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Title: Willpower
Author: Flywoman
Email: berenbaum@hotmail.com
Rating: PG-13 because Spike's a potty mouth
Summary: Post-"Gone," Willow thinks that no one understands what she's going through. Unfortunately, she's wrong.
Disclaimer: I am not a part of the Mutant Enemy team, and I'm trying to figure out what they've done with the Willow we knew and loved.
Thanks: To my beta readers, K. and Herself, for providing a spot of constructive criticism when I needed it most. Any errors or oddities remaining are my fault.


Frustrated beyond belief, Willow slammed her fist down on the dining room table and groaned. Dragging yet another file to the trash, she reached automatically for the keyboard. It should be so simple... if she just shuffled those symbols... Closing her eyes, she began the conversion from Greek to Latin, murmuring rhythmically under her breath.

*Shit*. For the twenty-seventh time that day, she caught herself about to cast and bit her lip sharply, strangling the spell in its cradle. This time she'd come way too close for comfort. Shaken by the near-miss, she reached for her bottle and took a long swallow of water.

The sun had set; she'd been working on this problem for hours and was no closer to an answer than when she'd begun. What ever happened to Willow Rosenberg, girl genius? Somehow when she wasn't looking, Willow had been slowly, insidiously, painlessly replaced by the Witch. And if you took away the Witch... what else was left? Without her magic, she was so helpless now. So ordinary. So completely worthless. Willow slammed her laptop shut and buried her face in her arms, on the verge of tears.

Since returning to her classes, she had been forced to face the fact that she'd been getting by on nothing but her charms for over a year. Her non-magical intellectual muscles were flabby and pathetic; writing a straightforward essay on Machiavelli or the most trivial computer program rimed her forehead with sweat. And it wasn't just school stuff. Even all the silly little everyday things, cooking breakfast or washing her hair, suddenly required planning and effort again. Just getting herself out of the house in the mornings had become unbelievably hard.

She kept her problems to herself, though. Who would listen? Not Xander, all caught up in his plans for marriage to the last in a long line of girls who weren't her. Not Dawnie, who wouldn't look her in the face and brandished her cast like a weapon to keep her contrition at bay. And it felt ludicrous to bring it up with Buffy, who pretty much held the trump card on difficult life changes these days. How could Willow complain about anything to the best friend who still hadn't forgiven her for not leaving her dead? No, there was no one to talk to about this, no one who could possibly understand-

"Hard, innit?"

Willow jerked her head up, flustered, having completely failed to notice Spike's appearance at her elbow.

The vampire looked about as dissolute as a man who didn't have to shave could manage. His red shirt was rumpled, and his normally impeccable peroxided hair had been mussed into an almost comical jumble of stiff tufts. He had obviously been drinking heavily; the neck of a half-empty bottle of Jose Cuervo dangled precariously from his nicotine-stained fingertips. Spike wasn't swaying at all, but something in the uncompromising line of his back suggested that he was holding himself upright through sheer force of will.

"You're drunk," she said, trying to cover her embarrassment with contempt.

"Feelin' no pain, pet," he agreed, dragging J.C. up for a deliberate swig. He wiped his mouth, held the bottle out to her. "Here. Take the edge off."

Willow eyed the glistening lip - did vampires backwash? - and shook her head, "No thanks."

"Suit y'self," he shrugged, reaching past her to place the bottle on the table.

She caught it mid-topple and moved it further away from her computer, glaring at him. "Watch it!"

"Sorry," Spike said, bracing himself on her chair. "Testy, aren't we?"

Willow reached for her textbook and flipped through it, frowning, doing her best to ignore his not breathing down the back of her neck.

"Oh, come on," the vampire prodded, "I know how hard this is for you."

"I don't know what you mean," Willow lied, wondering why he was still there and how much longer it would take to get rid of him.

"Don't play coy with me, Red," Spike purred, insinuating himself over her shoulder to murmur next to her ear. Her eyes watered from the tequila that had burnished his voice to a rich copper. "You know what I mean. *This*."

He lowered his lashes, inhaling the fragrance of warm girlflesh rising off her neck. It was deja vu all over again. Willow waited, frightened and fascinated in a confusing ratio that kept her still and silent just under his lips. "This hangin' about, all this force at your fingertips, all these opportunities, and havin' to restrain y'self every bloody minute 'til you want to howl."

Willow finally found the strength to pull away, wincing as the edge of the table cut into her back. "What would you know about it?"

Spike rolled his eyes. "Oh, please. I know everythin' about it. What do you think I've been doin' for the past two and a half years?"

