Whatever It Takes
The knock on my front door threw me completely. Nobody, and I mean nobody, ever comes here. I don’t allow it.
Sure I’ve got friends, some sexual and some non, but none of them ever gets so much as the hint of an invite. This place is mine. I feel safe here, and no way do I want someone screwing that all up for me. Well first time for everything though, ‘cause obviously some asshole wasn’t following my rules.
I went to the door planning to tear them a new one for their efforts. Didn’t much care if they were selling something, needing directions, or were just some whining little kid wanting help to go on their lame ass school trip. Whoever the fuck it was they weren’t welcome, and I was gonna get that point across in the strongest way possible.
Looking as tough and mean as I could, which when it comes to me is pretty fucking tough and mean, I snatched open the door. There stood Willow, and what that meant hit me hard. My legs almost buckled under me, and I think I made some kinda noise like a whimper.
I’d been waiting for this day, always hoping with everything that I had that I’d be dead before it came. Well no luck there ‘cause here it was, it’d come right to my house. All I could do was stand so still it musta looked like I was frozen. My heart was moving though, tearing itself into jagged pieces I could feel cutting into me while I fought to hang on.
“No, but she will be. We need your help.”
The relief shot through me, but I think I covered pretty good.
“Red Cross office a few blocks that way. Not running a service here for anybody.”
She already looked desperate, but somehow she was able to ramp it up:
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have to be.”
“Wow, still tossing them compliments my way. Always did have a knack when it came to me. Good to see ya ain’t lost it.”
“There’s no one else.”
She made this little move like she thought she was coming in, but no way was I letting that happen. I stayed firmly planted in the doorway.
“What’s it been now, little over five years?”
“Well hell, feel free to drop by whenever the fuck ya want. Not like I got anything of my own going on. Nope, just been sittin’ here waiting to get asked.”
She didn’t back up an inch, even though she looked pretty guilty.
“I understand this isn’t fair...”
“…but I also understand it has to be you.”
I couldn’t stop the bitterness from flying out. It dripped offa every word I said, and there was fuck all I could do about it:
“And how ya figure that? Not only have I never been needed, I sure as hell have never been wanted either. Let ya in on a little secret Red, all these years away have given me some perspective, and I can tell ya right now I’m not interested in playing low class Slayer anymore. Fact is, I’m not interested in any of this. Just turn your ass right the fuck around and don’t ever come back. There’s nothing here for any of you, and you’re wastin’ my time.”
Willow’s eyes met mine, and she wasn’t budging.
“She’s still the love of your life.”
I laughed because I had to.
“You smoking the magic herbs now? I got no ‘love of my life’. Most I get’s the occasional ‘screw of my life’, and even those are far and few between. Look, I’m living out my time here in Minnesota, and last I checked that puts me nowhere near The Slayer. That’s not an accident.”
“She’s in trouble.”
“Yeah? Then help her. Or get Giles or Angel or Xander or Spike or Dawn to. Fuck, try the freakin’ Yellow Pages if ya wanna. But I don’t ride to the rescue anymore, got enough trouble trying to make it to my own.”
She looked like she was gonna bawl.
"Spike......Spike is dead. Angel tried, so did Giles and Dawnie. They all gave up. Dawn lives with Giles now in England, and Angel stays in L.A.. There’s just me and Xander, and we don’t know how to reach her.”
I was shocked, but no way was I getting sucked in:
“So ya come here? Christ Willow, I can’t reach her. I never could.”
“There’s no one else.”
“Better be or she’s lookin’ at the end of the line. That’s for you to deal with. Me? Got this nice little life going here in the frozen Midwest. Think I’ll hang onto it.”
“She needs you.”
I made a noise that could only be called a snort:
“She’s never needed me. Best I can do is wish ya luck.”
“You’re going to have to do a lot more than that.”
I rubbed my hand over my face, which is what I always do when I’m trying not to punch somebody.
“Fuck, how’d ya find me anyways? Far as I know ya still don’t know my last name, I got no paper trail, and I paid big to dodge any locator spells. Which is it, I make some dumb mistake or get ripped off?”
“Neither. I got around the barriers.”
“Cool…Hey, mind telling me how to stop ya from doing that? See I’m guessing you’re gonna make me pull up stakes again, and I’m not sure how many more fucking times I can start all over.”
“You can’t stop me, I’m too powerful now.”
Anybody else and that’d be bragging. Not Willow though, she wasn’t set up like that. All she was doing was saying the truth.
“Just terrific…Look, this ain’t the Army. I’m out, I been out, and I sure as shit am stayin’ out. Know you’re scared, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. I get that and I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. Just let it go and find somebody else.”
“I told you, there isn’t anyone else. It has to be you, for a whole bunch of reasons.”
