Chapter 39: Santa Muerta
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Warnings: Graphic violence, adult language, sexual situations, character death, rabbits.
Disclaimer: The characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Fox studios and maybe various other entities that I am unaware of but totally respect and admire. This story is not meant to infringe upon anyone's rights, only to entertain.
Chapter 39: Santa Muerta
The private jet screamed in low over the cloud deck, a silver missile in a sea of blue. Invisible behind rows of round, blackened windows, an old yellow clock was ticking off the final day of everybody’s lives.
Meanwhile, the plane’s mysterious cargo busied themselves with a deck of cards, an issue of “Stuff” magazine and another round of prickly silence. They were still a half an hour away from the strip, so Angel kept shuffling the deck over and over, his eyes never leaving Charles Gunn’s face.
“I get it now, man,” Gunn announced cheerfully, the magazine flapping in his hand like a spinnaker sail. Angel watched a centerfold shake loose from between the leaves, unfurling like an R-rated flag. The girl there was clad in what appeared to be dental floss and a few scraps of duct tape. “This thing is actually pretty good,” Gunn continued. “I mean, I was as skeptical as anyone when the boys in marketing pitched this sucker. But, last couple of years it has really found its legs.”
“Among other body parts,” Angel noted, eyeing the model woefully.
Gunn shook his head. “Nah, dog, that’s not what I’m talking about.” Before Angel could protest, he flipped to a feature near the back of the book and started reading. “Listen to this,” he said. “Rule the World Before You’re Thirty. Tom Brady and Lebron James Tell You How. It’s genius…”
Angel rubbed his eyes, too exhausted and repulsed to fake an interest. Charles – or, rather, the barren, unholy shell that used to contain him – kept talking, regardless, charmed by the sound of his own silky voice. Ever since the vampire’s old demon-fighting partner made the move to Head of Sales he was always going off about Hell’s latest innovation, their Next Big Thing. Lifestyle magazines. iPads. Something called a “credit default swap.”
Oh, and Reality TV, too. Gunn talked about that last one constantly, always bragging like he invented the crap. He didn’t, of course, but the creep sure as hell raised the bar. Or lowered it, or whatever. “Jersey Shore” – all Gunn’s doing. So was “John and Kate Plus Eight.” That was really the final straw, the one that forced Angel to accept that the old Charles was gone forever. The hollow monster sitting before him was all that was left, blathering away about all the perversions he would quietly unleash on mankind. It was much worse than a vampire, actually. Vampires had their souls stolen from them in the dead of night.
Salesmen, on the other hand…
The whole time he was thinking this, Gunn kept steaming along, effortlessly segueing into a dozen equally demented directions. “Two words for you,” he said, grinning like a skull. “Shrek. Five.”
“Shrek Five?” This one was weird enough to snap Angel out of it momentarily. “But, they just came out with Shrek Three!”
The fiend just waved it off. “Please, dude, we got all this stuff mapped out years in advance. See, for number five, we’re gonna rip off one of those old, arty movies. Citizen Kane, or some junk like that.” Angel just kept staring at him, glassy eyed. “You know,” Gunn explained, “to mess with the critics.”
“There isn’t gonna be a Shrek Five,” he sighed, almost relieved at the notion. “Isn’t gonna be a Shrek Anything if we can’t stop this thing that’s coming.”
Gunn nodded stiffly. “Oh I know, man, I know. Just tryin’ to stay positive, you feel me? Keepin’ it greasy.”
Angel dropped the deck. And the act. “No, I don’t feel you, Charles,” he seethed. “When I look at you, the only thing I feel is sick.” Gunn tilted his head at him, suddenly full of a lizard-like curiosity. “All those years,” Angel muttered, “Remember? We had the same dumb dream. We were gonna fight the machine from the inside. What happened?”
Gunn’s eyes shot wide. “What happened? Man, I grew up, that’s what happened. Most of us out here ain’t vampires, Angel. Ain’t no eternal youth clause in those contracts. Time is not on our side, you dig?” Neither of them said anything for a while. “Anyway, it’s like you said,” he added, almost casually. “Doesn’t matter now. No point in debating the merits of good and evil if this Now thing pulls the big plug.”
