Willow smoothed out the bedspread beside her, fixing the small wrinkle she had caused when she moved. Once she was finished, she scanned the rest of the bedspread for any more imperfections. She was used to sleeping in strange places and she always liked to leave things the way she had found them. Normally Willow wouldn’t have worried about it in a civilian situation, but….
She was stalling and she wasn’t ashamed to admit it.
Willow knew she was stalling and her team knew she was stalling. If this had been a debriefing, Kawalsky would have called her on it. But the meeting with SR-1 and Daniel wasn’t a debriefing. God, she wished it were.
Daniel and SR-1 were patiently waiting for Willow to give them ‘the talk’, to tell them everything she knew and had gone through in Sunnydale.
Which was why she was stalling.
This was a talk Willow didn’t want to have – ever. She used to have nightmares about it. But usually, in her nightmares, it was General O’Neill, the President, Joint Chief’s, and every member of the NID demanding answers. In one particularly bad incarnation of the dream, the entire SGC had been watching while the NID burned her at the stake.
Okay, things weren’t as daunting here, but Willow was still scared. In ways, this was scarier than her dream. Once she told her team and Daniel about her past, there would be no hiding from them. There wouldn’t be an aspect of her life they didn’t know. Especially Grogan and Daniel. Grogan was her best friend, her partner in crime as Kawalsky liked to say, and Daniel was her… Daniel. Her relationship with both men went beyond professional. Telling them this part of her life would leave her completely open to them.
Willow hadn’t shared herself like that since high school.
She jumped at the sound of Kawalsky’s voice. “Yes, sir?”
“Yes, sir, why wouldn’t I be?”
Major Kawalsky smiled, slightly amused. “You’ve been straightening that bed for half an hour.”
“Willow, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” Daniel said, as though he knew what she was thinking. “Kawalsky – ”
“No,” Willow interrupted him before he could finish. Daniel meant well and a part of her wanted him to ask Kawalsky to rescind his order. God, it was so tempting, but the consequences would be far too severe. She had a lot of work to do before she regained the respect of her team; hiding behind Daniel would be the kiss of death. “If things go bad… It’s better if you know everything.” That way someone could call for back up.
“If you’re sure…”
Sure? Oh yeah, she was sure she didn’t want to do this. “It’s okay, Daniel,” she assured him. “Although, it’d probably be easier if Giles were here with us. He’s more experienced at giving ‘the talk’ than I am. He’d be able to answer any questions.”
Kawalsky shook his head, just like she knew he would. Willow would have loved for the Watcher to sit in on the meeting, but Kawalsky would never allow it. Kawalsky still didn’t trust her friends, a fact that she had overheard Kawalsky tell Hayes when she had woken briefly a few hours ago. It was why Daniel and SR-1 had shared a room instead of Willow sharing a room with the ‘girls’. Kawalsky didn’t want to split up the team, so Willow had slept on the bed with Daniel – only because he was injured, according to Kawalsky – while the rest of her team slept on the floor in shifts.
It wasn’t anything personal against her friends; it was a team thing.
They were closing ranks.
One of the things Willow loved about SR-1 was their closeness and friendship. Protecting each other was an unwritten law. SR-1 was protecting her… And they were probably making sure Giles or Angel didn’t coerce her into withholding information.
“Mr Giles can answer any of our questions once we’re done,” Kawalsky said.
“Yes, sir.” Willow took a deep breath, silently willing her heart to slow down. She was so scared she was shaking. It made her think back to the night she had told Grogan and Hayes she was a survivor of the Sunnydale Massacre. It had been Kawalsky’s idea, and Willow had reluctantly agreed after Grogan had innocently asked a question about her parents for a second time. She remembered thinking that if she spoke and acted like it wasn’t a big deal, they wouldn’t make it one.
Of course when she had told them, Hayes had choked on his drink and Grogan had gaped like a fish.
She had hesitated like this that night too, only this time she knew it wouldn’t end with them being called out on a mission. “I’m sorry,” she said, finally. “I… I’ve never told anyone about Sunnydale. I haven’t even spoken about what really happened.”
“Not even with your friends?” Hayes asked gently.
Especially not with her friends! “It was – is – too hard. I’m not even sure I can do it now.”
