Santa Claws by Lilachigh
Chapter 16 Alarm bells
It was dark in the bedroom where once Joyce Summers had lain in pain, shutting her eyes against even the dim bedside light that sent shafts of agony through her head, worrying about her daughters, wondering why she couldn’t quite remember silly little details about Dawn, her youngest, wishing Buffy could have had a safer life, comforted by the odd knowledge that a certain cocky, dangerous vampire would take care of both of them once she was gone.
This was the room where Willow had once shared a bed with her beautiful Tara, loved her in full sunlight, adored her in silver moonlight and betrayed her trust.
But Willow no longer needed light; not when she was floating just inches above the quilt, her body relaxed and pliant, but her mind tense and in turmoil, constantly sending out feelers, questions, searching the strange mystical paths that she now used all the time for answers. Information flowed back into her brain, the myriad cells that humans rarely used humming into life as they filled with images and knowledge and a power that surprised even her.
The feeling this gave her was beyond description - better than sex, better than joy, better than being happy - this thought shot a sharp spear into her mind but she knew she was brave enough to consider it. So she wasn’t happy. OK, she accepted that. She’d known happiness but it was a pale, pastel thing compared to the violent surging colors that flooded her life now.
And Willow was very sure that she would be happy again. Oh, not in the pathetic ways she’d been before - no - but her plans were working; Spike would soon be gone from Sunnydale for good and nothing would stop Buffy from turning back to her oldest friend once more. Dawn meant nothing - she was no more than a necessary addition to Buffy’s world but Willow wanted Buffy back. Then she could concentrate on Tara - and her power levels surged again and she knew with complete certainty that if she could just spend some time with her ex-lover, she could make her come back. And this time, Tara wouldn’t even know that her mind was being tampered with.
Willow felt contempt now when she remembered her earlier attempts to control her friend. How pathetic they had been; how easily Tara had seen through them. But now - now was different. And after Buffy and Tara were back, loving her, liking her, accepting that she was the right person to be in charge, then she could finally use her power to go back to the odd universe where Santa Claus lived, where Xander and Anya were playing at being Mr and Mrs Christmas. Then she’d smash their silly world, make Xander realise that he had nothing to be sorry for by calling the dancing demon to Sunnydale and bring him home. Anya would stay there, locked into a world, alone for all eternity, which would serve her right. And once Xander was home.....
A shudder ran through her body and she dropped the few inches down onto the bed. For a second she felt a flicker of unease - something she’d seen, felt, amongst all the information she was receiving, one thing alone had jolted her out of her pleasure.
Willow swung herself off the bed, crossed to the window and flung it open wide onto the dark night. She could taste magic in the air - its flavour tingled on her tongue, crept to the back of her throat, made the little hairs on her neck quiver. Because this wasn’t her magic - there was no brilliant, harsh reds and oranges. No black or crimson sparkles flooded her mind - no, this magic was greener, emerald leaves and newly cut grass, the warmth of honey dripping from a comb, the brown of the first nuts of Fall, the deep of the earth and the gold of corn lying in silky green sheaves. Tara! No one else used magic like this.
And for a long few seconds, Willow relished it, longed to be back in that world of being one with the earth rather than fighting to defeat it at every turn. How easy life had been then, how simple - how ..... how boring!
With a mental twist, Willow flung away the memories of being loved for herself alone, of warmth and friendship and belonging. Because with those memories came others - of never being first, of always being the follower, never the heroine, always the heroine’s ‘best friend’, never the leader, although she was far cleverer than most people. Of always having to fight to get across her point of view and to watch the first man she’d ever loved fall for someone who would never look at him in that way. And even then, when Willow would have cheerfully accepted second best, once again she’d found that she wouldn’t even be given that prize, or third, or fourth or fifth!
No! Loving Tara had made her soft. She wanted her back in her life, but she refused to return to Tara’s world. Love was not enough. She didn’t need it - only on her terms and those would soon be made clear to everyone.
Tara was using magic tonight: lots of magic. But why? And this was a strong magic, oh the same type as she always used, tapping into the earth’s softer spirits, but not just the charms and fancies she’d been using recently. This was something else.