Angel answered with a weary sigh. He started thinking about the bottles of Scotch stashed in the jet’s mini-bar. While Liam was quite the tippler during his brief, moronic run, drinking had never been a big hobby for the un-dead version. The Curse did crap like that to you, sometimes – turned things upside-down, or exposed landscapes hidden beneath the mud of mortal existence. For Angelus, the booze was a cup best set aside. It dimmed the finer pleasures, as he recalled; made the screams less shrill, the blood less pungent. Spike, for his part, partook all the time, guzzling it down by the gallons. He remembered how suspicious Angelus was of the guy back then, fretting over what kind of a vampire would seek to muffle the screams…
He shook a thought from his head, deciding it wasn’t the time to be thinking about the Spike Situation. Not because he felt guilty, exactly, but because the whole Shanshu business had turned out to be such a train wreck of monumental proportions. They’d both been taken for a ride on that one, even if only one of them paid for the ticket. It was a humbling experience, to say the least, and right about now Angel needed all the confidence he could muster. He started staring at the mini-bar again…
“Whuh-oh,” said Gunn. “This can’t be good.”
Charles squinted down at his blackberry like it was covered in spiders. “Looks like we got a code seventeen in progress down there.”
“Seventeen,” Angel repeated. “What’s that, like, a code for canceling dumb sequels?”
“No,” Gunn replied. “It means we got ourselves a garden.”
Dawn slung the gun over her shoulder and started climbing. She let her legs do most of the work, just as she was trained – not in some Top Secret Super Spy class, mind you, but the one at the old rec’ center, taught by the guy with the purple mowhawk and way, way more holes in his face than he was born with. She was good at it, too. She remembered how wonderful that felt, actually being good at something.
About fifteen feet up the rock face was a long stone embankment that used to be a mezzanine. The tree had rammed up through the middle of it, affording loft-like access to its upper limbs. That’s where Dawn had spotted Frank Grange’s slumped and motionless outline, and so that’s where she was headed.
She knew it was stupid – She did! But it wasn’t like there was anyone around to stop her. That was really the major impediment, back in the old days. She was always getting stashed somewhere – in houses, tunnels, tombs – to be quietly guarded like a pile of money. Other girls her age thought they’d had it rough, but playing Go Fish with a 100-year old dead guy at 3 a.m. gave a whole new meaning to the term “sheltered teen.”
Frank, on the other hand, had given Dawn Summers a very free hand in the Stupidity Department. Frank was a smart guy, in some ways even smarter than Giles. He had her pegged as the Watcher’s spy the instant he saw her. But he played coy, and allowed Dawn to klutz her way deeper and deeper into The Agency’s mysterious arteries.
If she had been anyone else, this would have been the equivalent of handing her a shovel and letting her dig her own grave. But Frank wanted her to see it for itself, to understand what The Agency had built, though blood and cunning and sacrifice. Meanwhile, he saw something in her – really saw it – that the others in her life only pretended was there. Over the past two years, the bond between them had flowered into something very private and sacred. The trust between Big Fat Liars, she realized, is like a covenant with God, built on the back of unshakable faith. That wasn’t the sort of thing you just forgot about. Or left behind.
Like a sister…
At the summit, she tucked low and made a run for it, wary of all the angles. A strange wind from nowhere seemed to rustle through the vegetation as she went, carrying low notes of amber and musk. Something large and moon-pale flinched in the corner of her vision. She stopped for moment to investigate, her eyes carefully probing down a row of leafy orange perennials. But it was already gone.
Frank stood in silhouette about a dozen yards away. His big body seemed bound to the trunk, somehow, and as she crept closer the deep shadows dissipated to reveal long lengths of vine that coiled over the man, chaining him in place.
The man’s blood was ink-black in the weird gray glow of the spell. It was all over his shirt, on his weathered old jowls, everywhere, fuck. The world became a slow horror movie. She watched herself reach for the ragged stump of his wrist before she snapped out of it, cursing herself. Went for the neck, felt for the pulse. As she did this, one of his eyes creaked open.
“Summers,” he rasped. “No…”
“It’s okay,” she whispered, hammering back the tears. “I’m gonna get you outta here.”
