by Kat

There were advantages to being the responsible girl.

It wasn't the obvious ones that she sought, but the little-acknowledged ones that she rarely took advantage of. But on a night like tonight, a night when loneliness covered her like a shroud, she could appreciate them.

Bottles with names like Vodka and Rum swam before her watery eyes, tempting her to drown her loneliness and spend the night with them.

She might as well; there was nobody else knocking down her door, pleading for her company.

Christmas Eve, she thought, losing her way beneath another wave of self-pity and sadness. Everyone had someone. Buffy had her mother; Xander had his parents--and more importantly, Cordelia. Giles had his friend Olivia, who was not a girlfriend, but most definitely a girl. Willow was still puzzling that one out. Even the lowliest of the low had someone.

But not her.

Sure, she didn't celebrate Christmas. But there was still Chanukah. So maybe she didn't do much to celebrate it, either. But she would have, if there had been anyone around to celebrate with.

Willow selected a bottle of green liquid from her parents' bar, staring through the bottle and examining the room in a new, greener light.

'Open the cap. Take a swig. Enjoy me,' it seemed to say, sparkling cheerfully. 'I can give you what you need,' it promised.

Even though she knew it was an empty promise, Willow twisted the cap.

The first sip burned. So did the second. And the third. But by the time the fourth hit her throat, a happy, minty numbness started to surround her, cocooning her in its cotton embrace.

The heat that burned down her throat began to spread, and soon her body was pleasantly warm, and her mind pleasantly blank.

All too soon the little bottle was empty. She sat for a while, listening to nothing, but hoping for something. She didn't even care what, as long as it was something that would shatter the unbearable loneliness she felt.

Family. They should be here. Not off at some conference or seminar. But here, with her, celebrating the joy of the season.

Every time Xander complained about his parents, or Buffy acted embarrassed by her mother's need to spend time with her, Willow had to fight back a mean response. At least they had parents who were home, who were there. She hadn't had that luxury for years now. And sometimes, on a night like tonight, she'd give almost anything to have a mother to complain about.

Well damn, the lovely minty glow was beginning to dissipate. Reality wouldn't be far behind. She was going to have to try something else.

A half-dozen bottles surrounded her as she sat on the living room floor, but none of them contained the minty goodness she sought. Some were downright vile she decided after a taste, quickly spitting the liquid back into the bottle. The worm she saw floating in another was enough to keep her from even attempting to open the bottle. But the worm was supposed to be there. She was almost certain of it.

Whose bright idea was that?

Maybe she should go out and get something else. For some reason that seemed like a good idea, but she suspected that she would be doomed to return empty-handed. Why was that?

Oh, because she wasn't 21 yet. Why the heck hadn't that occurred to her earlier?

But maybe at Willy's...? She pictured the human bartender as she usually saw him, cowering behind his bar in an effort to avoid physical harm at the hands of the Slayer.

Would Buffy go with her to get more of the yummy, minty goodness? No, she decided, Buffy was much more likely to sympathize with her, and then tell her to go to bed and sleep it off. And that wasn't what Willow was in the mood for.

Willow got up and went to the window, peeling back a lacy curtain and sneaking a look outside. Quiet. Dead quiet. She giggled at the pun. Not a vampire or demon in sight. Giles had said that Christmas and Christmas Eve were notoriously quiet days, even more so than Halloween. As proof, they hadn't heard a peep out of Angelus and his childer for nearly three days now.

So Willow bundled herself into a coat, grabbed her purse, and headed outside. She was on a quest for minty goodness, and she didn't care how long it took to find it.

As long as it didn't take more than an hour or so.

Oh, this was such a good idea, Willow decided, congratulating herself on a job well done. Willy had taken one look the abject misery on her face, and another at the money in her hand, and any attempts to send her away had died unspoken.


She had been extremely disappointed to find out that he didn't have the yummy minty stuff, but he had supplied her with a small glass of chocolatey minty stuff. That was like two yummy treats in one. Willow didn't know how she was going to do it, but she would have to convince her parents that this new chocolate mint stuff was the way to go.

