11. Fall Into Darkness
Giles blinked a few times then looked up to her. "Oh, Buffy, I'm sorry. Did you say something?" he asked. He'd been lost in his thoughts. Willow was at the back of his mind but this was something a bit more personal. He found as they approached Rhun and possibly the way home, he didn't want to leave. What did he have back in the future? Buffy had moved beyond the need for a Watcher - he wasn't vital anymore. What better place to spend the rest of his days?
"Well, I guess it's not important now," she said as she sat down on the ground, crossing her legs Indian-style. She watched Xander fool around with the wood, preparing to make the fire for their camp. "Where's Willow?" she asked, glancing from one to the other. "Is she still avoiding us?"
Xander nodded in the direction behind him. "She's back there. Doing what, I don't know." He paused in his work to look over his shoulder. Willow had her back to them, staring off into the South as she had been for the last week, like she could see something down there that nobody else could. It was creepy. He couldn't wait to find this wizard and get home. Maybe the old Willow would come back then. "Where's Elenya?"
"Wandering around someplace," Buffy answered with a shrug. "I think she's making sure nobody's following us. Like that creep and his Orcs and thugs." She rubbed her upper arms, gaze shifting back to Willow. "Anybody try to talk to her?" Xander shook his head. When Buffy looked over to Giles, he did too. "Nice. I think I'll go try."
"Good luck," Xander murmured as Buffy walked by him, headed for Willow. "She's wasting her time." He glanced up at Giles and then he raised an eyebrow. "Hey, Giles, now you're acting weird. What's the what? You've been quiet the last few days, too. Are you catching what Willow's got?"
"Hmm?" Giles sat up straight, meeting Xander's gaze. "What? Oh ... uh, no. I was ... I was just thinking about a few things." He shifted his eyes so he looked beyond Xander to Buffy who was now with Willow. "I've been wondering ... "
Xander poked at the fire with a stick after he finally got it burning. He lifted his head a bit. "Wondering about what?"
"When we find this wizard fellow, and in the event he can help us, if I should go back." He folded his hands together, sighing a little as he looked back to Xander. The teenager stared at him as though Giles had just spoken in another language.
"Wait, lemme make sure my hearing's not going -" He pressed the palms of his hands to the sides of his head. "You're saying that you don't want to go back to the future? Back to Sunnydale and the place we belong?" He dropped his hands down, pure confusion on his face then he shook his head. "Giles, what the hell are you thinking? Stay here? What about Buffy and ... and the rest of us?"
"It was only a thought," Giles replied, a bit defensively. He didn't feel that he should have to explain his actions - nor ones he had yet to make - to anybody. "At any rate, what do I have in the future, Xander?" His eyes shifted back to the blonde. "Buffy hasn't any need for a Watcher - she's well able to take care of herself from now on, I think. Without the Council, I haven't much left there, either."
"You don't have much?" Xander couldn't believe he heard this coming out of Giles's mouth. "Giles - you have US. And Buffy does need you." His tone became more distressed as he continued to talk. "You're like her father, for the love of Mike. She'd be lost without you. We need you there with us, G-Man. You're irreplaceable."
"Buffy's becoming more independent, Xander. She's grown up so much in the last few months; she no longer needs my counsel. I haven't much else to teach her. Everything she must do now, it's up to her." He removed his glasses, massaged the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger and sighed heavily. "As I said, it was only a thought I had. I could decide against it by the time we find this man."
"Well, you'd better," Xander sternly said. [What's going on with everyone lately? Giles doesn't want to go home? Willow's ... she's been odd for a while. Buffy's just being Buffy. Am I the only one not suffering from some sort of personal crisis?] "No matter what you think, Giles, I'm sure Buffy'll think just the opposite."
"Don't mention this to her, Xander," Giles quickly replied, his head whipping up at the same time. He gave the teen a pleading look. "I'm not even sure yet, I'd rather have her concentration on more important matters, such as survival."