“I understand, and if I didn’t think it was necessary…”
“I know, sir.” Kawalsky didn’t need to finish; their conversation last night was still fresh in Willow’s mind. She had withheld information from her team, acted inappropriately. Kawalsky needed to know everything to make judgments.
In a way, Willow wanted to tell them everything so they would understand. Though, it was a double-edged sword; she might gain their understanding but there was a chance she’d lose the last of their respect once everything was out in the open.
She had, after all, committed the unforgivable crime of leaving her people behind.
She studied SR-1 and Daniel, trying to gauge what they were thinking. Daniel was sitting on a chair adjacent to the bed, while her team was sitting on the floor. Each of them had an almost identical expression of sympathy on their faces. Sympathy and dread. “I’m not sure where to begin.”
“Why don’t you tell us how you found out about vampires?” Kawalsky suggested, probably choosing what he thought was a less painful topic.
“I…” Her voice cracked as she spoke, and she cleared her throat. “I was almost snack food.” The tone she used was light, glib, but she felt the exact opposite inside. Even thinking about her first encounter with a vampire was painful, because it was the night that cemented her friendship with Buffy, the night the Scooby Gang was born. It was the night Jesse died.
God, Jesse…. She hadn’t thought of him in years.
“I was at the local nightclub…”
“The Bronze,” Hayes supplied encouragingly.
“Yeah, I was at the Bronze, waiting for my best friends, Xander and Jesse,” At her words, the memories came rushing back. Not just the memories, but the emotions – everything. God, they had been so young then, so innocent. “I was different back then; you guys wouldn’t have recognized me. I was a nerd, shy… God, my mom even picked out my clothes.”
“Ouch!” Grogan winced. “I always pictured you as an adrenaline junkie like me.”
“No. The only adrenaline I was addicted to was the one I felt when I got an A. I was a geek, unpopular, just ask Cordy.” She wiped the sweat from her palms. “I was a nobody, which was why the vampire chose me. I was an easy target. The vamp approached me in the Bronze and started talking. I remember being so nervous and excited, a boy liked me as a girl and not a best friend. So I decided to seize the moment…” Willow quickly closed her eyes as tears filled them at the reminder of Buffy. Her throat constricted and her heart began to pound wildly. She couldn’t do this. It was too painful. Willow couldn’t even think of her friends without being overwhelmed by pain and now wasn’t any different.
Willow heard movement in front of her, and then the bed shift to her right. A tender hand slipped into hers. “How did you get away?” Daniel asked gently, from beside her.
She opened her eyes and stared at the first man she had ever loved since Oz. This was why she loved him. She focused on him, trying to pretend he was the only person in the room. “Buffy saved me. Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.” A single tear fell. “I haven’t said that since the day she died.”
Buffy… The reason Willow was who she was.
“Buffy was a Slayer like, Faith?” Daniel asked.
Willow nodded. “Buffy was her predecessor… kind of. Kendra was actually before Faith.”
“Into each generation a Slayer is born…”
~ * ~ * ~
This looked… ominous.
Jack waved Carter and Teal’c into his office against his better judgment. Carter had spent most of the morning researching the Massacre, and he was pretty sure the look on her face was not a good sign.
In fact, he was absolutely certain.
He was half tempted to order Carter not to tell him what she’d discovered. He had a feeling life would be much easier if he didn’t know.
“Carter, Teal’c, take a seat.” He pushed away the report he was supposed to be reading. “I take it you were able to find some information about the Sunnydale Massacre?’
To his surprise, Carter shook her head. “No, sir. Well, nothing that we didn’t already know. Most of the information on the internet relating to the massacre consists mainly of websites run by conspiracy theorists. Any other information I found just states what we already knew.”
“So why the long face?” Carter did not look like that because she didn’t anything.
She hesitated. “I wasn’t able to locate any additional information about the massacre, but I was able to find something interesting about Sunnydale itself…”
“And Lieutenant Rosenberg.”
Not so great. “And?”
“What I found raises a few questions, sir,” she confessed, looking unhappy. “One of the first websites I found on the internet was a site called ‘Survivors of Sunnydale’, run by a former student of Sunnydale High. At first, I thought it was a site directly relating to the Sunnydale Massacre...”
“But it wasn’t?” Jack prompted.