That was it, I’d had enough. I made myself look all hard and scary, just like old times:
She wasn’t scared at all, and she wasn’t even thinking of moving.
“She needs you. Not me, not Angel, not Giles, not Xander, not Dawn, not anyone else we might be able to come up with. I’m sorry, I truly am, but this is what it’s come down to. She needs you and she needs you right now. If you don’t come back with me, she’s not going to make it.”
“And that’s my problem how?”
“It’s your problem because she’s Buffy and you love her.”
I just stood there, ready to close the door in her face.
“I’m begging you, you have to help her. You’re the only one who can, please don’t turn away from her. She needs you.”
Shit......I stepped back and let her in:
“Gimme fifteen minutes to grab my gear. Got some cash in the wall, oughta tide me over for however long this goes.”
“Thank you, Faith.”
“Fuck you, Willow.”
Guess it’s more a “who’s” waiting kinda deal. Red had finally given up talking to me about an hour ago. She seemed pretty big with the understanding, course she could afford to be understanding since she was getting her way. I was struggling to get a handle on the anger and the fear I was feeling; I was nuts to be doing what I was doing.
I’d finally managed to hit a good place in my life. I’d found a tiny little scrap of peace for myself, and after all this time, no way should I be winging my way back. But here I was, a knight in really dull and banged up armor, riding right into the fire to rescue the fairy princess. Jesus…
“Okay Red, let’s hear it. Make it short and sweet ‘cause I’m countin’ the minutes ‘til I can get my life back. Just wanna know what I need to do to get the fuck outta here.”
She looked upset and concerned. Guess she wasn’t all that happy with my attitude, but she knew as shitty as it was, it was more than she had a right to. Red’s smart, just about the smartest person anybody could imagine, and she knew it was lucky I’d come along even this far. She wasn’t gonna kick about shit.
“Okay, I’ll try not to ramble. Do you remember how I kinda ramble or babble whenever I get nervous? I was always hoping when I got older, more mature I mean, that it would get better or maybe even go away like acne usually does. Although I shouldn’t really complain because I think bad skin would bother me a lot more than…”
I turned in my seat to face her, and I felt like I was dizzy and my head was spinning.
“Jesus, stop with the demo already. I remember.”
She went red, all embarrassed at how fast she’d lost it.
She sucked in a huge breath and let it back out real slow. It seemed to help her, at least her eyes looked less wild.
“Okay…You know we live just outside of San Diego?”
“Yeah, going on three years now. Soulboy gave me the info. Hellmouth sprung a leak, B went to keep an eye on it, and you Scoobies tagged with her as usual. Other Slayers lost the mojo four years ago and went back to being just regular girls again, life rolls on.”
“Well there’s more to it, but that’s the gist for sure.”
“Great, move on.”
Willow looked all kinds of tense and sad, but she plowed ahead with the big story:
“About ten months ago, a situation happened. Buffy had to chose between Spike and Dawn. She chose Dawn.”
She was teary now, great. Nothing like being stuck on a plane with a bawling chick.
“That when Spike died?”
“Yes. He…He made her let go of him to save Dawn. He…I’m sorry, it’s still so hard to accept…”
“Sounds rough. Bet B didn’t deal too well, always did have trouble with the guilt thing. Takes everything on herself, fair or not.”
Willow had control of herself again, for the minute.
“And that’s exactly what she did. It kind of triggered what we’re dealing with now.”
“Buffy’s…Buffy isn’t Buffy.”
And that was it, like she’d summed up the sitch just right. Yeah cool, but I needed more.
“Not gonna play ‘Twenty Questions’. Just spit it out.”
“…She’s hard and mean, I guess that’s the best way to put it. She drinks, takes drugs, sleeps around, and she kills and enjoys it. She’s sliding down into the darkness and none of us can stop her.”
I sat there and just stared at her because as much as I’d been thinking it was gonna be something like what she’d said, well she was talking about Buffy.
“I think she wants to…to die before she gets there, but so far nothing’s been able to beat her. Her luck’s not going to hold forever though, and she reminds me of…”
“Yeah, I got it. She reminds you of the old me.”
I asked the stewardess, fuck if I’m going all “flight attendant”, for some more alcohol. She just stood there wondering where the hell I was putting it all, trying to figure out if she should cut me off.
Wasn’t in the mood to try and explain my special metabolism to her, so I just gave it to her straight:
“Honey, I’m nowhere near drunk. What I am is gettin’ a shitload of bad news, and I gotta have something to get me through it. We can do booze or I can induct everybody on this flying tin can into the ‘Mile High Club’. Your choice.”
She brought back three bottles, and I poured’em into a plastic cup. I took a sip, then another before I felt like I could face Willow.
