beer_good_foamy: (Willow-death)
[personal profile] beer_good_foamy
Title: Total Perspective Vortex
Author: Beer Good ([personal profile] beer_good_foamy)
Fandom: Buffy, post-season 6
Rating: PG13
Word count: ~1100
Characters/Pairing: Willow, Miss Harkness (mentioned in "Lessons")
Summary: Willow in England, post-"Grave". It's one thing to have people tell you everything's connected. It's another to feel it.
Written for [ profile] spook_me and the prompt "Shapeshifter" and this image.

Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
- Charles Dudley Warner

Total perspective vortex

Falling, falling, falling.

It (whatever "it" is) rains a lot in England. It probably has to, with all those lakes. She learned about the water cycle in science class: evaporation, condensation, trepidation, precipitation, etc. It's perfectly natural, but still hard not to find weird after growing up in a desert. Something inside Willow is insisting against better knowledge that things should stay where they are, what they are. Water in the sea, clouds in the sky, plants on the ground, alive people alive and ... all that stuff.

Falling, falling, falling.

She's getting used to it now. The water on skin, on wind, on grass, feeling it all at once, being part of it. The first time she tried this it freaked her out a bit. (And consequently everyone else as well; as friendly as the coven all are, Willow knows they never relax for a second around her.) And even that was after she got over the weirdness of sitting butt nekkid on a hilltop with a circle of women she didn't know nearly well enough for that, thank you very much, heck even Buffy hasn't seen her like that and she always changed in the bathroom in gym class and the only time she's even been naked in front of another woman is -

Falling, falling, falling. Drops running down her face, seeping into the wet ground.

When Miss Harkness first told her about the rain ritual, she'd pictured flying. Possibly with broomsticks involved. But no, nothing that concrete, they told her (with some frowns from the younger witches who clearly weren't convinced that flying was even an option). Then they showed her what to do, how to feel the water on her skin, follow it outside of herself and ... suddenly she saw them from above, knew what it was to be Rain. Felt every raindrop, every gust of wind, not as individual droplets and puffs but as one big collective sense of being. "It's raining" turned into "I'm raining" and then just into "raining." She felt herself sitting on the ground just as much as she felt the others, felt the clouds around her, the roots of the grass, the underground rivers. She wasn't Willow, was more Willow than ever, wasn't anyone, wasn't not anyone, just a tiny part of something much, much bigger, with no firm ground anywhere. Woah. Vertigo. The others kept her grounded somehow, but some of them looked pretty spooked afterwards. She didn't want to hear their thoughts, but it was hard not to catch some (how did she) of (what is she) it (she's that fucking powerful?!?).

"There's never any new water," Miss Harkness told them (mostly her, she suspects) later in front of the fire, while pouring them tea in a very deliberate way. "There's always been the same amount, it just circulates and changes form often enough that we think it's new." Willow already knew that, somewhere in the back of her head, memories of telling Xander he's 70% dinosaur pee. She also distinctly remembered making H2O in chem class, but figured that pointing this out wouldn't be the witchy thing to do.

When the other members of the coven left, she asked Willow to stay.

"Why? Did I do something wrong?"

"No, you did... fine." The old witch nodded at Willow's hands, clasped tight around her cup. "You just haven't finished your tea."

"Oh. Right." She probably just violated some unspoken English rule, doing that. She took a hesitant sip of the cooling tea. "It's just... kinda feels like I'm drinking someone, y'know? Everything being connected and so on."

Miss Harkness nodded. "I know I probably sound like a broken record at times, but I find that showing rather than telling is a pretty good rule of thumb. Water isn't alive, as such, but it's a quite useful metaphor." For some reason Willow always found it a bit weird when this woman who looks like she stepped out of a Hammer movie let slip that she has at least one Oxford degree. "Just like water, life is constant. We can experience great loss, and we shouldn't diminish that, but even if that individual is gone, life itself is everlasting."

Willow took another uncomfortable mouthful. "I know. It just..."

"It's not meant to be comforting," Miss Harkness told her in her O Ye Young And Foolish voice. "It's just how life works, it doesn't bend over to comfort or hurt any particular part of itself." Then she raised an eyebrow in what passed for a smile. "Personally, I find that comforting. The knowledge that no matter how powerful we are, we are still only human, and there's only so much we can do. To know that we have limitations but are always connected."

Willow looked into the fire as the old woman refilled her cup again. "I can't stay here, can I?"

Miss Harkness took a long time answering. "Not for long, no. But this is an old place, and you're stronger than you know. Use it as an anchor."

Willow's learned a lot over the months that followed. Now, with only 24 hours left in England, she's gone up on top of the hill, taken off her clothes and sat down in the rain, letting her consciousness expand and seep into the rain. She sees herself (literally) through the eyes of the world; a young woman, wet hair plastered on her forehead looking darker than its actual colour, sitting cross-legged in the universal pose for At Peace With The World.

