Five Ways Of Becoming Someone Else
by Kyra Cullinan

1. Dopplegangland

"Well, maybe I don't wanna be reliable all the time. Maybe I'm not just some doormat person. Homework Gal."

She wakes up under Giles' desk. Limbs tangled haphazardly, and the first thing she notices is that she's naked.

The second is herself, sitting on the floor across the room looking at a knife.

She blinks and realizes the whole world is too bright and loud, and then she remembers. Sits up fast, and the girl who is her and not her looks up and smiles slowly and ferally.

"I missed you," she says. "There's been no one to play with for ages."

Willow feels sticky and raw and open between her thighs, and she realizes she isn't breathing, and that's weird.

"You were so hot," the other her is saying, as she crawls toward her. "And you made prettier noises than Puppy ever does. I almost hated to turn you." She pushes Willow onto her back and straddles her, leather against the bare skin of Willow's hips. "But we're going to have so much fun together."

Willow is still remembering the struggle: cold, strong fingers on her and in her, and later pain like she'd never felt blooming and growing on her inner thigh as the world faded black. Thick, tepid blood being forced down her throat, and how she cried the whole time, deep racking sobs and hot tears on her face, and the way she begged for it all to stop. She is filled with a sudden surge of hatred for herself, that self, and she growls, bucks and flips them so she's suddenly on top. She somehow doesn't care that she's naked, and loves that. It fills her with adrenaline, this sudden brazenness, and she grinds against the body beneath her, which feels good, and makes her other self's eyes light up.

"Ripped up all your fuzzy clothes," smirks the other her, and there they are, crumpled on the floor, pink sweater and tights and little white days-of-the-week panties. Everything about who she was before; everything she hates about who she was before. Underneath her is another picture of herself, all corseted leather and dangerous eye makeup and everything she's not. Wasn't. "We could get you more," she's saying. "Little knee socks."

Willow doesn't want to hear what else she has to say, so she pins her -- sire's? -- arms to the carpet over her head, leans forward and bites down on cool, smooth flesh. Drinks deep, and the taste is familiar already, if somehow stale, while the other girl mewls and writhes beneath her, and the combination of blood and movement and power pushes Willow over the edge.

She's still gasping from her orgasm when the library door bangs.

"Willow??" a voice calls, and she feels her eyes light up at the same time as her double's do.

"Xander," she whispers, and the leathered Willow leans up to lick the blood off her lips.

"You and me ... we're going to make the world right again," she says and slips out from under her into the shadows of the office.

Willow is surprised at how easily her voice slips into a little girl quaver.

"Xander?" she calls and wraps her arms around herself. He appears in the doorway a moment later.

"Will? -- Whoa!" he says and jerks back as he realizes she's naked. "What's going on?"

"Xander, there was ... there was a man here. He ... he did things." She lets her hair fall into her face and looks up at him with widened eyes. "He ..." Her voice trails off.

"Oh God, " says Xander. "Oh shit. Oh Willow." He's crouching beside her in an instant, hovering like he doesn't know whether to touch her or not. She realizes her face is probably still tearstained and she sniffles, leaning into him.

"You weren't here, and I screamed and screamed," she whispers, and can smell the guilt and panic coming off him as he stiffens. It's intoxicating. He's so hot, and she can hear his heart beating. Over his shoulder she sees something move in the shadows, and she knows what will happen with perfect clarity, because her mind is Willow's mind is hers. How they'll fuck him and drink him and turn him. How beautiful her Xander will look in leather and darkness, and how the three of them are going to make the whole world bleed forever.


2. Wild at Heart

"But you wanted her... Like in an animal way? Like...More than you wanted me?"

She didn't die when she was eighteen, not really, but it was an ending nonetheless. A transformation, as deeprooted as any vamping, almost, and she thinks it's actually stranger to be this demoncreature, this werewolf, without having had to die first. That would have made the transition more definite, unmistakable, given her human self a true last moment.

As it was, it was such a little thing. Veruca's wolfteeth scraping her arm in the instant before Oz tore through the door and onto her with the crack and blood of sudden death. So little and nobody noticed, not even her, at least at first, what with the heartbreak and the adrenaline and Oz leaving. And she'd thought she was okay with the not-talking-to-her thing he did, but not when it meant he was walking away from her for maybe-forever, like she just couldn't possibly hope to understand.

