The Dying of the Light
 
by Kirayoshi
 
Part one of the Dying Light series.
 
 
Chapter 1 - One Last Vampire
 
"Because even her smile looks like a frown.
She's seen her share of devils in this angel town."
  Rob Mullins
"Lullaby"
The drive from Sunnydale to Los Angeles had been without incident, and she muttered a Thank God for that, although she had stopped believing in God over a year ago. It was difficult to hot-wire the old VW Bug with only one hand, but she had managed. She had to manage; it was the only car she could find on short notice with an automatic shift. Her right arm having been severed six months ago by a vampire that had been a potential boyfriend, a stick shift was out. And she had to get out of Sunnydale. Away from the demons and vampires that had finally conquered the city. Not that she imagined anywhere else to be different. As far as she was aware, the free human population of planet Earth was one. Herself. Everyone else was a vampire, dead, or lobotomized cattle, bred only for their blood. Halfway between Sunnydale and LA, she stopped the car, turned off the engine, and just sat there. The numbness had started to wear off, and once she felt the despair return, she knew that she had to stop driving. Once she stopped, she performed what had become her ritual. She opened her old school book bag, and went through its contents, making sure nothing had disappeared. Silver tipped throwing stars, crossbow with eleven wooden bolts still ready to fire, her favorite stake, Mr. Pointy, all present and accounted for. In addition, she had a stash of canned foods and dried meats that she had managed to raid from an abandoned supermarket in the back seat. She looked over her shoulder to make sure it was still there. She had made several grocery runs in the last year, each one more hazardous than before. Since vampires had no need for what humans thought of as food, she had a wide assortment to choose from, although there had been no fresh meat, produce or dairy. She would have murdered for a hamburger right about now. Furthermore, some vampires had staked out most of the remaining markets, hoping to catch a surviving human. She once slew to protect others, now she had to slay to simply survive. From the bag's bottom, she produced a small velvet drawstring pouch. Opening the pouch, she spilled its contents onto the empty passenger seat next to her, and started to sort through them. They were pictures, wallet sized photographs mostly, of those who had meant the most to her. The reasons that she kept patrolling, fighting the darkness that threatened to devour Sunnydale, spitting into the face of Hell. Joyce. Her mother. A fine and strong woman, even if she didn't fully understand her daughter. Rupert Giles. Her mentor and surrogate father. Stuffy, humorless, stiff as a starched collar, and the finest man she ever knew. Angel. First love. Tragic loss. Xander. The clown. Always ready with a jibe or a bad pun, and fiercely loyal. Cordelia. The prom queen. A bit stuck-up, a bit self-possessed, but as brave as any. Oz. The musician. The silent one who saw more deeply than most. Riley. Handsome. Sweet. If only... Willow. She always came to her photo last. Willow. The computer hacker, the apprentice Wiccan, the roommate, the best friend she, or anyone, ever had. And more. So much more. If only... Hot tears started to flow down her cheeks as she looked at her photo. The shoulder length red hair, the piercing green eyes, the sweet smile. She had memorized every expression Willow's face could produce, and there were many. Happy Face, Sad Face, Grossed-Out Face, Big-Puppy- Dog-Eyes Face, and the ever popular Resolve Face. Whenever she saw Willow wearing her Resolve Face, she knew that Willow would win whatever argument they were engaged in at the time. God, she loved that look. God she loved her. And now, out of that love, she had come to Los Angeles, leaving Sunnydale for the last time. All of those people whose photos she carried were dead. They had been turned, shortly after the Hellmouth opened. They had become vampires. And she had been slaying them. Her mother, Giles, the Scooby Gang, all of them. Her battle had been lost, but she could not let them live as monsters. She owed it to the memory of her friends and loved ones to give their souls peace, to end their existence as vampires. So she slew them. Now, there were two left. Two living in LA. Cordelia Chase and Willow Rosenberg. And Elizabeth Anne "Buffy" Summers had to slay them. -------------------------------------------------------------------- One of the things that surprised Buffy about the new vampiric world order was the fact that many amenities of modern life were still maintained. Electric power, gas, radio and television broadcasts, even the Internet. I guess even vampires need to surf the web for cyberbabes, Buffy thought to herself. Naturally, the media had been slanted to fit the needs of vampires, but Buffy still found the information useful. For instance, a news broadcast several months ago stated that vampires had taken control of most of the factories, foundries and mines around the world, and were stoking their furnaces full blast. Not that they were interested in producing anything but huge black clouds of sooty smoke. By pumping toxic smoke into the atmosphere at a constant rate, they had effectively blocked out the sun. Now the daylight was no obstacle to them. They could operate at any time, twenty-four/ seven. And since they didn't need to breathe like living beings, vampires had no problem with befouling the world which they now ruled. They also broadcast the live execution of one who had been an enemy of the vampire community, one of their own. Angel. A firing squad of vampires drew their crossbows and impaled him through the heart. On live TV. The night after she slew the vampire that had been Oz(a vampire/ werewolf hybrid, most vicious), Buffy slipped into the blood bar that had been her favorite hangout in Sunnydale, The Bronze, and saw the broadcast. She had to fight back the tears as never before upon seeing her first love gunned down without mercy, while the crowd of vampires that surrounded her laughed and cheered as he died. From that moment on, Buffy knew that it was over. The world no longer belonged to homo sapiens, it belonged to homo sanguinivore. The vampire. And Buffy had to fight one of the strongest concentrations of vampires in the world, the formerly sunny LA, to ensure her beloved Willow's final rest. Driving through the city limits of LA, Buffy met with zero resistance. Not so much as a fanged smile. A lot of abandoned cars littered the streets. Buffy was surprised at this development. What's the matter? Don't vampires drive anywhere? She remembered how Spike, once the newly vamped Giles removed the implant that the Initiative gave him, went back to cruising for new blood in a stolen Ford Thunderbird. He nearly knocked her down in that old beater, distracting her enough for Riley to deliver the coup-de-grace with a heavy ax. Her right shoulder socket still twinged in remembered pain from losing the arm. She stopped her car, and stepped out, extending her slayer senses to cover as much ground as possible. The feedback smashing into her brain reminded her of what it must be like to be strapped to the amplifier at a Marilyn Manson concert. Over a million vampires, along with assorted demons, and other nasties, within a one-mile radius of her location. The resulting white noise made it nearly impossible to locate a single vampire. This wasn't trying to find a needle in a haystack, this was trying to find a needle in Nebraska. "Where are you, Willow?" Buffy whispered to herself. "Bu-ffy." She turned, startled, at the voice. The voice whispered on the wind around her. It was sing-song, spooky, eerie. It reminded Buffy of that jump-rope rhyme that echoed throughout the Nightmare on Elm Street movies; One Two, Freddy's after you, Three Four, better shut the door, Five Six, grab your crucifix... Buffy stood, Mr. Pointy in her hand, ready for anything. "Show yourself, bloodsucker, I haven't got all day!" "Bu-ffy." The voice was clearer, more distinct. It was an octave higher than Buffy's voice, soft, light, sweet, almost like... "Willow?" Buffy asked the air around her. "Where are you?" "Where I always am, Buffy," the voice came from right behind her. Buffy spun on her heel, and her eyes locked onto the monster that had once been her best friend in all the world. Willow was dressed in a black halter top, with a familiar duster jacket draped over her shoulders. "You like it, Buffy?" she asked, modeling her jacket. "I got it from an old friend. After I had him turned into a pile of ashes." She smiled, baring her fangs as she did so, and Buffy blanched in horror, the implications of her statement becoming clear as an unmuddied lake. "Angel," her voice was a whispered agony. "You set up Angel! You sent him to the firing squad!" "Duh. Souls are out this year, didn't you know?" As she walked toward Buffy, her eyes, once a bright jade green, now a murky olive color with streaks of blood red, never wavered in their gazing at her one-time friend. Buffy knew that the former wiccan was trying to entrance her, and she had to fight it. C'mon, Buff, just plunge Mr. Pointy into her heart. Let Willow rest. Do it! But she looked at her friend's eyes, her hair, her face. Forgetting that she was a vampire, Willow was still as beautiful as she ever was. Buffy felt her resolve weaken. She couldn't kill her best friend. And the vampire knew it. Willow's smile grew larger, more sinister. She slowly strode toward the uncertain slayer. "I'll let you in on a little secret, Buffy. I've always loved you. Not in a best-friends, come-on- over-and- we'll-do-each-other's-hair way, but in a let's-get-naked-and-do-it-on-the-kitchen- floor way. And all this time, I held back, because it seemed so skanky. But you know, it's not skanky at all." Her voice was so soft, so seductive. Buffy found herself loosening her grip on Mr. Pointy. She couldn't do it; Willow was in there. The one she loved more than life itself. Willow was now inches away from Buffy, her breath hot on the slayer's cheek. "You want me, don't you. Well now you don't have to hold back. It was a good fight, like I said a lifetime ago, but the fight's over. And you want me, as much as I want you." She reached behind Buffy's neck, and took the back of her head in a gentle yet strong hold. She purred as she leaned in for a kiss, a kiss the slayer wanted desperately to happen. Their lips joined in a torturously slow movement, and Buffy's knees turned to water. She knew that she belonged to Willow now. "Faith was right all along, Buffy," Willow whispered. "Want." Her hand found her way to a responsive breast, and Buffy moaned at the contact. "Take." The aroused slayer didn't notice that the vampire had bared her fangs, and was about to sink them into her carotid artery. "Have." "Have some of this!" A splash of water doused the vampire and her prey. Willow shrieked as though her face was hit by acid. Buffy blinked, the seductive effect of the vampire's mental control suddenly broken, and her mind was her own again. She looked around her, trying to find her unknown benefactor. A lithe figure emerged from the shadows, holding a bucket of water. Holy water, Buffy correctly guessed from Willow's demonic reaction. Buffy looked again at the bucket carrier; long stringy black hair, matted against a battered, beaten yet familiar face. "Cordelia?" She shouted. "You're not a vamp!" Indeed, the very visible crucifix at Cordy's neck gave silent testimony to her humanity. No vampire could wear such a thing. "What are you waiting for, Slay-girl?" Cordelia shouted. "Stake her!" Buffy firmed her grip on Mr. Pointy, and charged toward the enraged vampire. The thing's face now wore the bestial contours of a true vampire, gone forever was its human facade. Looking at this fiend, Buffy could think and act more clearly. The vampire screamed, and lunged at Buffy. Buffy ducked, and then charged upward, knocking the monster out at mid- flight. The vampire tumbled, and Buffy jumped on top of her. Pinning the beast with her knees, Buffy rammed the business end of Mr. Pointy into the vampire's festering heart. In a twinkling, it was over. The fiend that at one time been Willow Rosenburg, computer hacker, self-proclaimed 'bad-ass wiccan', and best friend, had instantly been transformed into a pile of ash. Buffy kneeled over the ashes of her one-time friend. She felt barren as the airless wastes of the moon. Not having the strength left to do more than cry for her best friend, that's exactly what she did. Cordelia took Buffy by the shoulders, saying, "Look, Buffy, not to interrupt your moment of grief, but we gotta hightail it." "Where, Cordy?" Buffy wailed as she turned her tear-streaked face away in despair. "It's over! The good guys lost!" "Maybe not," Cordy lifted Buffy off of her knees, and forced her to stand. "I knew that you'd be here. I was sent to find you." "Sent? By who?" "By the Powers That Be," Cordy tried to explain. "C'mon, there's a church two blocks away from here. If we keep low, we can make it. I'll give you the skinny there." The two women ducked their heads as they made their way across the street. Bloodcurdling howls could be heard around them, which made them quicken their pace. Within a minute, they made it to the front door of the dilapidated church, and Cordy opened the heavy oak door, beckoning Buffy