"Hey, Willy."

Willow eyed the stranger who had just taken a seat on the barstool next to hers.

"You look like you've had a really bad day," the stranger observed. She tilted her head quizzically. "Or you're having a really good night. Could be either one, I suppose." Willy set a glass of brown liquid in front of her and she smiled her thanks.

"You might want to steer clear of that one, Hallie," Willy advised, nodding his head towards Willow. "She's friends with the Slayer. Might be more trouble than you really need."

The newcomer gave a tinkling laugh, her eyes settling on Willy as an anticipatory smile widened her lips. "Thanks for the warning, but I think I can take whatever the newest Slayer wants to throw at me." She ran her eyes around the room, a world-weary expression settling on her face. "Slayers come, Slayers go. But I'm still here."

Willy nodded affably, and then shuffled off at the impatient snap of a Chaos demon on the other side of the room.

"Friend of the Slayer, huh? Seems like a rather odd place to be hanging out on Christmas Eve," she said, opening the conversation.

"Right back atcha," Willow replied, slurring her words slightly. The minty-chocolate drink had done its work well, and she was once again floating in that blissful state where nothing really mattered, other than the need to feel this way for as long as she possibly could. Then a thought occurred to her, breaking its way through the cotton between her ears. "Hey, you're not a vampire, are you?" she asked, squinting suspiciously at the woman next to her.

Again that tinkling laugh. "Do I look like a vampire?"

Well, no, she didn't, not really. She looked quite normal, actually. Light brown curly hair framed a decidedly non-vampire-y face. In fact, the face seemed sympathetic. As did the voice.

"So tell me, sweetie, what sends a nice girl like you out alone on Christmas Eve? Shouldn't you be with your family? Or friends?"

The question should have set off warning bells. Probably would have, if it weren't for the alcohol she had consumed. So instead of answering cautiously, as she normally would have, Willow actually told the truth.

"No family at home, no boyfriend, no friends. Well, okay, I have friends, but they've all got," she savored the pain again, "they've all got someone else."

The sympathetic face swam into view again. "Sorry to hear that. I know what it's like, though. No family of my own anymore. They're all gone," she sighed regretfully, although if Willow had taken the time to study her face, she would have noticed that the emotions there were not reflected in the woman's cold, sharp eyes. "I bet you miss them, huh? Your family? I mean, this is the time when you should all be together. Everyone should be telling stories, eating, exchanging gifts, all the normal stuff."

Willow sighed, feeling a bit of her numbness wearing away at the words of the person next to her. "Yeah," she admitted softly, "sometimes I wish I had more of a family. Someone to be there, to love me, to take care of me. And not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Because I was important to them."

Her eyes closed as she imagined what a holiday could be like. People gathered together in the living room, a table full of food, a fire roaring in the fireplace, and conversations, lots of conversations. She could feel herself in that room, with those people, and the actuality of it was so close, so very close. But then the words of the woman next to her pulled her back to the present.

"Wish granted." The voice was husky and low, and there was an otherworldliness to it that set her teeth on edge.

Wish--huh? Willow frowned, trying to figure out what the woman was talking about. Her eyes opened and she turned her head. The sight that greeted her eyes set her heart racing and her eyes blinking. It was like something out of a nightmare--or one of Giles' reference books.

The face was misshapen and veiny, and seemed to have hills and valleys to it that did not, could not, exist. The lips were cruel, and the smile they held gave her little comfort. And then, when she blinked again, the woman was gone. Just...gone. It was as if someone had switched off a light; one moment she was there, and the next she wasn't.

Willow bolted upright, managing to tumble off her barstool in her haste to get away, far away, from the apparition she had just seen. It didn't matter that the--the thing was gone. The very space where she had sat moments before seemed tainted. The noise brought Willy back to her, his expression concerned. "I tried to warn you," he proclaimed, as if he already knew that something was wrong.

"Who--what--was she?" Willow asked nervously, a bit more of the fog in her head clearing away. She didn't like what she was seeing, and for a moment she considered the option of simply refueling until things were foggy again. But a nagging sense of urgency plagued her, and she knew, somehow, that something was terribly wrong.