“No, sir. It was a website, a support site, for people who survived Sunnydale itself, not necessarily the massacre.”
Sunnydale itself? “What do you mean?”
“From the statistics and police reports I’ve read, I could easily say that Sunnydale was possible the most dangerous town in America,” Carter announced. “The town’s crime rate is astronomical. They not only have the highest murder rate per capita, and the highest unsolved murder rate, but they also have the highest rate of missing persons.”
“Carter, there are a lot of bad towns,” Jack pointed out, disappointed. He thought Carter actually had something.
She opened a manila folder that sat on her lap and pulled out a highlighted printout. “I know, sir, but Rosenberg wasn’t involved in the crime in those towns.”
He froze. “Excuse me?”
“Major Carter found mention of Lieutenant Rosenberg in police reports relating to incidents prior to the Sunnydale Massacre,” Teal’c informed him.
Jack shook his head. “If she was under investigation for any crimes, she wouldn’t have gotten into the Air Force.” Or the SGC, he silently added.
“Lieutenant Rosenberg wasn’t under investigation. That wasn’t the nature of her involvement.” Carter began reading from her printout, “In 1997, several students were found murdered at Sunnydale High School. According to the police reports, the students had been slaughtered, their throats ripped out. One had all of his blood drained.” Carter looked up. “The victims were found by two fellow students – Cordelia Chase and Willow Rosenberg.”
Holy crap. “Rosenberg?”
“That’s not the only time Rosenberg’s been involved in a situation like that – or Rosenberg’s friends.” Carter said grimly. “In 1998, a teacher from Sunnydale High, Ms Calendar, was murdered and placed in her boyfriend’s home for him to find. The boyfriend was a fellow teacher, librarian actually: Rupert Giles.”
Rupert Giles… “The one at the hospital.” The one Rosenberg ran to like a bat out of hell to be with when she received the call a few days ago.
Carter looked down at her notes again. “Not long after that, again in 1998, an unidentified woman was found dead in the library with her throat slit. It was late at night when the attack occurred. Two other students were found injured; one with a broken arm, the other with a severe concussion. Lieutenant Rosenberg was one of the injured students.”
Twice was NOT a coincidence. “Did they catch who did it?”
“They had a suspect, but the she was later cleared. The police made no arrests in the case.”
“Any more incidences?”
“I looked up Rosenberg’s medical file.” She gave him a guilty smile. “Rosenberg went to the ER again in ’98, after she and her friends were mugged. Her injuries were minor: a bruised left cheek and some scratches but nothing severe.”
“Rupert Giles had some injuries that exact same day as well. The left side of his face was badly scratched, and his left wrist was severely sprained…”
There was a pattern here. “I think it’s safe to say that they were involved in something, or very unlucky.”
“I concur,” Teal’c agreed.
“There are some other incidences at the High School and in the town itself, some that don’t involve Rosenberg. The High School Principal was eaten, and – ”
Sam nodded. “Wild animals.”
Yikes! “What else?”
“A teenager fired a rocket launcher in the local mall.”
Just when he thought it couldn’t get any weirder. “Please tell me it wasn’t Rosenberg.”
“There were no arrests or suspects for that matter,” Sam told him. “Though there was more than one student involved.”
What were the chances that it wasn’t Rosenberg? “What about those conspiracy theory websites? What did they say about all of this?” The answer was yes, if the look on Carter’s face was anything to go by.
“Well, sir, a couple of sites said that demons and vampires were – ”
Hang on! Hold up! “Demons and vampires?”
Carter nodded. “Apparently there was some sort of infestation in Sunnydale.”
Jack didn’t like the sound of that. “None of these demons had flashing eyes did they, Carter?”
“No, sir,” she quickly assured him. “I looked through the police reports thoroughly. There was never any mention of flashing eyes or of any advanced technology.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sir, if a Goa’uld was in Sunnydale, Lieutenant Rosenberg would have said something the day she was debriefed about the Stargate program.”
Jack had to agree. Rosenberg was almost as uptight as Carter. “I just had to be sure, Carter. We’ve had Goa’uld here before without knowing.”
“I know, sir. But I truly think if Rosenberg suspected anything, including a race of aliens we don’t know about, she’d tell us. There’s no reason for her not too. It’s not like she would be in any trouble.”