Xander pressed his lips together. As much as he didn't want to keep quiet about it, he had the same concerns about Buffy's safety as Giles. He didn't want her to die as a result of not being focused. He nodded a little. "I won't say anything. I promise."
"Thank you." He placed his glasses back on. He stared at Xander for a few moments before averting his gaze. He prayed Xander would keep his word and his bloody mouth shut.
Elenya climbed up the low brown hill, taking care to keep a low profile in case there were Orcish archers wandering the nearby country, and then stopped to take in the sight of the Great River, a ribbon of silver and gold in the waning sunlight.
Squinting, she turned southward. Not far away was the Field of Celebrant. Elenya sighed deeply. There, during one of the wars between East and West long ago, Eorl and his riders had come to the rescue of the armies of Gondor in one of their darkest hours.
She gazed upon the Field for a moment longer, then slipped back down the northern slope of the hill. There was some comfort in that little bit of history, but it wasn't of immediate help to her and her friends. They weren't going into battle against a horde of Easterlings, for one thing.
More likely would be a knife in the dark, Elenya mused as she continued on her little patrol of the riverbank. They had all noticed Willow was slipping ever deeper into her own little world. But what was she really capable of? Elenya wondered - in Willow's favor, Galadriel had said nothing against her. Nor had Lord Elrond back in Rivendell. And surely they could see into her heart, at least deep enough to recognize a foe.
Unless it was a test of her own foresight. With Elves, one could never entirely be sure. They weren't tame, and they certainly weren't Men, and Elenya wondered if the others really understood that. Giles, perhaps. He'd spent the most time with the eldest of the Elves. Buffy and Xander seemed generally in awe of the Eldar, and Willow.
Elenya shook her head. That was another black mark against Willow. Caution was one thing, but to be so sullen and rude to the Elves was another matter entirely, and a bad sign.
Buffy made her way over to Willow while Giles and Xander had their own private discussion. Swallowing, she wondered how to start the confab. Her gaze followed Willow's, curious as to what was so interesting to the South of them then she looked back down at the redhead.
"Hey, Will," she greeted as she took on a seat on the ground next to her.
Willow jumped a little, looking to her right as Buffy sat down. Her defenses instantly went up as she regarded the Slayer with a wary eye. The thumb of her left hand gently rubbed the surface of her ring; it was almost a subconscious action on her part.
"Hi," was the tight-lipped reply.
[Okay. So we're still not Miss Chatty.] "So, um... what're you doing?"
"I'm sitting here." Her gaze shifted back to the South. In her dreams, Frodo had told her that the lands South of them were a safe haven. If she could reach Mordor, she would be protected from those who wished to harm her. Getting there was the trouble. Only Elenya knew the way.
"Oh." [Well, duh!] She clicked her tongue a few times, drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. "Well, what're you looking at?"
"Nothing in particular," Willow lied.
"Something must be interesting. You sit away from us for hours staring that way." She nodded South. "Willow, you know if something's troubling you that you can talk to us, right? We'll listen. We're your friends."
[Yeah, right. Friends. With friends like you, who needs demons and vampires?] Willow coldly thought. She looked over to Buffy, impressed with the Slayer's ability to fake concern as Buffy did now. It was Oscar-worthy. Emmy-worthy. Any award-worthy.
"I'm fine, Buffy. I'm just anxious to get back to our own time." She saw the doubt on Buffy's face. Buffy didn't believe what she'd said. "I'd rather be alone for a while, okay? Is that so wrong?"
Buffy let go of her legs and turned to face the other girl. "Willow, we're all worried about you. You've had more mood swings in the last few weeks than a manic-depressive." She glanced at the ring on Willow's finger. "We're also pretty sure that ring has a lot to do with it." [Should I take it from her? I should've done it long before now.]