"Hallie," Willy answered. The blank look on her face convinced him that the answer was insufficient. "Halfrek. Vengeance demon. Surely you've heard of them?"

At her continued blank stare, he went on. "They give you whatever you wish for. Thing is, there's usually a twist."

A twist. Whatever you wish for. Willow rubbed her forehead wearily and threw her mind back to the conversation she had been having just a moment ago. What had they been talking about? Think, damn it. Think!

The holidays, friends, family--FAMILY, that was it! She'd been feeling sorry for herself, wishing her family had been around her. WISHING...god, what had she said, exactly? The words came back to her, along with a sharp slash of dread. 'Sometimes I wish I had more of a family.'

Willow threw a wad of crumpled dollar bills at the bartender, running for the door with a speed and agility that surprised them both. She had to get home. Now.

Confusion and doubt assailed her as she approached her house. The house was alight, the windows bright with welcoming cheer. Her parents' cars both stood in the driveway, and for a moment, just a brief moment, Willow allowed herself to relax. Her feet were sore, her heart was pounding deafeningly in her ears, and the gasps of breath she took were a testament to her fear, and the speed that had propelled her home in record time.

Willow took a moment to stand still, her gaze sweeping the house as she considered all that it meant.

They were home. Somehow, some way, her parents had made it home for Christmas. Sure, they didn't actually celebrate Christmas, but that didn't matter to Willow one bit. Tonight when she went to bed, her parents would call out, 'good night, Willow,' and she would be able to warm herself with the knowledge that tonight, if only for one night, she was not alone.

She skipped the rest of the way to the door, fishing her key out of her pocket and sliding it into the lock. "Hi, I'm home. Sorry I'm late," she called out, hoping they wouldn't question the late hour of her arrival.

Silence greeted her.

Willow frowned, her gaze sweeping through the living room.

Her father sat at the couch, his back towards her. Something was wrong. "Dad?"

His head didn't turn, and no voice replied. Something was VERY wrong.

Willow rushed to the front of the couch, facing her father. Facing what was left of her father.

A strangled cry died in her throat as she stared at her father's body. His neck was...gone. Covered in blood. Blood that even now continued to ooze slowly from the wound, soaking his white business shirt and dribbling down the front of his body.

"Daddy," she whispered brokenly, dropping to her knees as her legs gave out.

Willow sobbed, the tears dripping from her eyes, as she tried not to look at their cause. Memories assailed her from a time when she was younger, and her parents had been a constant in her life. Her mother teaching her to read. Her father showing her how to ride a bike--that moment when he had let her go and she had soared, a look of pride on his face at her accomplishment. Her mother, teaching her to bake challah, the flour covering her apron and sticking to her hands. Her parents talking with her, comforting her, being there for her. Willow remembered it all.

A sound in the distance, the whisper of fabric, came to her. Vampires, her mind knew with a certainty. And they were still here.

There were a thousand voices in her head telling her to run. But like the heroine of every cheesy horror movie, she did the opposite. Even though she knew it was too late to save her mother, she still had to know. To see the horror of it for herself.

Her eyes searched the room quickly, looking for anything that might be used as a weapon. A lone pencil caught her eye, peeking out from beneath a pile of business papers in her mother's roll-top desk. Willow grabbed it, holding it tightly in her hand, as she headed towards the kitchen.

She blanched at the sight of her mother lying on the table. Her heart had been ripped from her chest. The pencil dropped from her hand, unnoticed, as she stared. Willow tried to feel something, anything, other than nausea, but the numbness from earlier in the evening seemed to be taking over again. This time it was shock, she suspected. Whatever the cause, the result was welcome. Anything that kept her from feeling was okay with her.

A childish giggle caught her attention, and she whirled to see Drusilla, dressed in violet velvet and ancient lace, appearing from inside the pantry. Her lips were curved in a playful smile, her head tilting first to the left, and then to the right, as if trying to solve a puzzle. "Kitten doesn't look very happy," she pouted. "But the stars, they never lie."