Teal’c nodded. “Lieutenant Rosenberg is an honorable warrior. She would not endanger those around her unnecessarily.”
“And after losing her parents at Graduation…” Jack agreed with them. “Okay, Carter, this is all great, but it doesn’t really tell us if Rosenberg is directly involved or that it has anything to do with the LA.” All the reports had basically told him was that Rosenberg had a penchant for trouble. He already knew that. “Do we have a direct link?”
She had to be connected. Jack had already made a decision about that. Not just because of the coincidences, but because he had spoken to Kawalsky and Daniel in the last night and both men had lied to him. He didn’t know what they were lying about, but they were keeping something from him – or protecting someone.
No need to guess who they were protecting: Rosenberg. But why? If she was innocent in all of this, if she was caught up in something too big for her to handle… Why the hell wouldn’t they tell him?
“We might have a direct connection, General.”
“Might?” he repeated, his interest piqued.
“On one of the websites…”
He held his hand up. “One of the ‘Sunnydale is infested with demons’ websites?”
She nodded. “One of the websites,” she began again, “had pictures from the Sunnydale Graduation.”
His eyebrows shot up. “And you didn’t think to mention this earlier?”
“To be honest, sir, considering the content of the website, I’m not entirely sure on the authenticity of the photographs. They’ve already been proven as fraud by some British experts.”
There was a hint of something in her voice. “You’ve got doubts?”
“I don’t know,” she confessed. “Most of the photos are useless. They’re out of focus or there isn’t sufficient light to see anything. But there is one photograph…” Carter opened her folder and pulled out the photo.
Jack took it almost reluctantly.
“It was taken by a student named Freddy Iverson for the school newspaper,” Carter explained. “I enlarged it so you could see it more clearly.”
“Carter,” he said her name slowly. “Please tell me I’m not seeing who I think I’m seeing.” Most of her face was cut off by the person next to her, but there was no mistaking it.
Rosenberg, dressed in graduation garb.
The Lieutenant was half spun around, her arms outstretched as she took what looked like a spear gun from the blonde behind her. Jack could see fear in her eyes.
“Like I said, sir, it’s possible that it’s doctored but… Look to the students next to Rosenberg, some of them are getting weapons from the people behind as well. It would be difficult to manipulate a photo to that degree. Others have weapons hanging underneath their robes.” She pointed to someone in the background.
Jack studied the photo.
“That’s not the only thing that bothers me,” Carter went on. “If someone was manipulating the photo… Why would they arm the students with spear-guns and bows? Why not machine guns?”
“Why arm kids in the first place?” Jack wanted to know. “If they went to the graduation armed, that meant they had prior knowledge of the massacre. This doesn’t make sense.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Sam agreed. “Maybe we could ask Lieutenant Rosenberg?”
And have her lie to them like Daniel and Kawalsky? “No…”
Jack wanted to dismiss the photo as a fraud, but the fear on Rosenberg’s face and in her eyes was echoed on the faces of the studies around her. Maybe it was taken at the time the massacre started, but then why the hell weren’t any of the kids running? God damn it, it didn’t make any sense!
“No, we’re not going to talk to Rosenberg about this.”
He looked up from the photo.
“I’ve got a better idea.”
~ * ~ * ~
It was over, SR-1 and Daniel now knew the entire truth.
The full truth, no editing, no lies. Even if Willow wanted to hide the role she played in the death of most the graduating class of ’99, she couldn’t. Daniel had overheard some of her conversation with Joyce so he knew her sins.
Willow hastily wiped the remnants of tears from her eyes and tried to sit up straight. It took more strength than she realized just to do that one simple act.
She was shattered, numb.
Willow had cried so much in the last twenty-four hours that she had nothing left. Emotionally, she was running on empty. The tears that had flowed almost non-stop while she spoke had dried up. She felt like she had gone to Hell and come back. Talking about Sunnydale had been more painful than she ever could have imagined. It hadn’t been therapeutic; she didn’t feel suddenly free.
All it did was bring her grief to the surface once more, and she felt like she did that first night after the massacre. In shock, numb… ashamed.
God, the looks on their faces when she told them the truth... Willow never wanted to see those looks again. Willow couldn’t look at them now, either. She didn’t want to see the disappointment, the complete horror.
She couldn’t even look at herself.