She tried to laugh, discovered that she was shaking. "What are you trying to say? You know where I'm coming from?" Her lip curled involuntarily in disgust. "I'm *nothing* like you."

"Oh yeah?" Spike jutted his chin out. "Well lookit Miss High 'n' Mighty. Let me tell you something, Red. The chip don't stop me from doin' violence to humans, it only guarantees unpleasant consequences to my person when I do. I'm the one as has to hold myself in if I want to avoid feelin' like my brains are dribblin' out my ears."

He pressed in again, his pale, poreless face blurring as she fought to focus on his bloodshot blue eyes. "Sound familiar? Lookit you. Look what it took for you to stop pullin' the black mojo on your friends. Was it 'cause you grew up and started takin' some responsibility for y'self?" His cool, Cuervo-laden breath blew belligerently against her eyelashes, her cracked lips, the tip of her nose.

"No. It was 'cause the Sorceress left you, and the Little Bit hates you, and even though Buffy's stuck by you so far, you know she was * this* close to bootin' your magical arse out o' the house."

Willow wanted to scream, to drown out the devastating drawl, to clap her hands over her ears and run from the vampire's words like a child. She might have tried if Spike's strong, slender hands hadn't shot forward and pinned her shoulders in place. "And now that you've finally realized that you can't get somethin' for nothing, can't go on controllin' everythin' and everyone around you unless you want to be the only one in the room, you're tryin' to quit. Well, bully for you. What a bloody saint."

She could barely force a whisper of protest past the tightness in her throat. "That's - that's not - It wasn't like that - I'm, I'm one of the good guys, I used magic to *help* people-"

"Oh, yeah," Spike slurred, tightening his hands on her biceps so that they both winced, "such a selfless little witch you were. Helpin' 'em out of their memories. Even helpin' 'em out of-"

"Don't say it," Willow pleaded, even as he finished darkly,

"Heaven."

The word seemed to reverberate between them for a second before Willow hung her head and wept. Not in the storm of tears she had summoned the night Tara moved out, but with a kind of quiet hopelessness that squeezed the air out of the room and eventually loosened Spike's grasp.

He released her at last with an audible sigh, rose unsteadily and turned as if to depart, but then abruptly changed his mind and plunked down beside her, pulling a chair around to straddle it. Hesitated a moment, then patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. Willow flinched, wondering if he would come up with a comforting lie to stop her crying, but this was Spike, after all.

"'Nough o' that, eh? Know you weren't tryin' to hurt anyone, not to begin with. But you know that sayin' about the road to hell bein' paved with good intentions? Not just a figure of speech."

If this was an attempt to cheer her up, it was so not working; Willow couldn't recall ever having felt so miserable. But he went on, waxing drunkenly philosophical, Spike-fashion, "Intention is a human invention, pet." He seemed to relish the phrase, pausing to roll it around on his tongue. "The universe at large don't recognize it as a factor. A miss is as good as a mile, as they say.

"Chip's the same. Intentions don't count, only the bloody result. I can fantasize about sinkin' my fangs into your luscious little neck, for example-" Willow eyed him, alarmed, but he continued matter-of-factly, "but I won't come to no harm unless I do it. And I can get slammed with a migraine for attackin' a mugger even if I thought he was a demon at the time."

He caught himself, glanced back at her swollen face and runny nose, and handed her a tissue from the box on the table. Willow blew her nose bemusedly as he changed his angle.

"I'm gettin' off topic. Point is, pet, you may have started out not meanin' to do any harm, but once you got a taste for it, the power became its own reason for doin' things. Power feeds on power, it breeds and multiplies with a will of its own. All life is a will to power, pet. You might think you want it to do good, or evil, but at the heart of it, you want power for its own sake. We all do."

"But - no. I mean, that's, that's not why I miss it. The magic." Spike raised a skeptical eyebrow but waited for her to elaborate. "It's - it's just - things have gotten so hard. And I'm so alone now. Especially with Tara gone. It's so horrible and lonely. Magic connected me to the world, to people..."

"Magic connected you, aw' right," the vampire agreed. "Connected you to 'em like a puppeteer to her marionettes."

"No, it - it hooked me into the natural rhythms, it gave me a place, in the pattern-"

Spike made a rude noise. "You *are* a natural creature, Red. You *have* a place in the pattern. Magic let you shape the pattern to your own design, is all." He grabbed her chin, twisted her face up to hold her defiant gaze, but spoke almost kindly. "Look. Your bird dumped you and your pals are scared of you. 'Course you're lonely. But don't go makin' your situation into the loss of some big mystical harmony with the universe, 'cause it in't true. Don't try to fool y'self. If you ask me, you're too clever a girl for that."