inside. Once inside, Cordy barred the door with a four-by-four. "They won't come in here, Buffy. I've got the place mined with holy water traps." She pointed to several windows, on which buckets of water were propped. "Besides, there's enough crosses and such to keep them far away from here." "Good thinking, Cordy," Buffy acknowledged. "But why are you doing this? What do you mean by the Powers that Be?" "They sent me here," Cordy sat down on a pew, motioning for Buffy to join her. "It's a long story, I'll give you the highlights." As Buffy wearily sat down, Cordelia explained. "Just after Angel left Sunnydale for LA., he hooked up with a half-demon Irishman named Doyle. Doyle, it seems, had been in contact with an otherworldly group called the Powers That Be, and the PTB wanted him to recruit Angel into their cause. Apparently, if Angel did a certain amount of good, the PTB could give him his soul forever, and free him of being a vampire. Doyle helped him, because he could get flashes into the future. "Shortly after I came to work for Angel, Doyle died. I kinda got close to him, so he gave me his gift to see the future before he died. And let me tell you, Buffy, it's a pain in the rump roast. Anyway, just after that happened, I guess the Hellmouth spilled over or something, because suddenly it's raining vampires." "Hallelujah," Buffy quipped. "Yeah. Well, just after Vamp-Willow betrayed Angel, I tried to take a shot at her, but then I got me one of those flashes. I saw you, Buffy. You came to LA And I was to meet you when you got here. So I got away from Wills, and holed up in here. Since then, two people, I guess they were with the PTB, a man and a woman in some weird-ass togas, they came here. They gave me something, and told me to give it to you." She reached behind the pew, and pulled out an object. It was a brass rod, eight inches long, with two copper snakes spiraling around it. "All they told me was that I had to give this to you, and you would know what to do with it once you held it. And I thought Giles could be vague." Cordy handed Buffy the scepter, and when Buffy held it in her hand, she felt a surge of otherworldly power and knowledge. Images flooded her mind, faces, feelings, objects. The site of Sunnydale High School, after it was destroyed during the Mayor's ascension scheme. Faces of people she loved, and people she hated with a black vengeance. Giles, Xander, Willow, her mom, and...Principal Snyder? And Quentin Travers? The Watcher that forced Giles to betray her during her eighteenth birthday? And one last vision, of her and Willow. Before she became a vampire, when they were best friends. Studying together, laughing, hanging at the Bronze, holding hands, kissing...Kissing? Buffy blinked at the sight. She never kissed Willow, not that passionately. But as she saw herself surrendering in her friend's arms, something seemed natural about it. It seemed so right, so perfect. Why didn't she see it before? What was that line from 'A Christmas Carol', 'Are these the shadows of things that will be, or things that may be only?' If this was the 'May Be', then Buffy felt the need to jack it up to the 'Will Be' column. With these visions, she felt a great calm. For the first time in years, a peacefulness, a sense of purpose and well-being filled her soul, and she knew what she had to do. "It's a time-spell, Cordy," Buffy explained. "Don't ask me how, but I know. It's designed to send me back. To the day it happened, to try and change it. I have to do it. I have to go back, I..." "Stop, Buffy," Cordy interrupted, her nose twitching. "Something smells like..Omigod! Smoke!" Bilious clouds of sooty smoke poured into the windows from outside. Buffy clambered to one relatively clear window, and peered out. "Twenty to thirty vamps," she reported. "All lobbing Molotov cocktails. And these timbers don't look up to regulation. This powder magazine's about to blow! We gotta get out of here" "Ixnay, Buff," Cordy shouted. "You gotta get out. I'll hold 'em off for as long as I can. You have the time spell thingy, use it. Go back, change all this. It's the only way!" Buffy looked long and hard at her friend. The old Queen C was still in there, still fighting in her own way. "All right, Cordy," Buffy said. She wrapped her arm around Cordy's right shoulder. She then handed her crossbow. "You only got eleven shots in here, make them count." "Good luck, Slay-girl," Cordy choked back a sob as her friend sought a clear space on the floor, near the altar. At that moment, the windows crashed, as the vampires and demons poured in. Newbie vamps came in first, taking the brunt of the holy water traps. The more experienced vampires climbed over their suffering bodies, intent on these last two humans in LA. Cordy fired the crossbow, taking out two vamps with three shots, shouting, "That's for Angel!" Buffy watched this display for a second, knowing that the vampires would soon overwhelm Cordy, there were simply too many of them for her to handle. Shaking her head to concentrate on the task at hand, she closed her eyes, and raised the scepter high above her head as she innately knew she had to do. "Tempus Fugit," she shouted, "Tempus Fragnat!" And she slammed the scepter onto the floor in front of her. At the very moment the scepter made contact with the floor, she saw a vamp sink his fangs into Cordy's neck. She prayed that what she saw would be undone. Ripples of pure white light flashed from the tip of the scepter as she lifted it off of the floor, engulfing the Slayer rapidly until all she could see was the light. The light didn't blind, instead it seemed to clarify her vision, yet she instinctively shut her eyes against the brightness. When she opened them again, she found herself sprawled out on the street. She looked around her, amazed at what she saw. She stood outside of Wetherly Park, Sunnydale's favorite vampire trolling ground. It was mid-afternoon, judging by the position of the sun. And there was a sun, which she hadn't seen since the vamps blotted it out with their gray smoke clouds. Buffy felt as though she had run a marathon wearing heavy armor, and her legs protested even the act of standing, but she had to find out when and where she really was. There was only one place she could think to find the answers. Her old home. She ran to the old house, praying that her mother would be there. Praying that she could undo the hellish future from which she had escaped. And above all else, praying that she would see her Willow again, save her from this terrible fate, and bring her the happiness she so richly deserved.
 
Chapter 2 - The Hub of my Rotation
 
Stevenson Hall; U. C. Sunnydale 3:47 p.m. December 19, 1999 "Turn the dial to zero, honey, Don't sell the stock, we'll spend all our money, Starting on a brand new day! Turn the dial a little way back, I wonder if she'll take me back, Thinking in a brand new way. Turn the dial to zero, sister, You don't know how much you'll miss her, Starting on a brand new day. Turn the dial to zero, boss, The river's wide, we'll swim across, Starting on a brand new day!" "Do my ears deceive me," Buffy joked as she tossed some shirts into her suitcase, "or do sounds of happiness emerge from the boom box of Willow?" The red-haired computer hacker turned from her packing and looked toward her roommate/best friend/Slayer, answering as she made a rude face, "I extend my tongue in your general direction." "Some places in SoCal, you can charge $75 dollars for that," Buffy quipped. "BUFFY SUMMERS!" "Sorry, Will," Buffy answered, giggling, "I just love making you turn that particular shade of red. Matches your hair." "That's it, Slayer," Willow Rosenberg shouted gleefully, grabbing the nearest object from her bed that could be used as a weapon, "Throw pillows at ten paces!" "Hey, hey," Buffy said, trying not to giggle as she made a 'Time Out' sign with her hands. "Can we postpone the duel of honor until after we pack? You know, finals done, ready for the winter vacation?" "Okay, Buff," Willow fake-grumbled. "Seriously," Buffy added as she removed several pairs of blue jeans from her dresser. "It's good to see you happy, Will. You've been on a Counting Crows/Alanis Morrisette binge ever since, well, you know--" "His name is 'Oz'," Willow answered, "and I won't go into screaming mimis if you say we broke up. That's what happened. Old news." "Yeah, I know, but I know that it still hurts some. I remember what it was like when Angel finally left." I also remember a wonderful red-headed Wiccan holding me while I cried my eyes out, Buffy thought. God I'm glad she's a part of my life. "Yeah," Willow sighed as she sorted through her sweater collection. "But both Angel and Oz did what they had to do. I'm good with that. Besides, I still have you and Xander and Giles, and I guess Anya," she strained to say it, "plus Tara. So friend-wise, I've got nothing to complain about." "You and Tara've been pretty tight lately, I noticed." "Yeah," Willow admitted. "She's good. She's the only person in the local Wicca group that seems to take it seriously. She and I work well together." She looked at Buffy's face, and noticed that she seemed a little distracted. "But don't worry, Buff, you're still my numero uno compadre. I would never forget you." Like I ever could, Willow admitted silently to herself. Ever since she had met Tara, she had been conscious of her attraction to the shy young blond witch. So much like herself. Yet so different. Shortly after those weird silent demons, the Gentlemen, tried to steal the voices of the people of Sunnydale, Willow was confronted with her attraction for Tara. Whenever she was near Tara, she was aware of the erotic tension between the two of them. This excited Willow, and scared her too. She never entertained thoughts about loving another woman, especially since her conservative Jewish background frowned on homosexuality, but Tara had really gotten to her. But the last time she saw her, the tension was less. At first, Willow thought that she was going through a phase, that Tara was a one-time only infatuation. But then she saw Buffy that one night last week. Sleeping soundly after a quiet patrol. Willow spent an entire hour just watching her best friend sleep, memorizing the lines of her face, the sweep of her neck, the delicate rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. When her sleep grew more fitful, with evidence of one of the many nightmares that plagued the Slayer's nights, Willow fought down a desperate urge to climb into Buffy's bed and hold her, to protect her from whatever was harming her in her mind. More and more, she started to notice Buffy. The long blond hair, the graceful neck and waist, the firm muscles of her arms and legs from all her working out as a Slayer. The perfectly proportioned athletic body. Man, if it weren't for the Slaying, she could be an Olympic gold medalist easy. And last but not least, that wonderfully expressive mouth. On those infrequent occasions when she did smile, Buffy could exorcise storm clouds. Those bright sweet lips, what would they taste like? Ooh, bad Willow! At some point, Willow didn't know when, it dawned on her. She may have been attracted to Tara. But she was in love with Buffy. In the brief silence that followed these thoughts, the Sting song was closing. Among the last lines of the song were two that thoroughly encapsulated what Buffy meant to Willow, what Willow could never confide in her friend for fear of losing her; "You're the hub of my rotation, You're the sum of my equation." "It still hurts a little," she continued, trying to distract herself from these decidedly unwholesome thoughts, "but you know what hurts more? It's knowing that I'd been a total bitch while dealing." "Willow Rosenberg, you listen to me now, you are many things, most if not all of them wonderful, but you are not now, nor have you ever been a bitch." "Huh, aren't you the one who nearly married Spike because of my stupid spell?" Buffy winced at the thought of her happy-making spell a few weeks back, and its wacky consequences. "I didn't say you weren't accident prone, I said you weren't a bitch." "Okay," Willow conceded, "maybe 'Bitch' is too strong a word. But I can't think of anything else that fits." Buffy thought for a second, and suggested, "How about, 'in touch with your inner Cordelia'?" This reference to their sometime friend got a laugh out of Willow. "Oh, speaking of Her Royal Skankiness," Willow remembered, "I got an e-mail from her." "Is she still working for Angel?" Buffy asked. "Uh-huh. And guess who else they ran into?" "Uh, Jennifer Love Hewitt?" "Ha, ha. Wesley." Buffy dropped her head in her right hand at the name of her wannabe watcher and groaned. "Wesley "Stiff-upper-lip-while-spine-goes-gelatinous" Price? I guess that Angel's curse still holds. First Cordelia, now Wes." "I already sent a sympathy e-mail card." Willow answered as she pulled one more sweater from the closet. "Oh, Will?" Buffy asked. "I know that you'll be spending Chanukah with your folks, but you got plans for New Year's Eve?" "Nada." "Mom wanted me to invite the Scooby Gang over for a Y2K survival party. You in? It's kinda pot luck, but--" "I'll bring the guacamole," Willow volunteered. "You bringing Riley?" "Uh, no." Buffy suddenly sounded less than sure. "Riley and me, we're taking some time apart." "Oh?" Willow's heart threatened to leap out of her chest when she heard this news. Was this an opportunity for her and Buffy to--she dashed these thoughts