"It's not the ring, Buffy. When are you guys going to get that through your heads?" Willow snapped back. "Are you going to take it from me? Is that what you want to do? You won't be happy until you take it, will you?" She stood up suddenly, startling Buffy, and Willow looked down at the other girl. "That's what you really want. You want poor, wannabe Wicca Willow back. The girl who couldn't cast a simple spell correctly; the girl you had to save all the time. Those days are over, Buffy. Never again."
"Hey!" Buffy called as Willow stalked away from her. She leaped to her feet, her arms stiff at her sides, the rage boiling inside at what Willow had just accused her of. "Willow!"
After stalking restlessly through the grass for another quarter hour, Elenya was confident there weren't any Orcs lurking about. She made her way back to camp and was greeted by a slowly rising fire and Giles and Xander sitting alone.
"Where are Buffy and Willow?" she asked as she joined them alongside the fire.
Xander turned when he heard Buffy shout. Willow walked away from the very pissed off young Slayer. He sighed softly, shaking his head a bit. He met Giles's gaze then rose up to his feet. "I'll find Willow, you guys handle Buffy."
Buffy muttered a few curses. She turned as Xander approached. "She has a serious attitude problem, Xander. And I'm getting sick of it!" She pointed in the direction Willow had gone. "I'm this close to punching her square in her nose!"
Xander placed a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it lightly then his eyes found hers. "I'll talk to her. Go back over to the campfire, all right? It's been a long day; you should get some rest." He felt her tension ease up a little under his grasp. Giles was wrong about her - she still needed him. He hoped the man would change his mind before they found the wizard. "Don't worry about it."
She watched Xander head off after Willow then she trudged back over to the campfire. Slumping down, she tucked her knees up to her chest, rested her chin on top of them and stared at the red/orange flames that danced before her. [Is that really how Willow thinks I see her? As some sort of incompetent?] Her eyes closed as she let out a tired sigh. [I want to go home.]
Xander hiked over a bit of disagreeable terrain then followed some internal compass through a gathering of rather large boulders - where they'd come from, he couldn't figure out. Most of the land was forest-y; boulders like this seemed oddly out of place. Wonderings of rock origins faded away when he located Willow among the boulders.
He came to a stop just before he rounded the largest boulder completely. A hand pressed against the side of the rock to steady him as he leaned forward to peer around it. His brow furrowed as he watched Willow. If he didn't know better, he would've sworn she carried on a conversation with somebody. He kept quiet, listening hard in order to pick up anything she said.
Pacing back and forth, Willow glanced down at the older Hobbit, Bilbo. She wasn't asleep but his presence in the waking world didn't alarm her. The magickal bond had transcended the dreamscape - its strength was able to break into reality.
She stopped, her fingertips pressed into her temples and a look of distress planted itself on her face.
"You have to help me," she said, her gaze shifting to the white haired Hobbit. Her hands dropped to her sides as her expression became more pleading. "I don't want to hurt anyone but they are forcing me to it."
"What do you care of them?" asked Bilbo. He raised his eyebrows at her in curiosity. He shook his head very slightly. "They are no longer trustworthy. You know the witch poisoned their minds. Come South, Willow. We shall protect you there."
Willow turned away, and she closed her eyes for a few moments. "I can't," she whispered then opened her eyes. Her head bowed low. "I can't do it. How can I go somewhere when I don't know the way, Bilbo?"
The elder Hobbit came into Willow's view again, his face ever a picture of kindness and warmth. His eyes glimmered as he took one of her hands into his then patted it. "There, there. You shouldn't worry about that. I have the solution for what troubles you, my dear."
Willow lifted her head and she met the gaze of Bilbo. "You do?"
"Certainly! That's what we're here for - Frodo and I - to help you!" His bright smile dimmed a bit. "You are able to follow your own path to the safety of the South, Willow. Give yourself to it - the power - and it shall lead you." He cocked his head to the left, gaze sympathetic now. "It's all you have."
