Which, logically, might help.
Thus, without further ado, I present a tale from Season seven of Buffy, and featuring everyone's favourite rat...
Title : Divide and Conquer
Rating : 15
Setting : One night during Buffy season 7.
Summary : Amy’s got some thinking to do, and a hard decision to make.
Disclaimer : Buffy and the gang belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
It was approaching midnight.
The witching hour.
And Amy Madison still had not made up her mind.
On the surface, it was such an easy choice. But below the surface swam so many under-currents. Gratitude, resentment, friendship and the cold hard ache of longing all rolled around inside her and twisted themselves up into knots in her stomach.
She sat on the ledge by her bedroom window and gazed out into the night. Sunnydale, as ever, looking charming and peaceful and restful. And yet she knew about the darker side. The vampires, the witches, the monsters. The Hellmouth. All those things that laid hidden during the day and only came out to play at night. She shivered, but kept looking out into the night.
She still had a decision to make.
She remembered back to earlier that night. The unexpected visitor. Someone she’d never expected to see again. Buffy Summers. The Slayer.
Buffy had stood there in the kitchen, her arms folded, her face set. Leaning against the side, her untouched cup of coffee cooling in the breeze from the open window. "I want you to test Willow".
Such an easy way to put it.
Sounding so simple, like a school test.
She’d known at once though, that it wasn’t that easy.
Nothing ever was on the Hellmouth.
Amy had looked up from her chair at her visitor in mild shock. “You want me to do what to Willow?”
Buffy just looked back at her. A hard, firm and fixed look. "You heard me. I want her tested to the limits."
Limits. Everyone had limits. How far they’d go, what lengths they’d go to, and when they would stop.
Scary, scary Willow.
Not the shy, quiet girl Amy had known at school.
Not even the confident, out-going magically strong Willow she’d briefly known when she’d stopped being a rat.
Black haired, vein-faced, magic sucking, murdering Willow.
She’d reached her limits. Then smashed straight through them, leaving casualties behind her. Rack. And she’d heard whispers of others. Maybe one, maybe more.
Did Willow have any limits any more?
Buffy holding her gaze. Still closing herself off with the arms folded. “Ever since last year when she went all power crazy on the magic overdose, she hasn’t been using the magic stuff unless she has to.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “That’s not the Willow I need.”
Amy shivered and reached for her coffee. Suddenly she wasn’t feeling that warm. She leant forward, smoothing her free hand against the tabletop.
Buffy continued on, tilting her head slightly to one side. “There’s a big bad out there again. A very big bad. Capital B’s. And we… I need my big gun. I need Willow back to her butt kicking telepathic witch self. Pronto."
She’d known of course, that something was out there. There was always something out there in Sunnydale. But this time, she was feeling something. Something cold and old and patient and waiting. Waiting for the right moment. The more gifted people around Sunnydale tended to pick these feelings up fairly regularly, but this time it just felt worse. Much worse. She wouldn’t be at all surprised if ordinary people started feeling it soon. She shuddered and hugged herself tighter, as she gazed out into the Sunnydale night.
"But why me? Not that I’m going to do anything,” she’d asked plaintively, looking up almost unwillingly at Buffy. Sitting there in her kitchen, looking up at someone who’d made it clear before that she didn’t care whether she ever saw her again, she’d experienced a slight moment of unreality.
The moment passed as Buffy leant forward. “No. It’s got to be a magic thing. She’s sworn off it more or less since Tara died and the following mess she made. That means a magic user.”
She paused, held Amy’s eyes with hers, and almost whispered, “And that just leaves you, Amy."
A magic user.
Such a harsh way to put it.
Not a witch, or a practitioner of magic.
But a user.
It hurt her still, thinking about it now, hours later. Buffy had deliberately chosen that phrase to hurt her. To see how she reacted.
"Assuming you’re more of a magic person that a user now. You are off the magic kick now, right?"
Such an easy way for Buffy to put it. Off the magic kick now. Sure, she no longer had the furious need to feel the magic running through herself now. But the urges… the desire were still there.
Awakening at night-times. So similar to this very night. Looking out over Sunnydale, feeling the cold hard ache inside her.
It was her pain.
Not anything to do with Buffy at all. Ever.
"Ummm… more or less. Some cravings but nothing I can’t handle. Since Rack… went away," she’d answered, knowing there was no real way of explaining everything.
She could use magic now easily, without any danger of addiction. The magic was once again just a tool, a method for doing things the quick way. Without Rack there to push it back through you, to run it through every part of your body…
And that just led back round to Willow again, didn’t it?
Buffy had just carried straight on, arms unfolding and lifting in the air. “Fine. Whatever. And now she’s making eyes at Kennedy. The potential slayer. It’s been how long since Tara died? Hello! Love of her life? Reason for going all Darth Willow on us?”