from her mind immediately. Buffy was confiding in her, it was time for best-friend mode, not potential lover mode. Taking supreme control of her voice so that it wouldn't squeak, she asked, "Was it something he said?" "More like what he didn't say," Buffy answered. "Like, 'Oh, by the way, Buffy, I'm with a paramilitary demon-hunting organization called the Initiative. You're cool with that, right?'" "Paramilitary--" Willow started putting two and two together and hoping the answer wasn't twenty-two. "You mean those guys that 'fixed' our favorite Sting wannabe Spike?" "Them's the ones. I found out about that during that incident a couple of weeks ago with the Gentlemen. I was fighting one Gentleman off, some khaki Rambo-ettes show up. I'm fighting, I don't notice it's Riley until he nearly pulls some kind of ray gun on me and I draw a crossbow on him. Not exactly the high-point of romance. We agreed that we had to talk, but so far that's all we agreed on. Except that we need to take a step back. He'll be heading for Iowa to spend Christmas with his family, I'll be with Mom, we need the time apart to think, y'know?" "Aw Jeez, Buffy," Willow answered, genuinely moved by sympathy for her friend. She turned to Buffy and gave her a friendly arm around the shoulders. "I was rooting for you two." "Hey, maybe it'll still work out," Buffy said half-heartedly. "I just wish I knew more about the Initiative to trust them. To trust Riley. He's the first guy I really liked since Angel left, I just wanted someone normal." "Maybe if he's a demon hunter, and you're a vampire slayer, you could go into business together. Two slayers, no waiting!" "I dunno, like I said, there's something about the Initiative that has my Spider-sense going off the meter. Still, it would be nice to love someone who could understand why I do what I do." Like me, Willow thought but didn't say. She would have liked to hold on to her friend forever, but real life interrupted in the form of a ringing telephone. "I'd better answer that," stammered Willow, as she disengaged their hug. "It could be the phone." She wasn't sure, but Willow could have sworn that Buffy was reluctant to let go as she was. She picked up the handset and started talking; "Hello. Oh, Mrs. Summers. How are...Buffy? Nothing's wrong, she's...Please, Mrs. Summers, she's fine. I don't understand..." Buffy's attention had turned toward the phone conversation between her best friend and her mother. Willow's voice sounded more distressed as she spoke, evidently mirroring her mother on the other end. "I assure you that she's fine. I...I'm standing not four feet from her...No, Mrs. Summers, I'm not covering up for her, I'm...Just a second." She handed the handset to Buffy, saying, "Your mother sounds nearly hysterical. I can't understand a word she's saying. Can you talk to her?" "I'll try," Buffy answered as she took the handset and began to speak into it. "Hey, Mom? Yes, it's me. Mom? Mom, are you crying? Calm down, Mom, slow down... breathe...inhale...and exhale. Okay. Tell me everything from the beginning. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Hmmm. Yeah." She listened intently for a few more seconds, and then answered, "Okay, Mom. This is why having a Slayer for a daughter is a good thing, 'cause this is the kind of thing I deal with all the time. I'll call Giles and the gang, and we'll meet you at home and figure this thing out. Don't worry, we'll get the 411 on this. Okay, I'll be there in ten. 'Bye." Buffy placed her finger on the cradle button, and then started to dial Giles' house. She shifted into full Slayer-mode as she spoke to Willow; "Scooby Gang situation, Wills! Defcon Four!" "Something wrong with your mom?" "Apparently. According to her, I'm lying on her sofa in her living room. Unconscious, and missing my right arm!" She waited for Giles to answer the phone. Willow stood beside her friend, a vague dread creeping up on her soul. It was going to be one of those nights. ------------------------------------------------------- Rupert Giles' townhouse; "Now the 'D' and the 'A' and the 'M' and the 'N' And the 'A' and the 'T and the 'I-O-N'! Lose your face, lose your name, Then get ready for eternal flame!" Anya bounced along to the swing-rock stylings of Squirrel Nut Zipper, in what she called 'low-impact aerobics', while Xander, who sat on the couch and watched her work, would call it 'a religious experience'. The earthbound demon, who had in her former life wreaked terrible vengeance against men, now seemed to live to please one man, Xander Harris. Her total lack of social graces or any sort of tact however, has led to some interesting confrontations since she and Xander became, in her own characteristic turn of phrase, "orgasm buddies". Although he had been living in his parents' basement since he finished high school and drifted from job to job, he and Anya preferred to hang out at Giles' place. The former watcher and unofficial den father for Buffy and the Slayerettes was slightly more accommodating than Xander's uncaring parents. The fact was that he found something admirable in Xander; his glib humor in the face of danger, his unwavering courage, even when he claimed to be shaking in his boots. He admired that quality in him. It would be a cold day in the Hellmouth, however, before he admitted it out loud. Giles entered the room with a hot cup of Darjeeling as Anya concluded her dancing. "Xander Harris," he griped, "don't you have anything better to do than watch your girlfriend display her body in such a vulgar fashion?" "Not a thing in the world," Xander replied with a smile that seemed to extend beyond the confines of his face. "The man is a walking hormone," he griped to Anya. "And this is a bad thing, how?" she answered, her grin matching Xander's. "Meet Mrs. Walking Hormone," Xander extended his hand to Anya, who grabbed it and allowed him to pull her on his lap. Giles threw his hands up in disgust and sat down on his leather highback chair. "You two are a perfect match," he grumbled. Desperately hoping to change the topic of conversation, he asked, "Have either of you two seen Spike?" Giles had recently become the host to the neutered vampire, once one of Buffy's most implacable enemies, now a pathetic shell of his former malevolent self. "I think he said something about seeing 'The Sixth Sense' for the fifteenth time," Xander said. "I think he only goes for the first fifteen minutes, long enough to shout from the back row, 'Bruce Willis's character is dead', before being bounced." "Charming to the last," Giles harumphed as he sipped his tea. "I suppose as long as he's under the influence of the Initiative and their implant, he'll be no danger to others." "I don't understand why we allow him to live," Anya commented as she combed her hands through Xander's hair. "I mean, he's a vampire, Buffy's a vampire slayer, I say we get those two together and let her do what comes naturally." "While I echo your sentiments, Anya," Giles admitted, "he's of more value to us alive. He's our only link to the Initiative, and we need all the information we can get on them. Besides, as long as we can keep tabs on him, he's no threat. I'd rather have him where I can keep an eye on him." "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, is that it?" Anya asked. "Something like that," Giles started to expound when the phone rang. Xander picked up the phone and greeted the caller; "Cavanagh's Crematorium! Hey, Buffster, 'sup? Sure, I'll get him for you. Yo, G-Man!" He handed the handset to Giles, who took it silently, having given up the long fight to stop Xander from calling him 'G-Man'. "Hello, Buffy. Yes. Yes. One arm, you say. Yes. I can understand how she would be upset. We'll be right over. Do you need a lift? We'll be there in five minutes. See you then." He handed the handset back to Xander, who hung it up. "There's some sort of trouble at Mrs. Summers' house." He explained the situation as Buffy explained it to him. "One arm, you say?" Anya mused. "That's one less than most people." "This is serious, Anya," Giles snapped at the ex-demon. "Either someone is playing a cruel joke on Buffy's mother, or this is a sign of something far more sinister. Either way, we have to get to the bottom of it." "Right, Giles," Xander stood up, and in his best Adam West-era Batman voice, said to Anya, "To the Watchermobile!" ------------------------------------------------------- In the cramped confines of Giles' Citroen, Willow became more acutely aware of Buffy's presence. Xander and Anya were in the back seat, getting cozy, and Willow's reaction to having to sit next to them when Giles picked up her and Buffy was summed up in two words; "Eww much?" From the days when she was nursing the Mother of All Adolescent Crushes on Xander (she always capitalized the words when she thought of them), she had been uncomfortable with the girls Xander would date. First Cordy, Queen C herself, now Anya, the former vengeance demon. Willow still remembered how Anya had used her to summon an evil vampire Willow from a parallel universe. So to make the trip more tolerable, she leaned forward, to where Buffy was riding shotgun. This placed her head in close proximity with Buffy's, and her nose right near where Buffy normally dabs her perfume. The subtle floral smell interacted with Buffy's natural body smell, and the mix was nearly overpowering for Willow. She tried to block the increasingly sexy thoughts she had been nursing regarding her best friend, and concentrate on other things. "You know, Buffy," Willow commented, "I know we call ourselves the Scooby Gang, but there are times when I wish that we really were like the Scooby Gang." "Explain the logic, Wills," Buffy inquired. "You know, we'd come upon a haunted house, or an abandoned carnival, then we'd get chased by a vampire or demon, then we'd chase him back, all to the tune of some lame '60s- esque music, then we'd all land on him in a dog-pile, then take off the mask, an it'd turn out to be Mr. Deevers, the disgruntled groundskeeper." "And he would have gotten away with it to, if it weren't for them meddling kids!" Buffy shouted happily. "I get dibs on Shaggy!" Xander chimed in. "What does that make me then?" pouted Anya. "If you're Shaggy, Buffy's Daphne, and Willow's Velma..." "Let's put it to you this way," Willow answered with an evil grin. "How do you like your Scooby snacks?" Anya shot Willow a look that would melt ice at fifteen yards. "How about Sandy Duncan on a guest shot?" Buffy offered. "Besides, why does Willow get stuck with Velma? She's much better looking, and has never lost her glasses once!" "Hey, I could be Fred," Willow squealed. "Nah," Xander said, partially distracted by something Anya was doing with her right hand. "That means you'd have to wear an ascot." "I'll pass," Willow conceded the point to her childhood friend. Giles, for his part, ignored this compelling discussion, as he often did. He didn't grudge them their interests, far from it. He simply thought them beneath him. However, he did understand their need to talk about such meaningless minutiae, especially when dealing with menaces like the Master and Angelus on a regular basis. Sort of like whistling past the graveyard. "Hey, meddling kids," Buffy interrupted. "Looks like we'll have to table this conversation. Mom's house, dead ahead." Giles pulled up to the curb, and he and the four Scoobs bailed out of the car. Buffy and Willow led the way to Mrs. Summers' porch, and Buffy slowly opened the door. "Hey, Mom?" she called out. She saw her mother tending to a figure lying on the couch. Joyce turned toward the door as she heard her daughter's voice, and saw her face peek in the door. Joyce stood up, walked to the door on unsteady legs, and stopped just short of Buffy. Buffy saw the haggard look on her mother's face, the red-rimmed eyes, the copious rivulets of tears streaking her face. Now her face was contorted into a look of startlement at the sight of her daughter. "Buffy?" she asked hesitantly. "Is that really you? Oh, dear God..." she could speak no more. She dissolved into tears again as she grabbed her daughter in a desperate hug. All the while she murmured, "Oh my God, my baby's all right!" "Yeah, Mom," Buffy responded, her voice straining against the powerful hug. "And if you could loosen up your grip, I could maintain that trend." Joyce immediately let go of her daughter, apologizing profusely. "Hey, Mom, it's okay. From your voice on the phone, you got a serious wiggins." "So we're here to de-wigginize the place," Xander answered as he and Anya entered the room. "May we see her?" Giles, bringing up the rear, asked. "Oh, certainly, Rupert," Joyce answered. "I'm sorry. It's just been a series of shocks, seeing my Buffy...well, look at her!" she motioned toward the couch. Buffy and her cohorts gathered around the couch, and immediately understood why Joyce Summers was so rattled. She lay sprawled upon the couch, wearing clothes that hadn't been washed, or probably changed, in at least several weeks. She slept fitfully, her exhaustion finally catching up with her. Her legs, visible through shredded jeans, were badly scraped and bruised, and her left arm bore severe scars. Her right arm was missing, hacked off at the shoulder apparently. Her hair was matted against a drawn and roughened face. The face of Elizabeth Anne "Buffy" Summers. For fifteen seconds, no one dared speak. Finally, Xander announced, "I believe I speak for everyone when I say, 'Jinkies'!"