Her forehead wrinkled as she frowned at him. Shaking her head a little, she replied, "Even if I do go they'll follow me. Buffy and the others - I know it. I'll be found before I could ever get there. I can't escape them."
Bilbo regarded her again with more sympathy and he patted the young woman's hand a second time. His tone, as always, remained calm and fatherly as he spoke to her.
"My dear Willow," he said. A small tug of her hand brought the redhead to her knees in front of him. His left hand gently rested itself on her cheek. "You already know what you must do. If you do not kill them, they will be the very death of you. End their misery-filled existences, come South and you will find yourself much welcomed indeed."
Something inside of Willow - very dim - still cried out against such actions towards her one-time friends. However, Bilbo had a valid point: What choice did she have left? The confrontation with Buffy just added to an already tense situation - the powder was dumped and the match need only be struck.
Xander made out a few words, not much to give him a clue of what was being said. The simple fact Willow had a very animated conversation with a person who most clearly was not there - well, that was enough for him. He stepped back, cleared his throat then called out Willow's name before coming around the boulder.
Willow gasped as she stood up. "Oh no." Her hands grasped for Bilbo's but he was no longer with her. She was alone again. And Xander came towards her. [Relax. Stay calm. I'm sure he's just here to try to bring you back. Tell you a bunch of lies to placate you.] "Xander, you startled me."
[I'm sure I did. Interrupted your conversation with Harvey.] "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to," he apologized. He carefully approached her, noticing right off that suspicion in her eyes as she regarded him. "You and Buffy had it out. I wondered what it was all about?"
"The usual. She's jealous of me, Xander, it's so obvious." She put her hands on her hips, becoming rather indignant at the same time. Her chin lifted up. "She's so mad that I've changed, that I'm competent with my magickal powers now. She hates it. I'm more powerful than she is, you know. Big Bad Buffy Summers can't have that, can she? She has to be the center of the universe. I never realized it before, but she's more self-involved than Cordelia ever was."
Xander blinked once, but kept his mouth shut. Willow truly felt this way about Buffy? Their Buffy? The Buffy who Willow considered one of the best friends she'd ever had? And to say that Buffy was more self-centered than Cordy - the idea was inconceivable.
"I'm not going back to what I used to be - not you or Giles or Buffy can make me."
"Whoa, Will. We're not trying to make you do anything," he calmly replied as he brought up his hands in a form of surrender. [No sudden movements,] he thought. [She could snap at any moment.] "We're just concerned about you, that's all. That's why I came out here - to make sure that you're okay. Why do you think there's always an ulterior motive with us lately? We're friends, remember?"
"If that's all you have to say, you've said it, now go away." She folded her arms across her chest. "I want to be left alone, okay?"
"It's getting dark, Willow. What if -"
"I'll be FINE."
He sighed softly. He turned away, took two steps but stopped when a hand absently brushed over his tunic top. He reached into the inner pocket and he brought out the small gem that Galadriel had given to him before the group left Lothlorien. 'It helps to clear the mind of doubt and aids in illumination', she'd "told" him.
He looked over his shoulder, then down at the gem in his palm. [If anyone needs some help, it's Willow.] Closing his fingers around it, he went back over to his friend. "Here," he said. He extended his closed fist and when Willow's attention was on it, he opened his hand to reveal the gem. "I want you to have it."
"What is it?" she asked, her eyes narrowing on the sparkling gem.
"Something I don't really need anymore. Here, take it." He pressed the gem into one of her hands and closed her fingers around it. His gaze met hers. "I'll see you back at the camp, Will." He hoped that whatever magick was in that gem would help her - she needed it in the worst way.
As Xander walked away, Willow opened up her hand and gazed down at the shiny gem he'd given her. She blinked a few times then raised her head, but Xander was already out of sight by now. Why would he give her something so precious? Was it some kind of trick? A way to make her think that he was on her side? She was too smart to fall for that. Too smart.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.