Her heart pounded rapidly as she waited for the reaction of her friends. They had stopped interrupting hours ago; not even Daniel had interrupted her. Willow probably wouldn’t have noticed any interruptions anyway. Once she began talking, she had become completely lost in her memories. She had been so lost at times that she practically heard Buffy and Xander’s voices and smelled Oz’ cologne.
“Oh God, Willow…” Daniel began.
Willow squeezed his hand and shook her head, stopping him from speaking. Just the sound of his voice made her heart break. She wasn’t ready to hear what he had to say.
Seven months of communicating without words paid off, he didn’t continue.
“Is that everything?” Unfortunately, Kawalsky did.
“Yes, sir,” Willow replied, still unable to meet his eyes. “Giles will answer any questions you have about Slayers and The Old Ones.”
Willow wouldn’t mind if Giles debriefed them about that now, anything to get her team out of this room. Being with SR-1 no longer gave her the comfort it once did; now she felt oppressed.
No one was speaking. Clearly her team didn’t know what to say to her. “Major, with your permission,” she began formally, “I’d like to see my friends. I haven’t spoken to them since last night and I want – ”
“Permission denied, Lieutenant.”
Her heart stopped in fear and she looked at him.
“You’re not leaving here until we get a few things cleared.”
“If you have questions, I could get Giles…” The Major’s face told her that he didn’t want Giles here. Oh God!
“Relax, Lieutenant, I’m not going to ask anything too bad,” Kawalsky stated, his expression softening.
His words did little to alleviate her fears. “Yes, sir.”
“I just want to make sure I understand everything, but first… I’m sorry about what happened and I appreciate you telling us this.” He sounded incredibly awkward. “I know it wasn’t easy.”
She swallowed. “Thank you.”
“Secondly, I want to talk about Graduation again, if that’s all right? It’ll be quick.” At her nod, he continued. “The events at Graduation, including your capture at the Mayor’s office, happened exactly the way you described?”
Her eyes dropped to the floor. She knew he would want to come back to this, but she wasn’t ready for it. Willow had hardly been able to tell them she had caused Graduation the first time, she doubted she could talk about it again. “Yes, sir.”
“So Graduation was your fault,” Kawalsky repeated her exact words. The kind tone he had used a moment ago had disappeared. “That’s why you left your friends behind and why you’re all but obsessed with rescuing people? Why you choked last night?”
“Kawalsky!” Daniel protested. “Graduation was not – ”
“Daniel, I’m asking Rosenberg the questions,” Kawalsky’s voice brooked no room for argument. “Once I’m done, you can defend her all you want. Grogan, Hayes, the same goes for the two of you.”
The room seemed to get smaller with every word the Major uttered. She could hardly breathe. She snuck a glimpse at Kawalsky’s face. He was angry, really angry. Shit. It was all over for her. “Yes, sir. Last night, when I saw the hospital, I thought it was Graduation again and that I was responsible…” She couldn’t finish.
Kawalsky let out an exasperated sigh. “Rosenberg, why are you responsible for Graduation?”
The question caught her off-guard. “Major?”
“I want to know exactly how you’re responsible for Graduation.”
“I told you, I got captured by vampires while I was helping Buffy, Faith, and Angel steal the Box of Gavrock. When I had the opportunity to escape, to prevent them from trading the Box for me, I stayed behind and read the Books of Ascension and was recaptured.”
Kawalsky nodded. “I’m aware of that. What I want to know is how that makes you responsible?”
“I don’t understand.” To her, the explanation she gave was clear as day.
“It seemed like a straight forward question to me,” Hayes agreed, risking the wrath of the Major by speaking. “I was kind of wondering that myself.”
“Me, too,” Daniel said quietly.
Grogan sat up straighter. “Me, three.”
Willow took that opportunity to look at the rest of her team. The absolute horror she had expected to see in their eyes wasn’t there, in fact… They were looking at her like they usually did, except with a little more sympathy and concern.
Kawalsky smiled at the confusion on her face. “Okay, let me ask this another way. After you did the, um, spell that allowed Buffy to get the box, where did you go?”
“Down the side of the building, like agreed.”
“Where were the others positioned?”
Willow thought for a minute. “Faith, Buffy, and Angel were getting the box, Giles and Wesley were in the van, Xander and Oz were back at the library preparing the spell.”