 
Chapter 3 - Gods and Monsters
 
"What can you tell me, Rupert?" a desperate Joyce asked the former Watcher. Giles looked up from his examination of the unconscious young woman on the couch. "I'm sorry, Joyce, but anything I have to say at this time would be strictly in the realm of speculation." "A simple 'not a clue' would suffice," Buffy added. Giles glared at the Slayer, then continued. "I can tell you this; this young woman is obviously not Buffy, or at least not your Buffy. Nor is she a vampire or demon; her skin's too warm for a start, plus her pulse and respiration are strong. Vampires have neither. Also note; the scarring where her right arm was," he pointed to the shoulder, visible under a tattered tank top, "the scars are a few months old. And she looks physically older, and not just in years. No, this woman's been through hell and back." "Could she be from a parallel universe?" Willow asked nervously. "Like the one my evil vampire twin came from?" Xander added, "Me, I've got five dollars that says that this involves time travel." Anya looked at her boyfriend and asked, "You have five dollars?" "Please," Giles interrupted, "this speculation is getting us nowhere. Right now, she seems healthy, for all the damage that has been done to her body. For now, all we can do is keep her comfortable, and--" Giles suggestions were drowned out by Buffy's double muttering loudly in the throes of a nightmare; "No, no, not Willow, not you, not my Wills! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Suddenly, she bolted to an upright position, her eyes wide open, red-rimmed and big as baseballs, a sheen of sweat covering her body, her jaw locked open in fear. Her head darted from face to face, from one corner of the room to another, like a caged rat. She trained her eyes on Giles, and demanded, "Who are you?" "My name is Rupert Giles," he answered. "Should I call you Buffy?" The woman grabbed Giles' arm roughly by the wrist, and placed her thumb firmly over the primary vein. Giles was surprised by this development; even with one arm, she still possessed a slayer's strength. The young woman held his wrist for a few seconds, her look of fear soon giving way to a look of astonishment, then one of great relief. "A pulse," she whispered, gasping. "You have a pulse." She noticed Giles panting. "You're breathing! Quick, Giles. The time!" "You seem to have the wrist with a watch, Buffy," Giles commented. Buffy quickly let go, and Giles looked at the watch face. "I have it at four-twenty-five. Just at sundown." The older Buffy looked impatiently at Giles. "Date, month, year!" she shouted, waving her hand in a circular motion. "Time travel," Xander asserted. "Told you." "It's the nineteenth of December, 1999," Giles answered. Buffy sat forward on the couch in wonder. "It worked," she said simply. "The spell worked." She then leapt off of the couch, shouting, "I MADE IT!" She grabbed Giles in a one-armed hug, squeezing him like a vice. "God I missed you, Giles!" she cried, tears of joy spilling from her eyes. Giles found himself holding her as hard as he could, his normally stoic exterior crumbling under this genuine display of affection. She let go of her mentor, spun around the room, her eyes lighting on Joyce. "Mom, you're still alive! Oh God," she rushed headlong into Joyce's arms, nearly knocking her to the floor with the ferocity of her embrace. "Oh God, I love you, Mom," she cried over and over. "I love you too, sweetie," Joyce answered, at a loss for anything else to say. Holding her, however, had convinced her that this was no demon or vampire; this was as much her daughter as the young woman standing beside her. Older Buffy disengaged from hugging Joyce, and turned to Xander and Anya. "X-Man!" she exalted, slapping him on the back with gusto. "Ya old knuckle-knob! How the hell are ya?" Xander stood dumbstruck at her assault, but had no time to respond as she turned her attentions to his girlfriend. "Anya, I'm even glad to see you! C'mere you old vengeance demon ya!" she wrapped her arm around Anya's neck, shouting, "If I had both arms, I'd give you a noogie!" "I'm grateful for small favors then," Anya said under her breath. "Buffy?" Willow asked the human tornado which had been ripping through the Summers house. Older Buffy stopped and spun toward Willow. "My God, Wills?" she asked in a little-girl voice. "It's you, isn't it? You're not a vamp? You're alive?" Willow nodded timidly, uncertain what this doppleganger would do next. The older Buffy, tears streaming from her eyes, strode slowly toward Willow, and fell into her arms. She wailed loudly, bawling like a little baby, babbling incoherently. At times, Willow thought that she heard Buffy saying, "Oh, God, I'm sorry Will, I'm so sorry, so sorry" repeating her apologies for whatever unspoken crime she had committed. In some corner in the back of her head, it reminded Willow of Heather Donahue at the end of "The Blair Witch Project", holding her camera up to her face and making a last desperate confession. Willow would have laughed, if not for the surreal quality of this current situation. Then the blond grabbed Willow's neck and brought her face level with her own. "Don't worry, Wills," she said solemnly. "I swear by the love I have for you that it won't happen again." Before Willow could ask what she was talking about, the maimed Slayer pulled Willow's face to her own, and kissed her hard on the mouth. The kiss lasted for several seconds, long enough for Xander to whistle softly, commenting, "Whoa, subtext much?" Buffy--the one with two arms--looked at this bizarre scene, and commented, "Okay, I'm officially freaked out now." The older Buffy stopped the kiss at these words, and finally acknowledged her counterpart. She let go of Willow, and turned to her younger self. "My God, seeing you like this," she stammered. "I almost forgot what it was like. To be hopeful, to have friends like this--Don't worry, Buffy, it won't happen to you like it did for me. We can change it. We have to." These last words were spoken as a vow. "Hoo-boy," Xander commented. "Okay, Alt-Buffy. Maybe you should start at the beginning and work your way up to 'it won't happen to you like it did for me'." As Xander spoke, a tea kettle started to whistle in the kitchen. "I thought that you might like some tea or hot cocoa," Joyce said absently. She quietly headed for the kitchen while Giles and the Scoobs looked anxiously at the stranger in their midst, waiting for the bomb to drop. Alt-Buffy looked at the faces that surrounded her. They were her friends, yet in a way not. She was an outsider to them, yet she was the same young woman who they called daughter, friend, beloved. She found her way back to the couch, and collapsed with a thud. "I'll tell you what I can, guys, but I don't know all the facts myself. Xander was right, however. I am from the future, just over a year from now, I'm not sure, I stopped counting dates after a while. They stopped being important." As she spoke, she accepted a cup of hot chocolate with miniature marshmallows that Joyce had made for her. Joyce passed hot chocolate around for the rest of her guests, along with tea for Giles, and they drank their cups silently as Alt-Buffy told her story; "You see, tonight, December 19, something terrible happens. I'm not sure what. All I know is that I was patrolling around Whetherly Park, trolling for vampires, when suddenly, dark clouds covered the sky, fire erupted from near where Sunnydale High School used to be, then the next thing I know, the Hellmouth is open for business. I mean wide open. I have no idea what caused it, I just knew that we were in major trouble. Worse then the Master and Angelus combined, then squared. "The next two months, we tried to figure out what happened, Willow holed up in the college library behind her computers, Giles buried himself in the stacks, I tried to fight everything that poured out of the Hellmouth. It was too much for me, even for an army of slayers. The Initiative tried to fight alongside me, but they were severely outclassed. One or two of them were turned, and they turned everyone else in their bunker. Then," she caught her breath, then continued, "the vampires turned everyone else. Mom, Giles, Xander, Willow, Oz, everyone. "All of Sunnydale became vampires. Then all of California, then all of the continent, then all the world. It spread like the common cold, like that plague from "The Stand", until only a handful of normal people were left. They were captured by the vamps, lobotomized, branded as cattle and kept only to produce blood for the vamps. I guess they kept me alive for revenge. They knew I was the Slayer, and I stopped the demons of the Hellmouth from destroying the world before, so they kept me alive to see their final victory. I became Charlton Freaking Heston in "The Omega Man"!" She narrated her tale in a dull monotone, her fear responses deadened a long time ago. She had lived through this horror, but for her audience, it was as fresh as each tomorrow. Joyce absently chewed her knuckle, Xander held Anya a little tighter, and Willow wanted nothing more than to hold this woman's hand, and drive out whatever foul visions she had witnessed. She wanted nothing more than to be a friend, and hopefully a lover, for this damaged woman. "It was six months ago, when I saw Angel being killed on live TV, when I decided there was only one thing for me to do. It was about that time when I became a southpaw," she added, indicating her right shoulder. "Oz held me down, while Riley hacked it off with an ax. Anyway, I realized that I had to find my friends and family who had been turned, and slay them. Destroy their vampire bodies, so that their souls could find rest. Once that was over, I would take the nearest sword and drive it into my heart. Better to die by my own hand, than risk being turned, right? I was going to Hell anyway, why not on my own terms?" "But something else happened, or else you wouldn't be here," Giles hazarded a guess. "Yeah," Alt-Buffy answered over a sip of chocolaty goodness. "I ran into Cordy, after taking out Vamp-Willow in LA. Turns out that she had been hiding out in an old church, and avoided being vamped. She hooked up with some outfit called the Powers That Be, and they gave her something--Mom, where's my duffel bag?" "Right here, honey," Joyce fetched the ratty old bag and handed it to the injured slayer. Buffy rummaged through the bag, and withdrew the scepter. Giles looked at the device, a brass rod entwined by two copper snakes, and nearly dropped his tea onto his lap. "My God," he whispered reverently. "The Scepter of Hermes!" "Who-mes?" asked the younger Buffy. "Hermes," Xander snapped his fingers. "Wasn't he the Greek god of speed? Yeah, he was in charge of travelers and roads, too, wasn't he?" "Very good, Xander," Giles commented, genuinely impressed. He then thought for a second, and asked him sternly, "Did you get that from an episode of 'Xena, Warrior Princess'?" Xander smiled innocently, "Educational television. Gotta