Willow’s eyes blazed black and she sent her mind spiralling out into the night. No! She’d been so sure that she had done enough to keep Buffy and Spike apart, but they were there, together! Dawn was there, too. And Eric, the strange half demon child. But what caused the cry of pain she forced back was that Tara was with them. They’d gone to her and whatever their plan was, she was helping them.
Once more Willow was shut out. No one had asked for her advice. OK, she would have done nothing to help keep Spike around but that still didn’t heal the pain of not being consulted in the first place to help them with whatever silly little magics they wanted to cast so badly she could taste it. So - she smiled, and the last little potted plant that Tara had left on the night-stand, shrivelled up and died. Whatever they were doing, she was going to stop it! For their own good.
The veil of existence that separated Sunnydale from that of the old magic world of Santa Claus was impossible to see through from the human side, but logically, Santa had always needed to see what was happening to children everywhere and the ability to gaze through the veil was a skill that Xander and Anya had - at long last - perfected. To be truthful, Anya had known she would be able to do it from the very first day of their sojourn in this weird world where Xander now ruled as Father Christmas. But she’d been kind enough not to experiment and tell Xander, exclaiming in delight that she could see, too, once he’d managed the art himself.
The surface of his desk vanished now and flickered back into life with pictures of a back yard Xander recognised immediately - and the figures of some of his closest friends, sitting in a circle on the grass.
“They look well,” he murmured.
Anya leant on his shoulder and peered down at the desk top. “They look tired,” she said firmly. “And something is very wrong with Spike. Look - he’s got fur all over his face!”
“So he has!” Xander sounded pleased. “I expect he’s caught some foul vampire disease. As long as he doesn’t give it to Buffy, I’m good with that.”
Anya sighed. She’d hoped the time they’d spent here, running Santa Claus’ empire - and really, what was it about elves and reindeers that made them so intractable? She’d had enough talk about unions and full days off with double hay to last her several lifetimes - would have given Xander time to realise that his hatred for Spike, his disgust at the vampire being Buffy Summer’s lover was all a complete waste of time and energy.
Suddenly she frowned. It was some time since she’d been a demon but she could still recognise all the signs of magic being called. And from the looks on Buffy and Spike’s faces, it had something to do with them.
“There’s that boy Eric,” Xander said suddenly. “I thought they were sending him back to the orphanage.”
“He’s got fur on his skin, too. Xander - look - the circle, holding hands, burning something, I think Tara is trying to work some extremely difficult magic and it’s to do with Spike and Eric.”
“Well, Tara’s a good witch - I mean, she’s not likely to go all blurry like Willow and want to take over the world.”
“No....” Anya didn’t sound convinced.
“Come on, Ahn. I expect Buffy has stupidly persuaded her to use a charm to get that fur off Spike’s face. What harm can a little white magic do? It’s not as if Tara is going to use powerful stuff - like D’Hoffryn did to get us all here.”
The ex-demon pulled a face but kept quiet. She knew, probably better than Xander, that in her own quiet way, Tara was just as talented as Willow. Oh, she always declared that her lover was now far better than she was, far more powerful, but Anya was very well aware that Tara’s talent lay in generations of witchcraft. Willow’s power was all new and shiny but Tara could call on abilities that had lain undisturbed for centuries.
“Look! Willow’s arrived! Oh, it is good to see her.”
Anya flinched at the joy in Xander’s voice. He’d stood up and was now leaning right over the flickering desk-top, almost as if he was desperate to leap through the portal, back home to Sunnydale to be with the girl he’d always said he didn’t love.
“Good - she’ll be able to sort out any problems they have with whatever they’re doing,” he murmured under his breath. And he concentrated even harder because he still hadn’t perfected the listening side of this talent and he was desperate to hear what was going on. He was concentrating so hard that he didn’t notice that Anya had vanished from his side, leaving the office and heading out into the vast, endless caverns of the Christmas warehouse. Because Anya could hear only too well, and what she was hearing sent demon alarm bells ringing inside her now human brain.