“No!” His voice was low and frail but full of a growling defiance, like an old, cornered tiger. “Trap. It’s a tra-”
A woman’s laughter came knifing through the darkness, searching for skin. “A loaf of bread, the Walrus said, is what we chiefly need…”
Dawn wrestled the Bowie knife from her belt, began sawing frantically into one of the vines. Frank was saying something soft and urgent, fighting for every word. “Don’t look at her, Dawn.” Dawn ignored him, kept cutting and pulling until the fucker came loose, freeing Frank’s left hand. He placed it on her shoulder, then against the taut drum of her cheek. “Have to… go, now,” he gasped, blood racing down his jawline like a dark tear. “So do you.”
His eye flicked skywards a couple of times, and finally she followed it. Through the twisted tangle of limbs she could see shards of the black sky where the treetop had burst through the roof.
Dawn watched the man’s chest fall one last time. She brushed his eye closed with her fingers, whispered a goodbye. Then she started to climb.
She was good at it, too.
Rupert Giles gently set the pieces down one by one, still so bloody oblivious. So dedicated was he to this ludicrous task, in fact, that a full four minutes and forty-two seconds had passed before he’d even realized she was gone. When this fact sank in, he turned to Faith. “Where’s Buffy?”
The brunette was seated on an old pommel horse near the vampire’s new cage, the angles of her face looking unusually intense in the candlelight. “Said she had to run a few errands, G. Thought you didn’t need her for… whatever the hell you’re doing.”
He realized it must have looked rather mad. They’d freed Drusilla from her restraints, only to chain her once more to a battered steel frame that once had held a row of punching bags. The vampire had remained docile throughout, spellbound by the old crucifix that Giles held a searing inch from her nose. Even now, as it lay abandoned atop his knapsack, she couldn’t tear her eyes from it.
Nearby, Ethan was gently unfurling the scroll on their makeshift altar. He still seemed quite pleased with himself, and had a certain merry bounce in his carriage that filled Rupert with dread. But it was necessary. This was a dark and sordid business they were about, and Ethan was a dark and sordid man, and that was the bald math of it. It was a very old rule, the Rule of Three: Rupert to open the door, Rayne to hold the darkness, and Drusilla to ask the question.
“Alright, Ripper?“ the warlock chimed.
Rupert nodded and then gently slid the ornament into place on the carousel. Its shadow bled out across the arena floor, slicing it into blades of flickering, orange light. He took a deep breath.
“First, there is the Earth…”
The pretty chambermaid was standing alongside. A dark and red lipped thing, she was, and plump, and ripe as peaches. Drusilla could hear the girl’s water bubbling down in the goblet of her chest. It was whispering to her. Ms. Edith was whispering, too, and spinning her little webs.
Got you good and squeezed now, she sang. It’s the worm yard for you, poor pickle.
She tested the chains, thrashing about, and felt her saw teeth coming on. It was the burn, the yellow moon. The Watcher trapped it down inside her.
Run and catch, run and catch. The lamb is caught in the blackberry patch.
Now all it does is burn!
She heard the little girl weeping inside her mouth again. Drusilla tried to bite her but kept missing, kept stabbing her own tongue instead. Lemon one and lemon two went about their tedious chores, wobbled this and that way, their tongues clicking like beetle legs inside her head, fingers squirming all over. She thrashed and bayed and roared at them! Nails! Nails! But they were too far away, and the chambermaid held her fast.
It was the girl on the looking glass, all her fault, her doing. She played her dirty trick, and now Daddy was cross with them again. Very cross indeed.
Lemon one said the old word and then she saw it crack open, the mouth full of stars, all that terrible toothless brilliance. It came sniffing for her on no legs, coming to eat her up. Drusilla closed her eyes but could still see it, and opened her own mouth to scream but couldn’t, because the little girl was running out of it now, giggling with delight, laughing and playing in the banquet of golden fields laid out before them, because night is a time for dreaming of them, because Daddy wasn’t cross after all, only terribly sad because He made the Fields and the Girl as One and He watched them shatter and rot under the dripping moon and all the angels and all the saints couldn’t put them back together, but now the mouth was swallowing the mouth which swallowed the girl, the cage inside the cage flinging open, and everything was talking and everything was screaming and everything was whispering.
And then, nothing was.
And she opened her eyes.