love it!" Giles let out an audible exasperated sigh, and continued in full Professor Mode; "According to legend, Hermes was gifted by Hephaestus, the god of the forge, with a staff and winged shoes, that allowed him to fly, and travel at any speed imaginable. With the staff, the myths say, no place on Earth, in Heaven or in Hell was too distant to him. If these so-called Powers That Be are associated with the godlike beings that recruited Angel, then this must be that very staff! Amazing!" "Great, so we stick it in a crate next to the Ark of the Covenant, Indy?" Buffy asked. "What does this have to do with whatever's going down tonight at Sunnydale High?" "That staff is what brought me here, Buffy," Alt-Buffy answered. "I guess if no place in the universe is to distant for it, that must mean time-travel as well. I don't know how it works, really, I just got impressions from it, including a spell to recite when activating it; 'Tempus Fugit, Tempus Fragnat'." "Oh, oh," Willow barked excitedly, grasping at something that she could understand in this strange conversation. "That means 'Time Passes, Time Breaks', or something like that, right?" "Something like that, yes, Willow," Giles agreed. "Uh, Alt-Buffy, I guess," he turned toward the older slayer. "You say you received images from the scepter. What kind of images?" "Mostly faces and things from my past," Alt-Buffy answered. "Lots of stuff from Sunnydale High, especially the old football field. I also got some images of Mr. Snyder for some weird reason." "Oh God, Snyder?" Xander groaned at the thought of the late unlamented principal of Sunnydale High. "Give me the Master, give me Angelus, give me another Ascension. Give me the Master and Angelus with front row seats for the Ascension, but please dear God, not Snyder!" "I wouldn't worry about Snidely Whiplash," Buffy commented, "seeing as how he got gobbled up by His Honor during our graduation. Much dead now." "No he isn't." Six pairs of eyes fixed themselves on the speaker. Anya, who had kept her own counsel during this exchange, finally saw fit to speak up. "I hate to contradict, Anya," Willow said, "but he got eaten up real good by a Snyder-eating dragon-sized demonic mayor Wilkins. It was the highpoint of the commencement exercises." "A human named Snyder was eaten," Anya insisted, "but the animus remains. Belial." "Belial, Belial," Xander searched his memory, "nope, I don't recall a Belial on 'Xena'. Unless he's related to Dahak." "I know of Belial," Giles muttered. "One of the higher ranking demons in the hierarchy of Hell." "An arch-duke of Hell," Anya intoned with dread in her voice. "Lord of the Pit, Author of all Lies, these are his titles." "Y'know, Anya," Buffy said in an edged voice, "I can't help but wish that you had brought this up sooner." "I wasn't a part of your merry group until after graduation," Anya explained innocently. Or as innocently as an ex-vengeance demon can get. "By the time I got back together with Xander and joined the Slayerettes, Belial had departed the mortal plane, so I figured that he lost interest in your world. But if you're having flashbacks of him, I would guess that he's coming back." "But how did you know about him?" Giles asked. "No demon can hide its true essence from another demon," Anya said simply. "In fact, once I learned that Belial had set himself up as the principal of your high school I said to myself, 'Self, this looks like home sweet home!'. You see, Belial wants above all else control. Over life, over souls, over all creation." "And Snyder being such a control freak," Giles added, "he would have been an ideal host for Belial. I always suspected that he knew about Mayor Wilkins, and about Buffy." "Oh God, this almost makes sense," Joyce breathed. "That miserable troll set out from day one to make Buffy miserable. Unfair punishments, intimidation, expulsion, he did everything he could against my little girl." "Mom, please," Buffy and Alt-Buffy said in unison, then looked at each other, embarrassed that they spoke that way. Xander looked at the two and quipped, "You knew that was going to happen." "Joyce has a point," Giles conceded. "That evolutionary throw-back always seemed to have a vendetta against Buffy. Anyway, what matters is, if Belial is behind all this, we may be facing a grave crisis. Buffy," he spoke to the younger Slayer, "you were planning a patrol, right?" "I was going to stake out Whetherly Park," Buffy answered, then amended her reply; "No pun intended. Perhaps I should go by where the high school was instead?" "That's where the visions seem to be leading us," Giles answered. "Besides, the Hellmouth is at its weakest over the old school grounds, and that's where you," he pointed to Alt-Buffy, "saw the fire display." "I'd better go with Buffy," Alt-Buffy suddenly volunteered. Giles thought about it, then said, "Perhaps you're right. The two of you can guard each other's backs. Willow and I will do the research. Xander, Anya, stay with Willow, do what she asks. I'll be at the campus library." "You have a computer, Mrs. Summers?" Willow asked. "I have a good laptop, with a reasonably fast modem," Joyce went to her study to locate the computer. Soon, the Scoobs set out on their separate errands. The two Buffies on patrol, Willow as Research Girl and Giles in the library stacks." Xander, Anya and Joyce stood by pensively, assured of only one thing; if Belial was their enemy, then they were in for the fight of their lives.
 
Chapter 4 - A pleasant Walk, A pleasant Talk
 
"Hey, Wills," Buffy's voice called over the cell-phone she carried on her patrol. From the light tone, Willow imagined that it was her Buffy, the one with both the arms she was born with. "Buffy and Buffy reporting in as scheduled." "Hey back, Buff," Willow answered on her own cell-phone. She had the prescience to carry hers with her, which became their primary link with the patrolling Slayers, since Mrs. Summers' phone would be tied up with Willow's websurfing. "Any signs of skanky evil?" "Quiet as an audience at a Xander Harris standup routine," Buffy answered. "We've been heading toward the old school grounds, and turned up nada. The closest we got was a pair of Goths at the corner of Swanson and Perry. They matched the vampire profile so we trailed them for a few blocks, only to see them duck into The Old Spaghetti Factory on Sutherland." "So?" Willow asked. "Maybe they're Italian vampires?" "Will, remember when I treated you to dinner at the Spaghetti Factory for your birthday, and you said you liked the food, but it had a little too much--" she paused for a beat, waiting for Willow to supply the end of her sentence. Willow complied, amazed that she had overlooked the obvious. "Garlic, of course. My bad." "Don't worry about it. How's Research Girl?" "Currently, more like Stuck-In-Download-Hell Girl. Your mom's laptop doesn't have quite the speed of my computer at the dorm. I'm trying to hack into Snyder's personal records, trying to find some connection with this Belial whatever. So far, the encryption codes are pretty tough." "If anyone can do it, it's my favorite Wiccan-slash-hacker." "And how many other Wiccan-slash-hackers do you know, Slaygirl?" "Love you, Wills," Buffy smiled slightly at the teasing tone in her friend's voice. "I'll call back at the half-hour. Bye." "Bye, Buff," Willow hung up her cell-phone and tried to concentrate on the screen. 'Love you, Wills,' she had said. If only... "Hey, how's the research?" Joyce's greeting interrupted the young witch's wandering thoughts. The voice, along with sweet baking smells, drew her attention. "Slow and steady," Willow answered. "Here," Joyce put a plate beside the computer. "I baked some chocolate chip cookies." "Wow, that was fast," Willow commented as she reached for a cookie. "Actually, it was store-bought cookie dough. I just thought that you could use a break from staring at the computer screen." Joyce glanced at the screen herself and asked, "What are you looking for in particular?" "I'm waiting for a download from a high school in Spokane, Washington," Willow answered as she nibbled on her cookie. "Apparently Mr. Snyder's last known position before transferring to Sunnydale. It may take a while. Don't worry though, the web server's a local call. No phone bills." "Willow," Joyce sat beside Willow as she spoke in a comforting tone, "my daughter is out there putting her life on the line on a regular basis. If it will help her, I'm not going to fret over phone bills." Willow smiled at Joyce's assurances. She remembered how hard Buffy's mother had taken it when she learned about her daughter being a slayer. Her initial reaction had been to practically kick her out of the house. Since then, she had made her peace with Buffy's life. Willow knew that Joyce would never be fully comfortable with Buffy's calling, but she at least understood it a little better now. "Willow," Joyce started, then stopped. She was afraid of the question she knew she had to ask. She munched on a cookie for courage, took a deep breath and started again. "Willow, there's something I need to ask you. About Buffy." "Fire away," Willow said absently, as she took a bite of her cookie. "How long have you been in love with her?" Instantly a shower of half-chewed cookie bits was expelled over the laptop screen by the force of Willow's spit take. Willow immediately fretted, rubbing the sleeve of her sweater over the screen. "Ohmigod, Geez, Mrs. Summers, I'm sorry, I'll just clean this up, get some gayper-PAPER towels, we'll get this straightened out, just like me and Buffy. Straight. Yep, that's us, straight as the Nile, except for that crooked bit where it branches off into the delta, oh God, help me, I'm trapped in a recursive babble loop." Joyce placed her hand on Willow's, offering her support, while at the same time, fighting the urge to giggle at her display. "It's okay, Willow. Xander and Anya are in the next room, AND THEY HAD BETTER BE FULLY CLOTHED," she raised her voice and craned her neck toward the hallway, setting off a distant thud of someone falling off a couch, "and I promise that anything you say won't leave this room." Willow looked at her hands, the computer screen, a particularly interesting corner in the room, anything but Joyce's face. She was surprised, not only that Joyce knew the depth of her feelings for Buffy, but also that she seemed cool with it. "Well, Mrs. Summers," she stammered meekly, "we met in our sophomore year in high school, which was three years ago, so I guess the answer would be," she finally looked Joyce in the eye, "pretty much all of my life. Just how did you figure it out?" "Well, seeing my daughter's counterpart kiss you when she came too was a big hint," Joyce admitted. "Hey," Willow protested. "I didn't start that kiss." "You didn't stop it either," Joyce teased. "Hey, I'm not mad at you about it, nor would I be mad at Buffy if she announced that she loved you. Or, judging by Alt-Buffy's performance, I should say when she announces it. A mother knows these things, even one as seemingly