“Where was your backup?”
It was a simple question, but it shook Willow to her core. “My backup?”
“Yes. Everyone was working in teams of two; the main team had three members… Why were you left on your own?”
“Faith was needed with Buffy and Angel. Giles and Wesley were the diversion,” Willow said almost defensively.
Kawalsky fixed her with a knowing look. “Rosenberg, I’m not expecting your friends to have the military knowledge we do. But, I’m expecting you to see that the plan you used to extract the Box of Gavrock was flawed. You should never have been allowed to leave alone. You were captured because the plan was flawed, not for any other reason.”
“Didn’t you say vampires were guarding the Mayor’s office?” Hayes asked. “How the hell were you supposed to fight them off? Someone should have been with you.”
Okay, that was true but… “But I still had a chance to get away.”
“Ah, yes, your missed opportunity.” Kawalsky leaned forward. “Rosenberg, tell me about your escape route.”
Her escape route? “Out of the Mayor’s office?”
“The very one.” He sounded almost chiding. “What exit were you planning to use that would allow you to bypass the Mayor’s security?”
“He probably had cameras, too,” Grogan joined. “Were you planning on shutting them down so they couldn’t see your escape?”
“I didn’t have an escape route, you know that.”
Kawalsky raised his eyebrows in mock surprise. “So, Rosenberg, if you didn’t have an escape route… How did you know you would get away?”
If the question before shook her to her core, this one blew her away completely. “I…”
Daniel reached up and cupped the side of her face. “Willow, you don’t know that you would have. More than likely, you would’ve been recaptured.”
No, she would have gotten away. “You’re wrong. I was a witch then…”
“You were still learning,” Daniel reminded her. “You weren’t that powerful, otherwise you wouldn’t have been captured in the first place.”
“If anything, you probably helped minimize the fatalities at Graduation by stealing those pages out of the books you mentioned.”
“You don’t understand,” she protested. “It was my fault…”
“Based on what, Rosenberg? Your guilt about what happened is based entirely on ‘what if’ scenarios. There has been nothing in what you’ve told me that conclusively proves you were at fault.”
Willow shook her head.
Kawalsky wasn’t deterred by her denial. “The plan to extract the box was flawed, you were left on your own, you had no idea if you could actually escape or not. Hell, it wasn’t even your decision to trade the box. How can it be your fault?”
“If I hadn’t been captured – ”
“If they hadn’t left you on your own, if the Mayor hadn’t had so many guards… Rosenberg, listen to yourself,” Kawalsky snapped. “It’s all ‘if’. You had no control over your situation. You don’t know what would have happened if you tried to escape. Christ, Rosenberg, what were you planning to do once you got out? Outrun vampires?”
“I… I hadn’t thought of that.”
“You were too busy blaming yourself to think,” Kawalsky admonished. “Look, I don’t expect you to accept what we’re saying immediately but I want you to think about it, okay?”
Willow didn’t know what else to do but nod.
“I’m serious. Once this is over, I want you to stay at my house for a few nights. Hayes and Grogan are invited too. We’ll go over everything again. We’ll get maps of the office, the whole nine years, and we can work out just how likely an escape really was.”
She stared at him in shock. “You’re not… you’re not angry at me?”
“Angry? Jesus, Rosenberg, how far is your head up your ass?”
Grogan let out a bark of laughter. “Couldn’t have said it better myself, Major.”
“I’m not angry at you and I can guarantee no one in SR-1 is,” the Major stated. “In fact, I’m proud as hell. What you and your friends did… I can’t even put it into words. You were kids and you –”
“Sir.” She cut him off, unable to hear anymore. It was too much to listen to them telling her she wasn’t at fault. She didn’t have the strength to argue with them. They were right, in some ways, but there was no guarantee that they couldn’t deny the facts. None of Graduation would have happened if she hadn’t missed her opportunity to escape. “I…I appreciate what you’re saying but I don’t really want to go in this right now.” She could hardly think about it.
He looked ready to protest but, to her relief, he nodded.
“We actually have more important things to worry about,” she said, deciding the safest bet would be to change the subject. “I’ve told you everything about my past but I haven’t filled you in on what we’re fighting here. The apocalypse.”
“I’m all ears.”