So it was a day or two before she accidentally got soap in the scrape while showering and winced when it stung and then stared, blinking at it. It could have been anything, really, which is what she told herself, casually, again and again. Nothing important at all, but she still did a lot of thinking in the next few weeks, between bouts of crying, while the moon shrank and then swelled again. About the lines between human and not and how quick she'd always been to brush over them, so she didn't have to think about it.

The day of the full moon she was twitchy, jumpy, and completely unable to tell if there was an external reason or just her own paranoid nerves. After her last class, she wandered down to Oz's still-there cage as idly as possible, and if she sort of happened to lock herself in, it was just to really prove to herself nothing was wrong. Her heart had never thumped so loudly as she sat and watched the shadows lengthen, and told herself very firmly how silly she was being.

And then something huge and uncontrollable was swelling up inside her, and oh, freedom--

Her excuses to Buffy were flimsier each of the three nights, but she didn't even question Willow. It was obvious she'd already stopped keeping track of the moon, and this plus the sickening enormity of it all and she realized she wasn't going to tell anyone. The way they'd all look at her and completely fail to understand.

And then it was over, but even while the moon waned, she still felt pulled, gravity welling deep inside her limbs.


It took her a month to find him that first time, still thinking so human, following rumored leads and bus routes and using little magics. He was in Savannah, van parked in narrow, haunted streets, and he woke to find her sound asleep on the sidewalk beside it, arms wrapped around her knees, damp and cold with dew. Woke her and smelled her and knew, green-polished fingers tightening wordlessly around her wrist. Took her in the van and undressed her in the gray, pre-dawn light. Rubbed the cold and stiffness out of her limbs and curled around her and slept again, enveloped by blankets.

He was hard when they woke to full morning, and she was wet, and the sex was like nothing she'd ever thought to find words for. Crescent-marks on her neck and thighs, his shoulders and belly. Something missing clicking into place.

Afterwards, she stretched out on top of him, skin on skin, and said, "Teach me." He growled, low and pleased, flipped them over so he was on top, and she could smell his love.

She waited a week and left, dreaming of the north, the pole's magnetic pull, and he found her, the way she'd wanted, drenched by the saltspray and dark earth smell of Maine.

It's a game, and it's the best one she's ever played, and she can't imagine ever getting tired of it. He's better than she is, but she's learning to look with her eyes closed, to feel the strange, wild new energy humming under her skin and let it pull her toward him. She uses magic sometimes, too, but increasingly it's older magic, simpler, with fewer words and more ponderous, earthy forces.

Once upon a time, she remembers, she'd read every book Giles had on lycanthropy, werebeasts, lunar influences on the supernatural. None of it meant anything next to this raw, dark joy and the way Oz talks to her a hundred, a thousand times more than he used to, even if so little of it has to do with words.

She thinks that maybe she's going crazy, living a life she'd never fathomed, and she asks him if this is how things are supposed to be. He tells her she is his normalcy, and he licks up the back of her neck with wet boy tongue and she lets herself forget another few fragments of college and computer programming and suburbia.

She understands him more and needs him less. They stay together for weeks sometimes, moving from town to strange town, and she takes his fingers, cock, tongue inside her mouth or between her legs under strange, starry skies. Other times, they meet just long enough to fuck, quick and hard, bodies strange, and then he or she melts into the night again, and the long, languid, vaguely-hunting days between meetings are good, too. She sends Xander postcards when she thinks of it, because she still loves him, but he'd never understand this, never be able to tell whether she was hungry or aroused or restless without even looking at her, like Oz can.

They have made it to South America, a long, twisted journey of random loops across two continents. She is thinking of cutting across the ocean next, exploring the snowfields of Norway or the windburn of the Sahara. She hasn't told him, and won't, but she doesn't worry. He'll find her always, just like she'll never lose him.


3: Tabula Rasa

"I can fix it. I know a spell."

She doesn't have to think about the words anymore. They're as familiar as the faint, sickly-sweet scent of the smoke, tripping off her tongue like the Pledge of Allegiance.

"... this I char," she murmurs in the dimness of the living room, as firelight flickers on her face. She's good at this now. Better than the first time, the worst, when Tara found out and cried and threatened to leave. And even better than the second time, the big one, when she fixed everything with just a single spell. Tara wasn't angry anymore and Buffy was herself again, and she smiled like she used to, and didn't say anything else about heaven.

Willow took away everything that hurt.

There were little things after that, of course. Anya said something about where Buffy had been, and Willow saw the loophole, and she fixed that, too, and afterward everyone stopped looking at her like she was a naughty little girl. And she understood how she could make everything right, always.