oblivious as myself." She patted Willow's knee. "It was some kiss, wasn't it?" "Yeah," Willow admitted. "Remember in 'The Princess Bride' when Buttercup pushed The Dread Pirate Roberts down the hill, and he shouts out 'As you wish', and she realizes that The Dread Pirate Roberts is really Wesley, and she follows after him, and they kiss each other?" She illustrated her babbling with rapidly waving hand gestures, then self-consciously stopped and put her hands in her lap. "Well, it was definitely in that category of kiss." She grinned at the illicit memory. "But Buffy--your Buffy, the two armed one, she hasn't said anything to me, and I don't think I can tell her. I don't want to screw up our being best friends. Besides, I wouldn't want you to kick her out of the house or anything like that." "Willow," Joyce half-laughed, "I made that mistake when she dropped the Slayer bombshell on me. Not the highlight in my career as a mother. Don't worry, I won't judge you, and I won't interfere, except to say this." Joyce turned Willow's face to face her own. Her voice became soft, hushed, as she expressed her deepest mother's heart to Willow. "From the day when Buffy first told me she was a vampire slayer, my greatest fear for her was that she would die young and alone. That no one would ever understand who and what she was and that no one would ever love her or want to make a life together with her. Obviously, there is such a person, who also happens to be a pretty wonderful young woman herself, and anyone would be lucky to have that woman love her. If you are the one who can make her happy, and if she wants you to be that one, I can't think of a thing that could please me more." She stood up, smiled at Willow and finished, "And in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, 'that's all I have to say about that'." "Thanks, Mrs. Summers," Willow wiped back a tear as she turned to the screen. "Uh, about those paper towels..." "I'll get them," Joyce answered, breaking the spell of bonding that had occurred between the two women. Willow turned back to the screen, just as the download was completed. She somehow felt less like a freak for being in love with her best friend. And Buffy's mother was okay with it. Wow. With those thoughts in her head, she unzipped the files and, once the screen was wiped of cookie crumbs, started to read. ------------------------------------------------------- It had become a running gag around the Scooby Gang that Rupert Giles was a notorious technophobe. Willow had on occasion called him a Neo-Luddite, and Buffy once exclaimed that he would have told Gutenberg not to rock the boat with that movable type press of his. While it was true that most of his experiences with computers were spectacular failures, Giles refused to give in to the continual jibes that he was accosted with by the Slayerettes. The fact was that he had rather preferred the printed page to the electronic age. As far as Giles was concerned, a simple, portable book was worth all the e-mail and web sites that the proposed paperless society promised. Nevertheless, he was glad that Willow was so well versed in computer hacking; the information that she could discover had often spelled the difference between victory and defeat. At this time, she was looking for files on Mr. Snyder while he looked for anything concerning Belial. Once again, he was amazed at the amount of arcane lore and esoteric knowledge he had been able to dig up at the UC Sunnydale campus library. Presumably the result of Sunnydale being governed for most of its history by one immortal man obsessed with becoming all powerful, even over the corpses of those whom he governed. Any unholy information he could discover to further his own warped goals. Once he had navigated through the computerized card file(a far less painful process than he had anticipated) he located the corresponding texts. Several books that hadn't been opened in years, some, Giles would have wagered, not opened during his lifetime, were strewn over the table where Giles was reading. The first two books yielded nothing that Giles hadn't known; Beliel, like the classic Satan or Lucifer, was a powerful demon, but one of subtlety and finesse. Preferring to do his mischief through underlings and unwitting dupes, Belial would tempt certain people, particularly those who desired control above all else, and promise them control. In the end, however, it was Belial who would control his victims, who gladly signed away their souls, only to lose all that they desired. They became no more than puppets for the demon master Belial. The book he was reading now, the title translated into "The Codex of Taliesin the Lesser", was a particularly rare book, and had seldom left its space on the shelves; the spine protested with creaks and groans as Giles opened it, indicating that it hadn't been opened for nearly a century. The book written by a medieval mage, circa the first half of the 14th century, who fancied himself the incarnation of Taliesin, alias Merlin, the mentor of England's legendary King Arthur. Giles scoffed at the author's assertions, which seemed to color the content of the book, but his knowledge of Belial's ways had proven more enlightening than anything he had read before this. He came upon one page, covered with ornate Celtic knotwork designs and entangled animal and human forms, framing a text. The text was written in one of the more archaic uncial forms of the Celtic language, one with which Giles had to struggle mightily to completely translate. Once he did, the finished paragraph chilled his bones to the marrow; "These be the words of Taliesin the lesser The words you needs must read and ponder in your heart, Unwise be he who would dice with Belial on such a night as this; In the final days before the closing of the Thousand Years, Will Belial come to one who seeks to govern all. A deal will be made, one which shall seal the doom of all men, Unless the Chosen One and those who follow her Do battle with Belial-- Two Chosen shall face Belial and Shall one only remain." The implications practically jumped off the page and shouted at Giles. "The closing of the Thousand Years" clearly meant the end of the millennium, which was indeed near. Although the millennium didn't actually end until December 31, 2000, the prophesy made sense, it clearly alluded to the present day. Likewise, "the Chosen One" was obvious to Giles; the Chosen One, the Slayer, Buffy. "And those who would follow her"; the Scooby Gang. Finally, "two chosen". Two slayers. Buffy and her counterpart from the future. "Shall one only remain". He didn't pretend to understand time travel, but he had enjoyed the adventures of "Doctor Who" as a child in his native London. It made sense that the displaced slayer, once she had changed her timeline, would cease to exist. But what if he was wrong? He wrote down the translations of the pertinent texts, and left the library for the Summers residence. Armed with this new information, he hoped that he could shed some light on Belial's plan, before it was too late for Buffy. Either Buffy. He was already worried about Alt-Buffy. It was clear from her initial display, hugging her friends and family fiercely, so that even with one arm she could squeeze the wind out of his lungs with her embrace. And her desperate apologies to Willow. Why Willow? Giles had been keenly aware of the depth of friendship between the Slayer and the Hacker, and while it bothered him that Buffy's calling had exposed Willow, along with the other Slayerettes, to a great many dangers, he came to realize that she owed her continued existence and her success as this generation's Slayer to those bonds. Where the Watcher's Council believed that such bonds were a fatal weakness, Buffy had made them her strength. But this older Buffy, she had lost those bonds, as her loved ones were turned. She clearly blamed herself for her world's demise, just as the Buffy he knew blamed herself for taking Angel's soul with her act of love, leaving behind the vile Angelus. All the pain and misery Angelus caused, from murdering Jenny Calendar and Kendra to the summoning of Acaltha and the near death of Willow herself, Buffy had hoisted upon her shoulders like Atlas carrying the heavens. No wonder she ran away to LA after Angelus' death. Her counterpart, however, felt an even greater guilt, and Giles was worried that she would do whatever it takes to stop it. Up to and including sacrificing her own life. He only hoped that she wouldn't end up sacrificing all she loved in the process. ------------------------------------------------------- The two Buffies strode quietly through the clear Sunnydale night, their almost supernatural senses attuned to any undid or demonic traces around them. So far, their patrol had been quiet. This disturbed them both; if the vampires weren't out and about, then it was likely that they were gathering their strength and their numbers. Buffy looked at her older counterpart, and tried to read her expression. She seemed wary, always looking around like a cat at night. Simple Slayer behavior on patrol, she thought, but there was something else. Some form of energy, a coiled spring waiting to be released. The older Buffy looked at her sibling and asked, "Something you want to share?" "No, not really," Buffy answered. "Just trying to figure you out. You're so much like me, yet not. I guess I find it kinda freaky." "Hey," Alt-Buffy answered, hiking up her tote bag to keep if from throwing her weight off balance. "I'm the one from out of town, this isn't exactly Normalsville for me either." "How does it feel?" Buffy asked. The older Buffy shook her head, trying to explain what she could barely grasp. "I feel that this is what my entire life as a slayer was building up to. Like win or lose, it's my last battle. In fact, I know it's my last battle; from my contact with the Scepter of Hermes," she patted the side of her bag with her hand, indicating that she still carried the scepter with her, "once we whup Belial's ass, I have to cast a final spell. Otherwise, all my changing history will be for nothing. Kinda like when I wrote that ten page essay on King Lear..." "...and forgot to hit 'save' and the whole thing was erased before I could print it for class," Buffy finished for her. "God that was a bitch." The slayers laughed together at the shared memory. The younger Buffy then fixed her gaze on her twin, as she asked, "But doesn't it bother you knowing that one way or another, this is it? I mean, you change everything, you stop being--man, trying to think like this is making my hair hurt! You'll simply stop existing?" "But I'm not," Alt-Buffy tried to explain to the other Slayer. "I'm simply erasing a part of my life that never should have happened. I'll still go on, because you're me. You're alive, so I'll be alive. And the others will be alive. Mom, Giles, Willow, the gang, they'll be alive!" "Uh, that sorta kinda brings me to my next issue," Buffy said. "What's with you and Willow? I mean, that was some serious