Chamber your energy.
It was too much. All of it turning to ripe, steaming shit, now. Somewhere to her left, the Russian was still babbling, some garbage about ”quantum encryption subroutines.” Kennedy felt her fist snap out, a dog off its chain, and the Russian stopped fucking talking. Thirty faces looked on, blood red and terrified in monitor’s glow.
Chamber your energy, maggot.
Kennedy took a deep breath and then another one, and then she left. She wandered out into the foyer, trailing a bewildered flock of lieutenants in her wake. A row of windows glared back at her, black and shining like an insect’s eyes.
The moron Wells had the case. She didn’t want to imagine how such a nightmare was possible, but there it was. He had it. He was scurrying around with it, somewhere in the hellish depths of the ECU.
The Witch was here. Clawing her way through the bowels, whipping up some hot-shit abracadabra to turn the tide. Willow Rosenberg couldn’t wait to finish the job she started two years ago, when she let them boot Kennedy out of her command. As she thought this, Kennedy reflexively touched the bare flesh of one arm. She remembered the story about what happened in the woods. All those rumors.
Buffy Summers was here. She was…
Out on the campus quad. Sauntering through the grass, like a tourist out for a pleasant stroll.
She was alone. Unarmed.
It would be so simple. Just send the troops in and let them hack her to bits. She’d lose a few recruits, Kennedy grudgingly conceded. But they’d overwhelm her eventually. Summers was good and strong. But not that good. Not that strong. Kennedy could take her. She’d always known this, from the very beginning, from way back in their Sunnydale days. All she ever needed was a level playing field, and she knew she could kick that smug, self-righteous cheerleader’s ass all over creation. Buffy was gifted the Strength, but Kennedy was born for it. Anyone with eyes could see that.
And, suddenly, she wanted them to see it. Needed them to know.
So, she opened the door and walked out into the chill air, her arms and legs filling with blood and heat and pressure.
Chamber your energy.
Buffy Summers watched Death arrive for her like a fashionably late party guest. It was Kennedy first, barking orders, doing her whole shtick. She was caked in someone’s blood, perhaps an old friend’s blood. Her troops fanned out in a wide arc around her like the jaws of one final monster closing, their arsenal flashing fang-white against the dark curtain of the Now.
Buffy had asked them once if they were “ready to be strong.” And looking at them now, those fierce faces sparking back at her, she decided that they were. Strength was so easy and straightforward. She should have asked them if they were ready for the things it does to you, for how it changes you. Were they ready to be kind? Were they ready to be brave and wise and forgiving? They weren’t, and she suddenly felt very sad that she’d never gotten the chance to teach them, because she was still learning how to be these things herself.
“Don’t let her escape!” Kennedy roared. The girls closed their circle and then stood watching their leader march out towards the center of the makeshift ring. She tossed the axe aside on the way, her dark eyes burning with confidence and a wet, bitter longing that Buffy only now understood. Kennedy wanted to show them something.
It was in that instant Buffy realized that she wanted to show them something too. She’d come to die, to return to the home she was never meant to leave in the first place. But the wounded thing inside her chest was still growling. It wanted company for the ride. Kennedy saw this too, and when she did her eyes turned into wide, warlike shields. “Where’s Willow?” she asked, but not seeming to care about it anymore. Making small talk.
Kennedy started prowling, establishing a sort of samurai’s orbit around her prey. “Not around you, though,” she observed, faking wistfulness now. “Remember that night, Buffy? When we all kicked you out?”
“I remember you all came crawling back,” Buffy replied, dagger-sharp. “I remember what a scared and vicious little infant you were.”
Kennedy nodded at it, letting it drift by. “They abandoned you, because they realized that you had no plan. That you were just playin’ it by ear.” With every revolution the little monster kept inching closer, finding her range beat by beat. Steeling herself for it. “That’s the night I figured it out, the thing that was missing in you. You never-”
“Aw, you’re not gonna go all mustache-twirly on me now, are ya Ken?” Buffy took a quick step sideways, enjoying the way it made the brat flinch. “Start monologue-ing on and on about your big, master plan. Telling me all about what real leaders do. Because, you know. Snore.”