Willow backed away from the vampire, taking only a couple of steps before being stopped suddenly by the cold, hard body of the vampire behind her. Strong arms surrounded her, crushing her against his chest. "And just what did the stars tell you, Dru, darling?" Spike asked playfully from behind Willow, his arms releasing her when she made no move to escape him, coming to rest lightly on her shoulders.

"Oh, they promised wonderful things," she assured him, a mysterious smile forming on her lips.

"They always do," Angelus agreed, the final participant in her nightmare wandering in from the laundry room. He held one of her mother’s mauve hand towels. Apparently he had been washing his hands. Washing her mother’s blood from his hands, she realized, the thought hitting her sharply, and she squeezed her eyes shut.

"I've got to admit, I was a little skeptical. But maybe the stars were onto something here. She is a pretty little thing," he agreed, as if her beauty had been the subject of an earlier discussion.

Her eyes flew open again as Angelus approached her, his eyes dark and unreadable. Willow shrank back against the body behind her. A hand lifted her chin, and Angelus studied her curiously. "Shy, dependable, Willow. I wonder--what kind of a vampire will you make?"

She shivered at his words, words meant to terrify her, and tears beginning to pool in her eyes. “I don’t want to be a vampire,” she whispered, knowing it would make very little difference to the others.

“Oh, you’ll change your mind,” Angelus smirked, seeming inordinately pleased with himself. “The first time that you taste warm blood, that you feel the fear and desperation as the light slowly fades from the eyes of your first victim, you’ll feel so free, so alive. You’ll finally understand that the first seventeen years of your life were simply a dress rehearsal for this.”

"Shhh," whispered Drusilla, coming to stand beside Angelus. "Don't make Kitten cry," she admonished, turning pleading eyes to her sire. "She's just scared." Those dark, comforting eyes looked at Willow again. "We're going to be your new family," she promised. "We'll take care of you, and love you, and you'll belong to us forever."

A dark realization hit Willow, as several things occurred to her at once. Willy's voice rang in her ears, explaining, 'They give you whatever you wish for, but with a twist.'

She had wished for a family. People to take care of her, to love her, to be there for her. And now she knew what the twist was...

A deep sound vibrated against her back, and she realized that Spike was growling at her. No, not at her. At Angelus. The other vampire backed away, hands held in front of his body, placating, as he gave Spike a grin. "Don't worry, childe. I know who she belongs to."

Willow puzzled the words for a moment before figuring them out. She belonged to Spike now. Would be his childe. The thought started a panic in her, and she began to struggle against him.

She caught him by surprise, slipping easily from his arms. But before she had taken even three steps from him, his arm shot out and caught hers, his fingers crushing as they slid down to grip her wrist. "Oh, no, I don't think I'm ready to give you up just yet," he taunted, pulling her to face him.

Cold fingers explored her face, running with surprising gentleness over her cheeks, whispering across her chin, coming to rest ominously at the pulse-point in her throat. He lowered his head to her neck, running his tongue teasingly along the skin. "Relax," he whispered to her alone, his cool lips teasing the flesh of her earlobe. "It will only hurt for a moment. And then we'll have forever."

Willow started to struggle again, but it was far too late. A bark of laughter came from across the room. Angelus, enjoying her predicament, feeding on her fear. Her eyes watched as he grabbed Drusilla and their lips met in a brutal kiss, their faces suddenly bristling with fangs and ridges.

Spike had changed too; she could feel his long canines as they brushed teasingly across her neck. Just do it, she wanted to shout. Get it over with. She was already dead and she knew it. There seemed no reason to fight it now.

"Ready, luv?"

She whimpered slightly, squeezing her eyes shut as she tensed and waited for the pain.

And was surprised by a kiss. Soft and gentle, his lips teased her flesh, and in spite of everything, Willow felt herself relax.

His fangs sank in smoothly, like a diver slicing into a pool without a splash or a ripple on the flat surface of the water. There was a moan, maybe his, maybe hers, and she felt lips working in time with the sucking, as her blood left her body.

Soon she was floating, numb again, relaxed again.

And then her world went black.


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