smoochies back there." Alt-Buffy looked at her with a slight smile playing on her battle-scarred face. "I love her. Always have. As you know." Buffy stepped back from her partner as though she were thrown off by an electrical field. "Whoa, time out, instant replay, be kind, rewind! Love? As in, Angel was right about Vamp-Willow? She is kinda gay?" Alt-Buffy rolled her eyes at her younger self's outburst. "The hammer lands on the knee and the foot rises into the air. Buffy, look at me. This is not just someone who knows what it is to be you, this is you. And you know in your heart that what I'm saying is true. You saw the shy looks she's been giving you since she lost Oz, the way she got over-protective when you first started noticing Riley. She loves you. And you love her." She turned her face away for a second, then screwed her courage to face Buffy again. A glistening tear tracked its way down her cheek. "I know you do, because I am you. And I love Willow. She was my center, my source of strength. It destroyed me when I had to stake her, because she was as much the reason why I kept fighting the good fight as any. She's why I'm here now, trying to change what was in my world. It was always her, not Angel, not Riley. It took me too long to realize that. Please, Buffy, don't let your chance slip away. She loves you so much. "She's your salvation, Buffy. She's the light in your life. Don't let that light go out. You won't be able to survive the darkness that would follow." Buffy tried to speak, to rebut her twin's charges, but the words wouldn't leave her throat. Somehow, slowly, Alt-Buffy's words sunk in, and with them the realization that her life, whether they won or lost tonight, would never be the same. Buffy looked back at those same hazel eyes that greeted her in the mirror, only older and wiser, and realized that she was telling the truth. Her entire world, her heart, her soul, her strength, her whole purpose in life became distilled into three simple words; Willow loved her. And she returned that love. "This reminds me of a Dylan Thomas poem I was reading the other week in my Lit class," Buffy recalled. She started to recite the first lines; "'Do not go gentle into that good night...'," "'Old age should burn and rave at close of day;'," her twin concluded, and the two of them finished the stanza together; "'Rage, rage against the dying of the light'." This revelation about her and Willow hit like a body blow, and she had to back up to recollect her scattered thoughts. "Whoa," she whispered. "Look, I just gotta get used to having this running around my head. I mean, I never considered myself gay or anything, but now..." "You're not gay," her older self consoled her, "you're just in love with Willow. It's not about what tickles you below the beltway, it's about who is your other half." Just hearing her other self say these words, Buffy realized that she was hearing nothing that she didn't already know intuitively. "Yeah, I guess that helps when you put it that way, Buffy. I'm going to have to talk to her once this party's over. Thanks." "Hey, what are alternate future counterparts for, if not...shh!" She dug her hand into her duffel bag, fishing out Mr. Pointy. "Undead skanky evil at eleven and three o'clock." The warning was unnecessary. Both Buffies stood back to back, their stakes in hand, their bodies as tightly wound steel springs ready to be unleashed. "It's a dead man's party," Alt-Buffy commented. "Who could ask for more?" her younger self finished the thought. Low howls could be heard behind the bushes and trees around them. The two Slayers stood poised, ready for any attack. As one, a small army of vampires lunged out of the darkness, fingers bent into claws, fangs bared, ready for the kill. Buffy high-kicked her first attacker, and lunged her stake into its heart in half a second, then worked her way through the growing mass of undead. A simple methodical pattern governed her movements; kick, stake, repeat. "Yo," Buffy called to her partner. "How you doing?" "Good enough," Alt-Buffy answered. "Mostly newbies, foot soldiers." "Yeah," Buffy added, "but who's their general?" Before she could continue that thought, a vampire got close enough to slam his fist against the back of her neck. Suddenly they were all over her. She struggled against the horde, but their sheer numbers overwhelmed her. "Buffy!" she screamed, "get out of here! Don't let them take us both! Call Giles and the Scoobs, have them--" Another sledgehammer fist ended that sentence as Buffy was knocked unconscious. Alt-Buffy broke away from the crowd of vampires, staking as many as she could, before diving behind a bush, preparing her escape. Before the vampires could pursue her, a car pulled out in front of them. From her vantage point, Alt-Buffy was able to see only a little of what was going on. She saw someone step out of the car, and address the vampires. "Don't kill her," he demanded. "I want her alive. To witness what her rebellion against the Watcher's Council has brought her. And throw that bag aside. We don't want her to have access to her weapons." Alt-Buffy was stunned as she heard that voice. The voice of the one human she hated as blackly as any vampire. The man who forced her mentor Giles to betray her, for the sake of some Slayer's test that nearly killed her and her mother. The man who expelled Giles from the Watcher's Council for the unforgivable crime of caring about his Slayer. Quentin Travers. Quentin ordered the vampires to drag Buffy into the trunk of his car, and then said, "Well done. Now, meet me at the remains of Sunnydale High School. And no midnight snacks along the way. When this is over, there will be plenty of blood for all of you, and no slayer to get in the way. Now go!" He spoke with authority, and the vampires followed. Clearly he was their general. After the car pulled away, Alt-Buffy gingerly stepped out from behind the bush, disbelieving what she saw. Quentin Travers, head of the Watcher's Council, working with vampires? He had betrayed the council, and now was planning to punish Buffy for her desertion of the Council. He had to be behind the destruction that she had witnessed first-hand. He was making a bargain with Belial and mankind's future would be forfeit. Not on my watch! she thought grimly. She ran to the discarded duffel bag, and checked its contents. She found the cellular, still whole despite the impact with the street. Buffy placed the phone on the ground, and started to dial with her one good hand. She prayed that she could reach Giles and the Scooby Gang in time. ------------------------------------------------------- Giles had returned to Joyce Summers' house with the information he had gathered from the library. He was now comparing notes with what Willow had discovered while hacking. "Here we are, guys," Willow announced as Joyce, Giles, Xander and Anya peered over her shoulder at the laptop monitor. "I think I've found the connection between Snyder and Belial." "They're both scuzzbags?" Xander guessed. Anya slapped him on the arm, indicating that it was time to serious up. "According to this file," Willow continued, "Roland Snyder was the principal of Shadle Park High School in Spokane Washington for three years, before his resignation. That was his last recorded position before his tenure as principal of Sunnydale, otherwise known as the Reign of Terror. He was honored by the local school district for his compassionate leadership, and his willingness to work long and hard with the students and teachers to excel." "Well," Xander piped in, "you obviously have the wrong file." Giles nodded his head, adding, "I have to agree with Xander. The Snyder I remember didn't care whether his students lived or died." "I thought I took a wrong turn too," Willow admitted, "but look at this picture." She pulled down a jpeg picture of a man posing with the football team, proudly wearing the green and gold of the Shadle Park Highlanders. "Yep, that's Snyder," Joyce announced, "I'd know that ferret face anywhere." "But it's not Belial," said Anya. "Even from a photo, I'd be able to sense Belial's presence in a human host." "Well, according to this file," Willow continued, "just before he left Shadle Park, he was mugged and severely beaten by three members of the football squad that he was forced to expel for repeated steroid abuse. Just after their expulsion they ganged up on him, and beat the dog snot out of him. He left Shadle two days later, and their vice-principal had to take over. He fell off the map for three years after that, until he showed up at Sunnydale." "Yes," Anya admitted, "that would be when Belial took over. When Snyder was mugged, he must have felt as though he had lost control. That's when Belial strikes. He offered him control, but ended up in control." "And that's just what Mayor Wilkins wanted from his principal," Giles added. "That's why he was hired after Rob Flutie died. And so from a caring compassionate administrator... " "He became that smirking, locker searching, test fixing, Buffy expelling creepozoidus rex we all know and wish we didn't." Xander finished Giles' sentence. "But why did the mayor eat him at graduation when he became a demon dragon?" Joyce asked. "Maybe because he became aware of Belial's plans," Anya answered. "Belial's a subtle one. He was probably waiting for Wilkins to finish his Ascension, then wrest the power he would wield away from him. One thing a demon hates is competition from another demon." "So Bill Gates is a demon?" Willow asked innocently. Giles started to refute her observation, but found himself thinking about it. Then the phone rang. Giles grabbed the cell-phone and answered. "Summers residence." "Giles! It's Buffy--the other Buffy." "What is it, Buffy?" Giles could hear the tension in her voice. "Vampires got her. A whole army of them. Quentin's giving the orders, they--" "Hold it. Quentin? Quentin Travers?" "No, Quentin Tanentino!" she shouted. "Of course Quentin Travers! He said something about punishing her for turning her back on the Watchers' Council! They're holding her at the site of Sunnydale High. Round up the posse, I'm heading that way, I'll meet you there." Giles heard a click, and the line was disconnected. Giles was suddenly a flurry of activity. "Buffy's been taken. Quentin Travers is behind it. And if the prophesy of Taliesin the Lesser is correct, he'll be making a deal with Belial, that will lead to what the older Buffy lived through." "So we meet Buffy of Future Past at the school and kick vampire ass! Let's go!" Xander headed out the door, followed by Giles and Anya. Willow turned toward Joyce and said, "Don't worry, Mrs. Summers, we'll bring her back, and stop all this." She gave Joyce a brief, comforting hug, although Joyce knew that the young woman needed comforting as well. Then Willow followed the Scoobs to Giles' car. As she sat shotgun alongside Giles, she made a silent prayer to whatever God or Goddess was listening; Please, let me be strong enough and fast enough to save the one I love.