Buffy heard a sharp sound erupt from somewhere in the circle, a girl stifling a giggle. She felt Spike gliding through her, that old snarky spell he used to weave. It was working, too. Kennedy’s face twisted into a mask of rage. She didn’t want to talk anymore. This was a good thing.
They didn’t have a second to spare.
Her eyes were blaring out ten different emotions. Luckily for Xander, one or two of them seemed a little bit like love. OtherSpike’s eyes were broadcasting something altogether different. They hunted him from a cool distance, golden flecks shimmering down in the deep end of the pool.
"I don’t know what it is,” he told him again. “Or how it got in. All I know is it’s here for her, and it’s not gonna stop until she’s dead.”
“Right,” the vamp deadpanned. “And the Watcher sent you for, what? Your keen eyesight, or your dazzling command of the facts? “
“How did you make it out?” Buffy still couldn’t get over this one, it seemed. She kept shaking her head and looking at him real funny. “There was no way out of there.” The way she said it, it was like she was trying to convince herself of it somehow.
“Look, I’m not sure this is really the time for a stroll down Traumatic Memory Lane,” Xander snapped. He pointed at the eyepatch. “It’s not like I didn’t take home any souvenirs, you know?”
“Yeah, ‘bout that.” The vampire was circling now, eyes like knife wounds. He was running that little lie detector test of his, Xander realized. “Seems a bit convenient, you changin’ sides all the sudden. After Rupes tried to top you.”
A lifetime of intricate government conspiracy theories scrolled through his brain. Spies and double agents and grassy knolls. But a strange instinct told him to shut them all out, to keep it simple. “Yeah, well he tried to kill you too," Xander said, getting right up in the sucker’s face. “And succeeded, I might add. So what’s your excuse?”
“Stop it.” Her voice carried the same ring of finality as always, the command like a sword chopping the Tug O’War rope. “This isn’t helping.” They retreated to a cooler distance from one another, calm but still unblinking. Xander realized it would be enough for now. Whatever else you could say about Spike – and there was plenty – he was a loyal little bastard. He’d follow her lead on this one. Follow her to Hell if she wanted him to. “So what did Giles say? How do we kill it?”
“That’s the thing,” Xander replied. “He’s not so sure we can kill it.” He took a deep breath, tried to remember that one acting lesson he took. Something about a red ball. “This thing, it seems to be feeding off Spike’s demon somehow. He said Willow is using it like some kind of leash that ties it to the world.”
Spike’s eyes started darting, gears spinning. “Yeah. Yeah, it makes sense. Was like the beastie was inside my bloody head.”
Xander nodded. “Exactly. Which is why the first thing we need to do is get her away from you.”
This was it: the Big Fat One. The vamp studied him like he was an insect crawling up a wall. “Bugger that,” he seethed.
“It’s how he’s hunting her, man. And as long as you’re with her, it is going to find her.”
The vamp growled and walked in a little circle, looking for something to smash. Buffy just stood there, thinking it over. After a moment he realized that everybody in the room was waiting for her decide; to decree whether she would allow them to save her. Different dimension, same old Buff. “Fine,” she said, finally. “So what’s the play?”
First and foremost, I’d like to thank the Academy…
Spike prowled the factory perimeter, just close enough to give the lad a tingle. He jammed the helmet back into place and locked it tight. If Xander managed not to bollocks his bit it up, the bastard would be poking his way out any minute now, thinking clever thoughts. Even now, the Monster could hear them, echoing up through the darkness like a child’s song. The wanker planned to lead the Monster away from her, to lure it someplace dark and blood warm for a bit of violent derring-do. He was gonna play hero again. Gonna save her again.
And everybody will forgive and love. And he will be loved.
Finally, the cunt emerged, Nikki’s black coat lapping at his knees as he trundled down the plant’s old sun-beaten ramp. He froze the moment he felt the Monster’s company, looking like a sailor about to put his finger in the wind. Something flashed bright at the point of their intersection, like gleaming sabers crossed, already in the fight. When they found each others shapes across the evening air it was like bombs were blasting all around them, the bloody Battle of Britain confined to a derelict mill yard.
There didn’t seem need for words, so neither of them spoke. The clone came roaring at him, thirsty for Hell. Spike obliged him with a savage king-hit that sent him tumbling. He let the momentum carry him forward, roaring in behind the punch like a black wave. He wanted to end this quickly, to leave nothing to chance.