Tonight this is for Dawn, who woke up crying after a dream about Joyce. She's asleep again now, and in the morning she won't be sad anymore. Her mother will be a faded, warm memory, too far away to be painful, and she'll smile, and ask what's for breakfast.

Giles has forgotten he meant to leave. He manages the Magic Box and cleans his glasses like always and never talks about England.

He doesn't scold her anymore.

She holds the crystal in the flame and watches it darken.

There is no such thing as Lethe's Bramble, as far as her books are concerned, or Tara's, or Giles'. Pages neatly removed and burned, to prevent what she can't risk. To save them from themselves.

Xander doesn't have bad days now, thinking about his parents. He doesn't hate Christmas.

She watches as the crystal fades to clear in her fingers with a familiar tingle, and stands up, bringing the bag of herbs with her. (Vases full of the little purple flower, all over the house.)

They need her. She makes everything be fine.

Upstairs in the bedroom, she moves first to the window, where crystals hang on thin strands and sparkle as they catch the moonlight. Dozens, if she were to count; everything bad trapped inside them, and she adds the latest efficiently.

"Come to bed," Tara murmurs sleepily, and Willow turns away, crawls in beside her and kisses her thoroughly. "Mmm," Tara giggles and snuggles into her, smiling as her eyes drift shut again. Willow smiles too, and curls around her in the darkness.

Everything is right. Everyone is happy, they are happy, all so happy.


4: Grave

"When you brought me here, I thought it was to kill me."

She knows this isn't the end, because she's still alive.

When she lifted her head from Xander's shoulder, face drenched with tears and mucus, the whole world seemed shaky and vague because it wasn't supposed to be there. Or she wasn't.

She can't comprehend how she still breathes and breathes and breathes when there are three people who don't, and almost so many more.

She hadn't been able to find words to tell Xander this, or how every second hurt worse than the one before, but he held her and hushed her and took her home. Put her to bed with gentle, callused hands and oblivion was sweeter than anything she'd ever known.

Giles was sitting there watching her when she woke up, and then she understood. He didn't say anything, but he wasn't wearing his glasses and he looked solemn. She could see him differently now, not just the furrow of his brow and the sad determination in his eyes, but flashes of the him inside, fragments and memories she had pulled from him along with the rush of his magic. She turned her head and instantly it was full of Ben's terrified, smothering eyes, and it only made everything clearer.

There are things crawling in her mind, black things. Things she shouldn't know, but they skitter around the inside of her skull and whisper evil in her ears when she's trying to sleep, and they're not going to go away.

It makes it hard to focus, even when Xander and Giles come to her room and Xander talks to her gently about a trip, an invitation from a coven, a chance to get better. "You don't have to go if you don't want to," Xander says. "You can stay here as long as you want." Giles is watching her with his eyes that still say too much and she says "I'll go," and he nods ever so slightly. There is a thin, strong thread of understanding between them. What needs to be done, and how it can't be done here.

She had always thought one's life was supposed to flash by quickly, everything compressed into an instant, but she has long, slow hours while other people make arrangements, plane tickets and packing, when she sits very still in the middle of it all, terrified of the things inside her. She starts with Xander, because he's her beginning and her end, and it's only right. Playground scrapes and lunchroom conversations long, long before Buffy ever came and the world went upside down. Later, there was Buffy, yes, her surprising, mercurial friendship, and Oz, looking at her like no one ever had, but always, always Xander. Sometimes she loves him so much she can hardly breathe, and it's all the better for how normal that is.

"Goodbye," she says, when he takes them to the airport, and he hugs her and tells her to get better soon so she can come home, and she doesn't correct him, because he shouldn't have to know.

On the plane, she thinks of Tara, because this is almost the end, and she thinks of her as hard as she can. Her hands and eyes and most of all the lovelovelove smile she would turn on Willow, like the warmth of a thousand suns.

In the taxi from the airport, she wonders how he'll do it. She thinks it will probably be magic. She doesn't bother to hope it won't hurt.

The cabdriver takes her suitcase out of the trunk, and she watches the way his collar creases around his neck as he sets it on the pavement. Everything is moving very slowly. She picks the suitcase up while Giles pays him, and stands there, feeling its weight pull on her arms, as he drives away.

"Come along, then," Giles says, and he's not looking at her.

The front hallway is dark and her breath catches when he closes the door behind them.

"Upstairs," he tells her, and she walks ahead of him up the staircase, into the room he indicates. It's very bright, and she inhales suddenly at the vast stillness. Realizes only after a few moments that it's the lack of all the magic inside her she's feeling; some dampening spell here, cutting her off from all her own power.