They tell her everything's connected, dinosaur pee and tears and tea and blood. Miss Harkness knows so much, but she's in her 80s and has never lived on a hellmouth (with actual teeth). Willow is 22 years old, has both given and taken life, has spat gods in the face, doesn't get to settle in front of the fire yet. She knows she can kill as easily as you pour a glass of water down the drain. She knows the other witches feel tiny and humble when they do this, that to them it's about learning to let go, and she keeps waiting for that feeling. She'd change places with them in a heartbeat if she could, she almost thinks before realising she probably could someday, which, that way lies badness.

She wonders if there's a bit of Tara's or Warren's life walking around someplace. Perhaps still barely crawling, wrinkly and mewling for milk. She wonders how old she'll be when she knows - just knows - how to find it. She wonders if she'll be strong enough not to.

She feels rain splat on the windscreen of an airliner on its way westward, thousands of feet above her. Maybe the same one she'll take tomorrow. Little ringlets of water, almost at freezing point, drizzling down along the plane's body, past the windows of travellers settling into their in-flight entertainment, over the wing and whirling down for miles and miles.

Falling, falling, falling.

She holds out her hand, lets a lone drop of water hover suspended above her dry palm as the rain continues to fall all around her. It sits there in mid-air until she lets it float up towards the clouds again. Knowing everything's connected is one thing; knowing that you're strong enough to pull the strings is another. She is what she must be. She rains.

Giles is making her get on the plane tomorrow. She wonders who she'll be when she lands.

Date: 2013-10-26 10:00 pm (UTC)
deird1: Willow looking pretty (Willow red)
From: [personal profile] deird1
Awesome. Awesome.

Date: 2013-10-26 08:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think this is one of my favourite fics I've read.

Remember Willow at Rack's, seeing the floor bleed into grass? When she's high, she moves so fast from Rack's to the Magic Box to the Bronze that it seems like she's teleporting, but time itself is only a matter of perception, and maybe she's always been there. And if everything is the same, and the floor is just grass and the world is just chintzy shallow pleasures, somehow a breakup doesn't matter so much any more. For a few minutes.

She knows she can kill as easily as you pour a glass of water down the drain.

Ah! And, yeah. Impulse control. You know, I reread Macbeth again and then watched the Welles and Polanski versions not long ago, and was thinking about how clearly it is that Duncan dies, and Macbeth *gets away with it*, for a time, screws Macbeth up so much not just because of guilt or anything like that, but because once you realize you can kill a king, suddenly nothing in the world makes any sense. Of course he implodes. Nothing intervened to stop the unthinkable from being thought, let alone done. Anything can happen now.

Had I but died an hour before this chance,
I had lived a blessed time; for, from this instant,
There's nothing serious in mortality:
All is but toys: renown and grace is dead;
The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees
Is left this vault to brag of.

How can anything possibly mean anything when all it takes is a tiny piece of metal to destroy everything, or a wave of the hand to kill a man? How can you possibly "be yourself" when your molecules change and you are composed of atoms from Christ to Hilter and beyond? When you know somehow that you will stop someday and that others will continue, and vice versa?

As Jubal Early put it: "We're all just floating." But you can, and must, choose to take that knowledge and be a River instead.
Edited Date: 2013-10-26 08:27 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-10-26 10:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
My first two thoughts: oh man, I love this. Oh man, local-max is gonna flip for this.

Date: 2013-10-26 11:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! I'm still a bit unsure about this one, but I have all these ideas about Willow and power that tend to come out in various ways...

time itself is only a matter of perception, and maybe she's always been there.

There's Jubal again - that tone he has when he says "Maybe I've always been here...?" as if he genuinely doesn't know itself, as if he just one day woke up in the villain role of a small chamber play in the middle of space. (Very Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, that episode.)

but because once you realize you can kill a king, suddenly nothing in the world makes any sense.

Oh yes. It's very proto-Nietzsche ( Macbeth does murder sleep.

be a River instead

Heh. My soundtrack for writing this was "Dragging Hooks" by the Cowboy Junkies.

Can't lose the taste of this river mud
Black water in my lungs
They say you can't step in the same river twice,
Well I been stepping in this one, seems like most of my life
So sharpen up those dragging hooks and pull that sheepshank tight
Cast into the water, boys, we're dragging for lost souls tonight...

Thanks again!

Date: 2013-10-26 10:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This fic is like brain candy for me. Thanks so much for writing it.

Date: 2013-10-26 11:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you for reading it! :)

Date: 2013-10-26 10:59 pm (UTC)
gillo: (sun)
From: [personal profile] gillo
What, no fairy cakes?

I love the way you create Willow's power and sense of powerlessness at the same time.

Date: 2013-10-26 11:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
As an American, I'm pretty sure Willow wouldn't know what a fairy cake is anyway. :)


Date: 2013-10-26 10:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is fascinating. With the world and water as the horror, but a horror generated by Willow rather than externally. I like your Miss Hartness a great deal.