But the doppelganger was too fast. He kicked out a leg and rolled, sending Spike sailing through the air and clattering onto a stack of old steel drums.
When he was up they reengaged immediately, meeting in the middle like boxers at the final bell. The world outside them became dim and distant as they fought, a reflection in a rippling puddle. They matched each other move for move like a pair of impossibly synchronized watches. Gradually, their twin brains began to solve the puzzle together, realizing how sodding impossible this would be. As vicious as it was, it was less a fight than it was an endurance contest. They could do this all bloody night.
But we don’t need all bloody night, Spike thought. Just need a few minutes longer…
The blonde mirror backed off suddenly, a look of horror smeared across his face. Spike realized his blunder immediately, and cursed his puny brain for letting it slip. Before he could move, the twin was already racing back towards the factory, fangs down.
Spike gave chase, cursing the bland math of it. The sunsuit was slowing him down some – just a fraction, just a bloody hair. But considering who his prey was, it would be a hair too much.
They walked side by side in weary silence. The sewers were every inch as creepy as they were back in the old days, as though each black shadow contained fresh monsters. The constant drip of water seemed to mimic their footsteps exactly, the sound of some murderous fiend lurking just a few paces behind. But there was nothing following them and no one else here. There was only a Slayer and a Carpenter.
And a knife.
Xander felt for it again. It was nestled close to his heart.
“It’s so strange,” she was saying. “This place. It’s like something out of a dream.”
“Ethan’s a powerful guy, Buff.”
“I don’t trust him,” she confessed. “I can’t understand why Giles does.”
Xander unzipped his jacket a little as they crossed another junction. The knife handle jangled loose, thumping against his chest with each step. “Maybe he doesn’t,” he murmured. “Maybe he just needs him for something.”
The girl nodded vaguely at this. She quickened her pace, moving just slightly ahead of him. He watched the back of her head bob along, mesmerized by it. He’d told her the plan was to regroup at the Magic Box, while her Spike led the robot on a wild goose chase around town. Her response was a little searing. The way she made the vampire promise not to fight it. The way Spike lied to her and swore he wouldn’t. It’s when he realized Willow was wrong about this place. Wrong about her, about everything.
It didn’t matter now. Now Xander would get close. He could see it in his mind’s eye, drawing a red smile across that long, beautiful throat of hers, slicing it down to the bone.
She wouldn’t die. Not right away, at least. He realized she was too strong for that. She’d turn to him first, breathless and unbelieving, staring into his soul with those wet jewels that passed for her eyes. He’d have to hit her again, then. Drive the dagger up an inch west of the sternum, keep pushing and twisting until he felt that lion inside her chest rip in half.
Then she would fall down, dead in a sewage drainpipe.
And Xander would fall after her, and pick her up and carry her and he would never stop. He would carry her forever.
He felt the fingers curl around the handle.
“Xander?!” she gasped. “What is it? What’s wrong?!”
He was down on his knees, crying and shaking, an odd looking knife dangling in his hand. The anguish on his face was almost terrifying, a drowning man about to go under for the last time. Alarm bells gonged away in her forehead.
Was it magic? Some kind of spell?
Skaya looked at the knife again. Looked hard at it, and then looked at him.
“I’m sorry,” he whimpered, fully blind now from tears. “I can’t.”
Cool leaves rustled through her. She kept telling her legs to fight or fly, but they wouldn’t do either. The image held her tight, eyes drawn over and over to the sight of Xander’s comically large jaw frozen in a silent wail. The world became very dark again, and Skaya suddenly remembered why she had changed her name in the first place, and all those broken pieces she was trying to leave behind. The ice storm rained down. The frost returned, settling over a field of dead flowers.
This is how we are.
The footsteps arrived, then, thundering up the drain like a nightmare, getting louder and closer.
She asked her legs again: Fight or flight?
And, strangely enough, they flew.