“How’d it get up and running? Just what the hell were all of you doing?”
“Not paying attention, believing her lies. At first we thought it was just her grief over Spike, and some of it was. She didn’t love him liked he loved her, but what they had was special and they were incredibly close.”
Yeah well, not like I needed anybody to tell me that. I knew B, I knew what she felt for him, and it had to tear her up when she lost him.
“Two days before he died, he came to me saying he was all worried about her. He told me something was wrong, that it’d been building for a long time, and he was scared she was right on the edge. We didn’t really get a chance to talk, and then he was gone.”
“Makes sense he’d notice. Guy was smart and definitely knew his way around her dark side.”
She stared out the window for a few, and I didn’t push. This was some rough stuff and she looked like she was talking outta turn, like she was spilling all of B’s secrets like some piece of shit friend.
“It hurt her so much when he died, but it turns out that wasn’t the problem, it was just the thing that made her finally stop fighting. The real problem got started a long time ago, it’s so obvious to me now, but back then I just didn’t get it. It started right in front of me and I missed it completely.”
“Well? Knock off the dramatic pauses. What the hell pushed her?”
I snagged the stewardess again:
“Keep it coming. Hide it in a Coke can if ya gotta, but I’m not kiddin’ when I say I need it.”
She must have seen something in my eyes because it wasn’t more than a minute before I had my “Coke” in my hand. I knocked back a big ass slug and it burned all the way down. I chased that with another huge sip of pure fire. Why the fuck was this happening to me?
“Faith, I’m sorry. I…”
“Sure is great. Something else in beautiful Cali that’s all on me. Got some kinda law that says I get the blame whether I deserve it or not? Some rule that says I always gotta be the bad guy every fucking time? Jesus!”
Red didn’t know what to say, who the hell would? Finally I heard her clearing her throat, she was gonna give it a shot:
“She felt alone when you left, like she was back to being one of a kind. She felt like it was all on her again, and I guess it was. She’d been hoping you guys would maybe reach a new understanding…She wanted you to stay.”
“Sure woulda been nice if I’da known that. Don’t remember any big heartfelts, don’t think I missed any little ones either. Soon as The First got its ass stuffed back into its hole, B took us right back to the good old days.”
I had to laugh, but it was nothing but bitter.
“Was ‘Buffy the all powerful, all righteous Slayer’, and me the piss poor, fucked up substitute. I wasn’t anything to her, not a slaying partner, not a friend either.”
The anger and hurt were just surging right to the top, and it was a struggle not to let them just blow out and do whatever damage they wanted to do.
“She still didn’t trust me, wouldn’t let me in even one fucking inch. I got tired of being reminded every goddamned day of what I’d ruined and could never make right. ‘Sides, there’s nobody else who’d have stuck as long as I did.”
“I know that.”
We sat for awhile and when I started up again, I could barely get above a whisper:
“Not all on her. I was never aboveboard, figured too much shit had gone down to ever fix anything. Got so I couldn’t stay with her when I knew how little I meant to her, it hurt too much…and it was killing me. I didn’t wanna leave her Willow, but I had to.”
“I know. I knew how you felt about her and I should have…”
“Whoa hang on now, I’m a big girl with a mouth of my own. Never tried using it, not in any of the ways I know how. Nobody’s fault but my own. I shoulda told her, but I pussied out just about as big as ya can.”
We went back to that silent thing we were now experts at, both caught up in our own thoughts. Couldn’t hang there long, we still had to talk, so I just told her what I was thinking:
“Man, fear’s a big fuckin’ bitch, yeah?”
She smiled at me:
“Yep, the very biggest.”
The stewardess brought me another “Coke” when she saw me crush my empty can. Say what ya wanna, even if the skies aren’t so friendly anymore, they sure as fuck are heads-up.
“Okay then, what’s the sitch? She still living with you?”
“Technically, yes. I mean, her stuff’s all still at the house, and she sleeps there whenever she sleeps. But she’s been going longer and longer stretches of not being there.”
“When did the drinking and drugging grab on?”
Her face scrunched up as she tried to remember:
“The best guess is about eight or nine months ago. It’s been completely out in the open for almost six months, so has her…sex life. It’s like she doesn’t care if we know, like she enjoys throwing it in our faces every chance…”
“She does, and ya don’t need to keep explaining. Remember the mindset all too well, know right where she’s at…Listen, ya did the right thing for B when ya came and got me.”
Her face was all sympathetic again, and her hand squeezed my arm:
“It’s not the right thing for you though, is it?”
“No it’s not, but fuck it. Ya hit the nail right on the head before.”
“But what about…”
“Shakes out real simple here, Red. She’s Buffy, and nothing matters to me more than that. Just how it is.”