that have to do with you speaking through me? And how...?”
“When one is foolish enough to try such a powerful spell in a weakened state, well, anything can happen.” He’s smiling now, a cat-who-swallowed-the-canary gleam in his eyes. “As for *why*...well, we couldn’t stop you from giving Angel his soul, however...” He pauses and his smile becomes something demonic. “A girl with such a spirit of generosity...she should give all she can, should she not?”
Willow is about to ask what he means when understanding hits her like a punch in the stomach. Oh God. When he spoke of giving...he worked through her so that she gave...herself. She would fall to the ground if she could figure out which way down is. As it stands - she’s just numb.
Moments later, words finally come. “You...you made him love me...you made all this happen.”
Enyos shakes his head, again looking at her as if she’s the simplest creature ever born. “That was not our doing. Love is not our concern. Angel was never supposed to return from Hell. Your soul was bound to his so you could *share* with him his eternal reward.”
“But...how...why?” Willow’s not sure what question she’s even trying to ask. Now she does manage to drop to her knees. If this is a dream, why does that hurt? she wonders somewhat inanely.
No good deed, it seems, ever goes unpunished. Just as she’d suspected, all of this, every terrible thing that has happened to her - it’s all because she wanted to save the world and make her best friend happy. But it wasn’t accidental...it was a deliberate and vicious sentence of eternal torture imposed by those who knew full well they’d set her up to play a brutal game without giving her the rules. She was betrayed and there’s nothing she can do to fix what’s been broken. She’s doomed, and doomed by those qualities she’d always been taught were the best and noblest ones she could possibly possess. This turns the universe and everything she’s ever believed in on its head and it’s more than her mind can bear. She starts laughing and she can’t stop.
“Willow! Willow!” A voice rouses Willow from her hysterical delirium. She chokes on the end of her laughter. She feels herself being lifted slightly and there’s a glass of water at her lips. It’s cold and she’s thankful. She opens her eyes.
“You’re awake. Thank God! What were you laughing at?”
Willow sees a dark haired woman before her. Is it Jenny?
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t do the curse right. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.”
“Willow, what are you talking about?”
Suddenly, the fog clears and she realizes it’s not Jenny mopping her brow with a cool cloth.
“Duh. Who do you think’s been watching over you while Oz and Xander freak out and Buffy and Angel are off trying to capture your cure?”
“I’m sorry, I’m kind of...”
“Yeah, I guess I’m the one who should apologize, huh? I mean, here you are, poisoned and maybe dying and... I mean, you’re not actually going to die, of course, because believe me, if anyone is committed to dragging Faith in here, dead or alive - preferably dead - it’s Angel, but...”
“Yeah, this is probably all a little too much information, huh?”
Actually, it’s not. What she’s trying desperately to ask is what Cordelia means about Faith being brought here dead. She has a feeling this is something she really needs to know about.
Tonight is all about lessons half-learned and truths partially revealed. There’s so much more she needed to find out from Enyos, so many things she will never get the chance to ask him now. Even if she lives, Willow has been sentenced to death, and if she dies, will it even matter? She understands some of what Enyos was trying to say: that life and death are just names given to different points of existence, that nothing ever really ends...especially not pain.
There is no heaven for Willow.
She’s losing her grasp on the here and now as Cordelia says something about Oz, about going to fetch him since Willow’s awake. She wants to hold onto consciousness, to spend a few precious moments with the one she loves, but the pain and the sorrow are so overwhelming that she’s terrified he’ll see them, that she won’t be able to keep the secrets she must keep.
Still, despite the risk, she can’t help herself. She hangs on and rides out the wave of agony that almost made her give up. Oz sits down beside her and takes her hand.
“Hey.” His voice is calm and even but the anguish in his eyes matches her own.
“Hey,” she rasps out, trying to smile.
It’s too much of a struggle for either of them to talk, so they don’t. The time passes and the pain ebbs and flows. Cordelia and Xander come in occasionally, carrying water and ice and concern, and then they leave again. She gets the sense that something’s changed, that Oz is different somehow, but she doesn’t have the strength to worry about it. He still cares for her - she can see it in his eyes - and that’s what matters, so she lets his presence soothe her as the poison ravages her body. It’s quiet all the while. Oz just keeps holding Willow’s hand.