"No one's asking you," Willow hissed, losing her temper at last. He let go then, scowling, and she pressed her point as viciously as she could. "What, you think I wanted your help? You think any of us do? We all hate you, Spike. And you better appreciate that chip, because Buffy would have staked you years ago if you weren't so pathetic. You do realize that, right? Maybe you should take your own advice. I know you still think you're in love with her. Stop kidding yourself that she's ever going to come around."

"Oh, yeah?" Spike shot back. "Happen she's already come around me, if you know what I'm sayin'."

For a second she only stared, sure that he was joking, but he suddenly looked too scared sober not to be serious. "You are such a liar," she accused him, voice trembling with indignation and denial. "You're disgusting - Buffy would never-"

"Wouldn't she, though?" Spike asked, lifting his chin, a strange gleam in his eye. "I'm sure she told herself that for a long time. Right up until the night she jumped me in an abandoned buildin' and we fuckin' pulled down the walls." She couldn't answer at once, her throat choked with outrage at this ridiculous fabrication, so he added, "I'm sure you remember it... she snuck back home full mornin', sore as a convict's arse."

Then Willow did recall Buffy's return, through the haze of magical hangover and throbbing feet, and her stomach rebelled as sweat broke out on her brow. Unwanted images began to flash through her mind like a pornographic slideshow, Spike and Buffy in all sorts of grotesque positions, sweat and semen and slippery skin. "Oh my god. She was -you were - oh god! How, how did it happen? You must have tricked her somehow, she was so sad and confused, you took advantage-" Her voice rose involuntarily, threatening to thin to a shriek.

"Bollocks," he said loudly, quelling her hysteria without effort. "She needed somebody. You lot were worse than worthless after you brought her back. Any fool could tell somethin' had gone wrong, but she wasn't talkin' to any of *you*. No, I was the only one," and here his voice caught slightly, "the only one that she could bear to disappoint."

Willow's heart pounded erratically in an almost overwhelming surge of shame, jealousy, and rage so that she couldn't find breath to speak. Her blood sang of violence in her veins. Spike recovered himself in the silence and twisted his face into a more familiar leer. "Not that she's disappointed me lately, you understand. Quite the contrary, in fact. Always knew it would take a Slayer to satisfy me."

"Shut up," Willow warned in a low, rough voice she almost didn't recognize as her own. She shuddered at the rage rising in her, the light around them intensifying as her pupils dilated. Magic shimmered under her skin like a million bright butterflies. It would be so easy to release it, to just relax and let it flood through her and out. "You monster. You stay away from her..."

But Spike only smirked at her. "Or what, Red? You'll jump off the wagon with both feet and then blame me for your backslidin'?"

No. That would be too easy. Smothering the spell that was forming itself on her lips, she slapped his sneering face with all the strength of her fury and frustration instead. It left her hand stinging, but he barely blinked.

"That your best shot? Well, don't worry, pet, I'm sure you can find somethin' heavier to hit me with next time. Or you can just give in one day and smite me with the real stuff. That'd be convenient, wouldn't it?"

About to reply, Willow stopped at the surprisingly sad expression that flickered in his face. "That's me, right? Always so bloody convenient."

He took a deep breath, apparently for emphasis, then caught her eye again, half-mocking, half in dead earnest. "Sorry, Red. But I'm not going to stay away from her because of you, or her, or anybody. I can't even stay away from her for my own fuckin' sake." And he drew back abruptly and lurched out of the house, letting the front door slam with a sound of finality behind him.

Still stunned, Willow hadn't moved when Buffy barged in a moment later, looking miffed. "Hey Will."

"Hey," Willow echoed nervously. "Buffy! You! Came home. As you sometimes, um, do."

Buffy gave her a suspicious glance but only asked, "Was Spike just here?" in a tone of studied casualness.

"You should know," Willow muttered.

"What?"

"Nothing. Yep. Spike."

"Well, did, he, um, say what he wanted?"

"I think he said just about everything he wanted to, yeah," Willow answered dryly.

Buffy looked puzzled and sort of scared. "That's not what I- I mean, uh, fine then. Okay." She made a visible effort to smooth her wary expression over and forced a tight smile. "Hey, I'm starving, what's in the fridge?" Rapid escape into the kitchen.

Willow stared after her friend, then down at her empty palm, still smarting, mottled pink and white. At last she opened her laptop, stared at the screen for a moment, and then resumed working the problem, slowly and laboriously drawing the threads together into a whole that almost made sense.


Give it to me straight: berenbaum@hotmail.com


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