Date: 2013-10-26 11:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks a lot!

I have a bunch of ideas about Willow's summer in England that pop up now and then. Miss Hartness and Althanea figure in a few of them, but most of their scenes remain unwritten right now... There's one between Miss Hartness and Giles, for instance, on the subject of just how much witches dislike anything that looks like a trial for witchcraft. We'll see if I ever get enough of them to do an index post.

Date: 2013-10-26 11:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I love this look at Willow and her power and trying to come to terms with it. I also love Miss Hartness. And I especially love Willow's belief that she is still more knowledgeable about certain things (I think she's absolutely wrong) because her arrogance has always been her greatest failing.

Date: 2013-10-27 10:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

I agree, Willow is always a bit arrogant - but the fact that she becomes increasingly aware that she can back it up to some extent makes it worse.

Date: 2013-10-27 01:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That is rather beautiful.

Date: 2013-10-27 10:45 am (UTC)

Date: 2013-10-27 05:51 pm (UTC)
shapinglight: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shapinglight
This is wonderful. I love the image of the raindrop going upwards from Willow's hand.

Useless trivia: I know the Buffyverse Dialogue Database calls the witch who helps Willow Miss Hartness, but I bet they've got it wrong. I'm pretty sure it's meant to be Harkness, because there's an old witch with that name in Marvel comics and Joss and co are such comics geeks.

Date: 2013-10-27 10:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think you're right -- the shooting script says Harkness. OTOH, ASH might have pronounced it "Hartness."

Date: 2013-10-28 08:39 am (UTC)
shapinglight: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shapinglight
Hah! I knew it!.

Doesn't change the fabulousness of the fic, of course.

Date: 2013-10-28 05:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you!

Damn. You're right, it's definitely Harkness. Off I go to correct... thanks for pointing it out!

Date: 2013-10-28 05:30 pm (UTC)
shapinglight: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shapinglight
Thanks for writing such a wonderful fic. :)

Date: 2013-10-27 07:10 pm (UTC)
frogfarm: And a thousand gay men wept. (Default)
From: [personal profile] frogfarm
Thanks for reminding me there's still worth while.

Date: 2013-10-28 10:01 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-10-27 07:40 pm (UTC)
kikimay: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kikimay
This is truly a beautiful and suggestive story. Love the characters' voices.

Date: 2013-10-28 10:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks a lot, I'm glad it worked!

Date: 2013-10-29 02:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Goodness, this is gorgeous. I have a soft spot for WIllow meditative pieces, where she's reconciling something both as simple and complex as *existing*. Willow exists on precipices, always about to topple one way or another. How she learns and decides to stand on firm ground is her biggest, toughest journey of all. I love watching it happen in a quiet, sad peace. This is beautiful and definitely one of my favorites.

Date: 2013-10-29 07:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! And I agree; Willow's journey from wallflower to the perhaps most powerful character in the series, and all the issues that brings up, is one of my favourite parts of the show. I'm really glad this worked for you.

Date: 2013-11-04 03:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I see from the comments that people find this beautiful, but I'm more in the "it's terrifying" camp! This Willow is learning all kinds of lessons, but not a one of them is the one she needs to learn. Brrrr.

That's not entirely true, she's at least aware that being able to do something — changing places with younger witches, finding the snippet of Tara that still exists — might not be a good thing. That there's still some doubt is worrisome in the extreme.

Willow: she scares the heck out of me. Well done.

Date: 2013-11-04 09:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! I'm glad the horror shines through. (The second-to-last draft of this actually had the line, re: her realising that the rituals that were supposed to show her how much she couldn't do only confirmed to her that she could*, "She's pretty sure that wasn't the lesson she was supposed to learn, but whatchagonnado.") I'd like to think it's an important step that she realises that her biggest hurdle isn't outside her but inside, but it's a hell of a thing to have dangling over you...

* Hence the title - I don't remember right now if you're familiar with The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy. It features a torture device called the Total Perspective Vortex, which kills people by showing them their true place in the universe, and how utterly completely tiny and insignificant they are... except when they strap in the President of the Galaxy, it just confirms what he already knew: that he's the most important person in it.

Date: 2013-11-04 10:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh yes. The title was not lost on me. ;-) The difference between Zaphod and Willow is that — while he's completely and comfortably self-centered — he doesn't actually try to bend reality to his will. He's just having a little joyride and trusts that it will all work out. He's not after control, weirdly enough for an elected (presumably) official. That's why "Hitchhiker" is comedy and "Willow" is tragedy/horror/comedy.

Date: 2015-10-27 06:52 pm (UTC)
frogfarm: And a thousand gay men wept. (Default)
From: [personal profile] frogfarm
Even more surprising I missed this one. Some truly exquisite and graceful turns of phrase here, evoking emotion so easily you make it look like child's play.

Date: 2015-10-27 10:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks a lot! I'm really pleased with this one.
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