Once again, she locked her gaze on Amy’s. “I need to know, Amy.”
“I need to know if she can still step up when it counts.”
“Hell, I need to know if she can’t be relied on."
That had sent a shiver down Amy’s back. The Slayer had become so hard over the last couple of years. And now she was turning that harsh unforgiving gaze onto her allies. Searching for weaknesses that might or might not exist.
Willow had turned Dark, that was true. But she had come back from that.
The Slayer was getting deeper and deeper into Darkness. But it was needed, Amy guessed. Sometimes, she supposed, you had to deal with the devil to beat him.
"Besides, what’s she done for you, Amy?” Buffy had carried on, not giving her a chance to think. “Seen your close friend recently? Your fellow witch? Your Wicca partner? Go through withdrawal over summer all by yourself, while Willow got shipped off to a coven in England to learn stuff?”
“I’m sorry. What was that?” Buffy had mocked her.
Amy remembered those long, cold days. In the very heat of summer, when it was so hot outside in the Californian sunshine, she would be lying there on the kitchen floor. Cold, clammy and shivering so hard that she had to wrap her arms around herself and curl up into a small ball.
Sounds had drifted to her while she was lying there, racked by pain, desire and need. Sounds of children playing, of ice cream vans passing by and birds singing. The bright sunshine shining in through the windows, and slowly, ever so slowly, creeping across the floor towards where she had lain shaking.
Oh, she had no desire to ever go through that again. Alone, and not knowing or even caring when it would end. Slowly she had realized the fits were coming less and less. That she was getting enough warning of an upcoming fit to get herself to the bedroom.
That the summer had passed without her noticing.
"Yes! Yes, I went cold turkey over summer. By myself.”
“Huh,” said Buffy, quizzically tilting her head once more. “Willow just passed that bit off. But then she was busy with the coven, learning their stuff.” She paused, considering for a moment. “It just comes so easily to her, doesn’t it?"
Amy blinked, and moved closer to the bedroom window. Sunnydale was still there. At times she thought her memories of the place were another side effort of coming off the magic dependency. She waved a hand and the candles on the table by her bed flared to life. The warm glow spread through the room.
She still felt cold.
Back in the kitchen, it had started to spill out of her. The resentment, the hurt that Willow had caused her. “The last thing she said to me. ‘If you really are my friend, you better stay away from me.’ That hurt me.” Memories of her birthday ‘present’ for Willow popped up, but were repressed in the rage that welled up inside her.
Buffy didn’t say anything.
But it continued to spill out of Amy, like a dam had burst. “She hasn’t called. Hasn’t written or emailed. I saw her in town once, but she crossed the road to avoid me. She hasn’t been to the campus wicca group once!” she had wailed. She stopped short, caught up in the moment. She had shoved her coffee away, and stood up, for the first time that night, on the same level as Buffy.
Buffy had walked round the table and stood behind Amy. Her voice came straight into Amy’s ear, lower than before. More certain. More convincing. “She’s unreliable, Amy. And we need to know. Before it starts getting all wiggy on us. Wiggier.”
Amy had stood there, her mind racing, the chair pushed back against the wall now. “I suppose… I could always cast a penance malediction on her.”
“What? Make with the explaining, okay?” Buffy paced round the kitchen, and back to the other side of the table.
Amy smiled. Not a nice smile either. “A hex, basically. Whoever it’s cast on sorta picks their own worst punishment. Their subconscious comes up with the worse possible thing.”
Buffy smiled grimly. “Sounds appropriate enough."
Buffy had left then, asking her to decide soon. Time was precious, after all.
The actual penance malediction would be easy. She had all the necessary ingredients there in the house.
Now she had to choose.
She wouldn’t be there now, if it wasn’t for Willow.
She’d still be a rat, with a rat brain, and a rat life expectancy.
She glanced across the room at her bed. Piled on top of it were all the ingredients for the spell. She’d told herself that it meant nothing. That she hadn’t chosen yet. That she could just put all the stuff away again.
Could she do this to Willow? Her friend? Her fellow witch?
Who she hadn’t seen for ages. Who was so busy learning new magics and getting herself a new replacement girlfriend.
Leaving all those people from before behind.
And across the street, on a rooftop, standing half hidden in the shadow of a chimney was a short blonde haired woman. Anybody passing by, who happened to look up at just the right angle, might have recognized Buffy Summers, the Slayer. Her face was firm, jaw set and a frown on her face. Watching Amy at her window, waiting for a decision to be made.
And as the clock on the church tower struck midnight, Amy chose.
Out of a mixture of pain, hope and determination, she chose to cast the spell and put Willow to the test.
Witch against Witch now. And either way, the Slayer would lose one ally.
And from the rooftop opposite, The First smiled.