Willow’s mind was floating on the astral wind, now, dreaming an entire world into his eyes. It was physics, yes; mechanically sorting the ones and zeros of Oz’s brain, kneading false shapes into existence. It was also hard work. Oz was a tough nut to crack. He was Zen City, so even-keeled. A part of her had always wondered whether this was the reason he’d drifted so far from the gang, with all of them boiling in pots of their own bullshit half the time. But as the last speck of the illusion left her mind, she felt the man’s strong bough finally break and his cradle fall. The doctored photo of their deaths screamed raw and ragged into the center of his soul, and it set the monster loose.
Giles was staggering back to his feet now, a red murder shining through him. “Didn’t think I would enjoy this,” he spat ruefully. “Then again, didn’t think I’d enjoy cricket either, first time I played.”
Willow felt the animal’s growl vibrating down in her chest. Tara must’ve felt it too, and spun just in time to see the beast leap through the archway. Willow fired off her parting shot, a spell to give its shaggy legs a little boost. They both watched the creature soar into the room, powered on a wind of love and hate.
Fly, monkeys, fly…
It happened fast. This was the last thing Giles would have expected. A werewolf was too mundane to contemplate, too meat-and-bone for a man submerged in those dark waters. The wolf hit him like a rocket, and the force of the crash sent them both skidding over the stones.
Oz became a thrashing nightmare of claws and sharp fangs. The muscles of the monster’s neck suddenly reminded Willow of a shark; ripping and twisting, pulling tendons free like strands of red twine. Rupert Giles mouthed a silent scream, a fountain of blood gurgling from his lips. There would be no more spells from him now, because he hadn’t a throat left to speak them.
In desperation, he sunk his hands deep into the wolf’s barrel chest, a final volley of dark waves streaming out of him. The two foes shuddered together on the ground, their movements becoming more mindless by the second. By the time the wolf’s fur caught fire the Watcher was already gone, his blind blue eyes staring at something that was either very far away or very close.
An instant later the wolf’s carcass was roaring out flame like a funeral pyre. The terrible smell of burning meat filled Willow’s nostrils. She watched as the charred shape of a man gradually formed in the flames. A boy, to her. A boy she had once loved.
Anya was still out cold. Willow could feel Tara’s small fingers pulling her closer, not wanting her to stand. But she stood anyway, went lurching towards the stairwell like some horror movie monster.
Tara drifted after her. “Wait!” she cried. “Willow, we need to recharge. We need to-“
“Vincire,” Willow said. The green ring glided out of her mouth like a plume of cigar smoke. She watched it settle over the girl and lasso her tight.
“What are you doing?!”
“I have to do this alone,” Willow murmured. Tara was thrashing against her bonds. The woman was so full of rage. It consumed her, just like the flames that now burned away Oz’s beloved flesh. Willow wondered how much of that had been her fault. “I loved you so much,” she said, stroking the girl’s cheek, as though to make sure it was real. “You were my heart, Tara. Someone murdered you. Someone murdered my heart, and I wanted it back so badly that it blinded my soul with tears.”
“Don’t do this,” Tara whispered. “Let me come with you.”
“You’ll always be with me,” Willow said. She kissed her, then, the soft crush of their lips like a prayer against the warmth of the firelight.
They hadn’t the time, of course. No one ever did. Time was an Enemy; a dragon that would eventually burn them all to ashes. So, Willow pulled her lover closer, doing what needed to be done. She pried open the old trap door inside her chest, and began to drain her.
Something surprising happened. Behind Tara’s twisted mask of hatred, the energy from her cup was still pure light, still warm and golden and beautiful. She had kept it safe somehow, hidden away from all the savage horror of her world. It was a miracle.
When it was done Tara’s eyes fluttered shut, and her body went limp in her cage. Willow watched quietly as the woman drifted off to sleep. She would awake in time, her body filling up once more with that sacred fuel. She’d break the spell’s bond and then she would return to this awful place and all the cold and treacherous machinery of life. But before that happened, she would dream.
It would be a simple dream, of two dancers in a sun drenched meadow. They would pluck flowers from the earth to dress each others hair, and their bare toes would curl on the grass as they lay together, naming all the clouds. It would last for hours and hours, the two of them watching the sun slip across the sky and fold them into a cool and healing night.
Willow descended the stairs, feeling the bright energy coursing through her like a crystal river. At the end of a short corridor, a thick blue mist guarded the end of a very long tale.
She walked towards it.