She turns to look at him.

"I'm sorry," he says and she tries to smile, even as his image wavers and blurs through her tears.

"I know," she tells him. She is so broken and afraid of herself and Giles always does the best thing, the right thing.

He says something in a language she doesn't recognize, reaching out to touch her forehead, and then there is nothing.


5: Chosen

"This woman is more powerful than any of them."

Willow's spine is alive with the creepy-crawlies, and she'd like to chalk it up to the roiling hellmouth energy directly beneath her, but she knows it's probably her nerves.

She breathes in, centering herself, nostrils and mouth, the regularity she learned at the coven. "I can, I can, I can," she says silently, and the scythe in front of her sings in response, in affirmation, and beyond it Kennedy watches her with careful, intent eyes.

The yellow pages of the spell are in front of her but she doesn't have to read their old, twisted words, she's memorized them and they come without her having to think. And this is now, this is it, so she tries very, very hard not to remember or imagine clutching evil taking root inside her, and she reaches out to touch the scythe and pulls.

And GOD, Goddess, the power is like a tidal wave of light, rushing through her, more than she's ever fathomed, which is saying a great deal. So much, like it was just waiting for her to reach out and release it, and she is a prism, a crystal, splitting and scattering it to all these empty waiting vessels. These girls she can suddenly feel, in front of and below her and everywhere all over the world, and that concept, the WORLD, is something she'd only ever grasped when she was trying to destroy it. But this gives her the same thing, a sudden sense of breadth, the enormity and importance of it all, strung out between these newly powerfilled girls, the thread to their beads.

She's gasping now, with the force of it all, and the light is filing the room as well as her. It swells inside her alongside a fierce joy at the total rightness of it all, the clear and perfect goodness of what she's doing, swells and pushes against every particle of her body, moving beneath her skin and trying to force its way out of her mouth, fingertips, hair.

Willow gasps again, struggling for air, because she doesn't know how much longer she can take this, and then the power pushes and something inside her gives and she rushes outward, liquefying, like water, like light. The power is still flowing through her but it's pulling her along with it, and she feels all her component parts, her flaws and strengths and quirks trying to rush along the same outward threads to fill the dozens and dozens of girls waiting, and she thinks no and pulls backward, sheltering the tight, glowing ball of herself in the midst of all this energy.

It takes a moment for the principal's office to resolve in front of her again, so insistent are the sensations of other places, and when she does Kennedy is staring at her in something close to shock. She looks down at herself and then realizes she can't, because she isn't. At least, not in any way she can describe. She is bodiless, transmuted; feels as if her molecules have coalesced and become something undiscovered and intangible under the pressure of so much deep, old magic. But she is still there, and she feels the force of her existence almost more than she ever has.

Kennedy's eyes are still huge, and she realizes she can not just see her, she can feel her, the other end of one of the threads radiating outward from the scythe and through her. So much beautiful Slayer energy swelling to life inside her, and she reaches out to brush Kennedy's mind with her own.

You, she says. You, because it's all too much for her to verbalize (is that what you call this?), but it serves as reassurance anyway. Kennedy sags, still confused, but this is not the time. Go, Willow tells her, and Kennedy grabs the scythe and runs.

The battle is fierce and beautiful beneath this room, and she knows, because she is there, somehow, as well as here, and in rooms and streets all over the world, feeling all the unleashed Slayers. She can hardly comprehend it, and even as she thinks that, she feels her mind stretching and reshaping to accommodate this new kind of perception. Like she's suddenly been presented with several new dimensions and has to learn to forget life with only three.

Sunlight bursts through the roof and the floor, and she sees it from above and below, realizes it's drawn to the gravity well of Spike, his amulet and outstretched arms and elated determination. Run, she whispers without realizing to a dozen minds and they do, up and away and she is with them as the hellmouth maw opens as it was always meant to and swallows the only town she's ever known.

They stop and they look back and she does too, at the place where her home used to be, and her body, and oh, there are no words for anything she's feeling. Instead, she brushes shyly against Xander's mind, the mental equivalent of slipping her hand into his, and he starts for only a moment before relaxing into her, not understanding, but trusting. She goes to each of them in turn, Giles and Dawn and the rest of them. I am here, she says. And she has never been so present or so universal.

She is the fire in Faith's thighs, the disbelieving song in Buffy's heart, Chao-Ahn's tingling fingertips, the unshakeable smile of a girl in Kenya, and she is herself, she is Willow, as she was always meant to be.


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