 
Chapter 5 - Taking the Initiative
 
Giles pulled up to the curb in front of his house, and he and his passengers filed out quickly. Giles immediately rallied the troops; "Xander, take Anya to the basement, you know where I keep my armory. Grab as many weapons as you can. Stakes, crossbows, swords, a good armful each! We're hunting for bear!" "You want me to grab some too?" Willow asked eagerly. She was more motivated than the others to rescue Buffy, although she was certain that they didn't know why. "No, Willow, I need to speak with you once we get inside," Giles answered. The second that Giles opened the front door, his ears were assailed by his television speaker blasting out; "FUN, FUN, FUN, IN THE SUN, SUN, SUN!" "What the bloody hell is going on?" Giles had to shout to be heard over the din. The razor-haired head of the defanged vampire Spike appeared over the top of Giles sofa. "Hey, gov'ner!" he greeted loudly. "Just in time for 'Red Dwarf'! It's the one where Lister meets his female counterpart..." "What happened to your movie, Deadboy?" Xander asked Spike, suppressing a desire to grab the nearest object that resembled a wooden stake and plunging the business end into his heart. "Ooh, 'Deadboy'!" Spike chided. "More of the legendary Xander wit. Or half of it!" Anya had to nearly pull a flying tackle on her boyfriend to stop him from trying to gouge out the vampire's eyes. "Wouldn't you know, they replaced 'Sixth Sense' with 'Stuart Little'! So I thought I'd kick back here." "Thank you, Spike," Giles shouted angrily, snatching the remote control from Spike's hand and turning the television off, "for reminding me why I chose to remain in America!" " 'Ere, now," Spike protested. "I'm a guest in this shack, you know!" "And as such," Giles answered, his rage held in check by the most tenuous of leashes, "it is long past time that you earn your keep! You can join Xander and Anya gathering weapons, and then meet us by the car. We're attacking a concentration of vampires at the old Sunnydale High School site." Giles turned his back on the vampire, and approached Willow. "You're kidding, right?" Xander asked. "Man you picked a screwy time to develop a sense of humor." "Believe me, Xander," Giles said, the irritation in his voice becoming a palpable force. "In a way it's all a sick joke. But at this point we need any warm body who can help us. Or in Spike's case, a room-temperature body." "Whoa, Steady on, mate!" Spike shouted at Giles. "Nobody tells William the Bloody what to do, you hear me? I don't take orders from any effin' mortal ponces like yourselves! Got it?" Spike didn't see the hand that grabbed the collar of his jacket, until he found himself pinned like a chloroformed butterfly against the nearest wall. The look on Giles' face would have intimidated a legion of demons. "Now you listen to me, 'mate'!" he spat out his venom at the vampiric houseguest. "You are only tolerated here as long as you are useful to us. And if you ever, EVER, use that tone of voice with me again, I shall chain you to the front porch, and let you watch the sunrise! Do we have a meeting of the minds?" William Blood, AKA William the Bloody, AKA Spike, tried to look away from Giles' eyes as they flashed fire at him. "DO WE?" "There was a time when I would have torn into your jugular for that little display, mate," Spike growled. His shoulders then sagged in defeat. "All right. What do you want from your toybox?" "Xander will show you what we require," Giles' voice returned to its normal quiet tone, but the steel that edged his outburst was still there. Spike meekly followed Xander and Anya as they quietly made their way toward the basement. Only Willow stayed behind, in part because after watching Giles attack Spike, she was to scared to move. "Uh, Giles," Willow started timidly, but Giles cut her off with a curt movement of his hand. "I wish to apologize for that display, Willow," he said gently. "I guess that this situation with Buffy and her future counterpart has got all of us on edge." "Hey," Willow answered. "You hear that sound? That's the sound of no one disagreeing with what you did. Spike had it coming for a long time. But you said that you wanted to speak with me about something?" "Yes," he muttered as he headed toward a small shelf. He reached behind an antique tome, and produced a small metal box. "You remember our last confrontation with Quentin Travers, don't you?" "Yes, he made you use that muscle relaxant of Buffy, for that damned eighteenth birthday rite of passage thingy." "If you mean that exercise in barbarity they called a 'rite of passage', yes," Giles said bitterly. "Possibly the lowest point of my life was when I had to betray Buffy. She was right to turn her back on the Council. I only wish I had seen it before then." He shook his head, clearing his mind of self-recrimination, and continued; "Since that fiasco, I had taken the liberty of taking the compound that they had me give Buffy to a friend of mine, Lucas Small, a pharmacist." He opened the box, revealing a large metal hypodermic needle. "He supplied me with this antidote. If Quentin's after Buffy for deserting the Council, he'll no doubt use the muscle relaxant on her. Perhaps even a stronger concentration." Giles knew this to be true. He had not said anything before, because he didn't want to be seen as fishing for undue sympathy, but when Quentin Travers gave him the formula to administer to Buffy, he looked at the substance. It was of such a high concentration that it would have probably stopped Buffy's heart permanently had Giles given her the dosage that Quentin ordered. Unable(or simply too scared, he still wasn't sure) to go against the Council openly, he chose to defy them covertly; he diluted the muscle relaxant with simple blood plasma, reducing its potency. His first act of rebellion against his masters. Still, he couldn't deny that he had betrayed the young woman who had become a foster daughter to him. He could say that he was just following orders, but that excuse didn't fly with Nazi war criminals, Why should it fly with him? Willow, for her part, stood thunderstruck at what Giles was saying to her. The head of the Council, whose stated purpose was to aid the Slayer in her fight against the forces of Hell, sabotaging her efforts, poisoning her? She remembered how devastated Buffy was to learn of Giles' involvement in her losing her Slayer strength. She silently swore to the Goddess that if Quentin so much as breathed on Buffy, she would exact a terrible revenge. "When we get to Sunnydale High," Giles continued, "you must find Buffy. That is your top priority. Once you find her, give her the entire contents of this hypodermic. The syringe contains a compound designed to stimulate the adrenal glands, and boost the metabolism to burn out any and all toxins. Once it's administered, according to Lucas, the poisons will be purged from Buffy's body within fifteen minutes. The only side effect is that she'll become ravenously hungry about an hour after the chemical takes effect, as a result of her heightened metabolism." "So we'll have the traditional celebratory pizza party after we save the world," Willow suggested. Giles smiled. "My treat. One more thing; before she recovers fully, she'll be vulnerable. You'll need to stand guard over her, and take on anything or anyone who would attack her." "No worries, Giles," Willow answered, "I've got a defensive herbal spell I've been dying to try out." She rolled up her right sleeve, revealing a small sachet strapped to her wrist. "Twice blest herbs, simple ingredients, and a simple spell to activate it." "You came prepared, Willow. I commend you." He turned his head toward her, and said simply, "I think I'm beginning to understand how important Buffy is to you. I know that you are in love with her. I want you to know that I will move Heaven and Hell to bring her back safely. "Geez, does everybody know about me and Buffy?" Willow lamented. "I didn't know I was even in a closet, when suddenly I'm outed!" Giles suppressed a chuckle at Willow's observations. He knew that Buffy was in good hands. Now, and should she and Willow choose to pledge their love for each other. "She's lucky to have you in her life, Willow. I used to fret that she shouldn't involve you in her fights, but it seems I was wrong." "It was my choice," Willow answered solemnly. She remembered last spring when Willow amazed Buffy with her announcement that she was joining her at UC Sunnydale. Willow would have been right at home in Harvard or Princeton, any ivy league school, but she chose to fight along side Buffy. "It's a good fight," she had said to her friend, "I want in." All Buffy could say after her vow was simply, "I kinda love you." Believe me, Willow thought now as she remembered, for me, it's more than 'kinda'. "We'd better get going," Giles said, breaking the moment of nostalgia. Giles called for Xander and Anya, who, along with an obstinate Spike, had emerged from the basement, each bearing a small arsenal of medieval weapons; spikes, crossbows, silver-tipped swords. "We've got the party favors," Xander announced, "let's crash the party!" "Don't worry, Willow," Anya said in surprisingly sympathetic tones. "We'll get your potential orgasm-buddy back for you." Willow gasped loudly at her turn of phrase. She stood aghast at the vengeance demon, then shrieked, "Does anyone here not know that I'm in love with Buffy?" Xander's face wore an expression of goofy surprise, as he paused for a second, and answered, "Well, not now." Spike just smirked. Willow wished that she could turn invisible, or intangible and seep through the floor beneath her. "Well, enough of these happy thoughts, mates," Spike quipped in mock-cheerfulness. " 'Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more', and hopefully," he finished, staring daggers at Giles, "we'll shut the walls up with our English dead!" He headed outside, toward Giles' car. As the others headed out, Xander was heard to say, "Oh, yeah, I'm feeling more confident about this mission already!" Fittingly enough, no one answered. ------------------------------------------------------- Buffy awoke slowly, and could not quite shake the veil of lethargy that seemed to steal the function from her limbs. Unable to move more than her neck, she turned her head around to gage her surroundings. She was dimly aware of the hard cold ground beneath her, of the cooling night winds that brushed against her cheek, of the derisive laughing of unearthly fiends. Her innate preternatural senses, what she sometimes called her "Spider Sense", was buzzing in her skull like a hive of angry wasps, but she couldn't muster the strength to arise, to stop whatever was happening. "Our sleeping beauty awakens," a condescendingly proper British voice that she didn't recognize at first, but knew didn't belong to Giles, intoned over her prone form. "Prop her up, I doubt she has the energy to move herself." She felt rough hands grab her arms and yank her upright. She tried to keep her head from lolling to the side, as her body had all the structure of an old doggy chew toy. She managed to raise her head slightly, and look at the speaker. Her blood ran cold, but she still couldn't fight back against whatever was sapping her strength. "Quen-Quentin..." she started, forcing back the fogginess that had been engulfing her mind. "I'm pleased that you remember me," Quentin Travers nodded to the weakened Slayer. "Oh, don't bother to get up. I've taken the liberty of dosing you with a stronger form of the muscle relaxant that I had Giles use on you before. You won't be able to move your limbs for at least several hours. Long enough for our business to be concluded." The Slayer said nothing. She just tried to sit up straighter, but her body betrayed her and fell forward, like an ancient Raggedy Ann doll. Her nose was gracelessly flattened against the ground. Quentin ignored the suffering Slayer, and turned to the other gentleman who stood beside him. "I like her this way," the weasel-faced individual commented. "For once, she's not talking back to me. If it weren't for the school board, I'd have never let her back in school. She was a bad influence." "I assure you, Mr. Snyder," Quentin said to his partner, "that she will trouble no one again. The Watcher's Council knows how to deal with troublemakers." The two men turned their backs on the helpless Buffy, who could only remain in the position in which she fell, since no one had offered to sit her back up, and wonder what Quentin and the demon who had assumed the form of Mr. Snyder were planning. This exchange took place outside of the remains of the school building, in the school's old football field. As Quentin and Snyder discussed their plans, they failed to notice a second Slayer, a tired, ragged young woman with only one arm, lurking behind the bleachers. She managed to tail Quentin's car to the field, and avoid any vampires(and there were many present) to get to her location. She spied on the proceedings, and when she felt the coast was clear, she pulled out a cell phone, and dialed. ------------------------------------------------------- "Thanks, Buffy, we're on our way." Willow hung up the phone and told Giles, who was concentrating on driving, "Alt-Buffy sneaked into the football field, and heard Quentin talking to The Amazing Snyder-Man. She also saw Buffy, and from what she told me, they used the muscle relaxant on her." "Damn," Giles muttered under his breath. "Did she see what they were doing?" "No, but she said that the vamps that were gathering around were keeping quiet. She thinks that something big is happening." "We'll find out soon enough," Giles answered. "There's the school, just to our left." He passed the parking lot, looking for a space near the football field, only to find a large number of jeeps, and at least one Humvee, all painted in camouflage colors. A squad of soldiers was milling outside the school grounds, all carrying large, rather exotic looking weaponry. One black soldier motioned for Giles to pull over, and marched toward his car. As Giles rolled down his window, the soldier said to him; "Sorry, folks, this is a restricted area. I must ask you to vacate the premises." "May I ask on whose authority this area is restricted?" an irritated Giles asked. "By the authority of the Initiative," the man answered smartly. "I repeat, this is a restricted area." "Now look, Mr..." "Sergeant Carter," he barked out, loudly emphasizing his rank. "Fine, sergeant, we have business here. We are here to stave off an event that will have severe repercussions on this city." "The Initiative has this situation under control," Carter said loudly, "there is no reason for you to remain here. If you do not return to your homes, I will be forced to bring you into protective custody for your own safety." "Excuse me, sergeant, I thought that we were still in America!" Giles shouted, his patience worn to the nub. Before he and the sergeant could continue their stand-off, the sergeant found himself in a hammer-lock. Spike, who had surreptitiously slipped out of the car, had managed to overpower Forrest. "I think the gentleman wants to get through, gov'ner!" "Hostile 17!" Carter shouted. "Shock it!" A lance of electricity rushed through Spike's body, augmented by the chip that the Initiative had implanted in his nervous system to control him. Spike convulsed, releasing Carter and dropping nervelessly to the ground. "Out of the car, all of you!" a commanding voice shouted. "Hands where I can see them." Giles and the younger passengers slowly filed out of the Citroen, their hands above their heads. The man giving the orders turned to them, and Willow gasped when she recognized his face, and his wavy blond hair. "Riley?" "Lieutenant Finn to you, Ma'am, he's the commanding officer of this mission," Carter stated. "At ease, Carter," Riley interrupted. "I know her. Willow," he turned his attention to the young hacker. "What the devil are you doing here? This place isn't safe. Intelligence confirmed that it's crawling with vampires." "That's what we're doing here," Willow answered. "Buffy's in there. Someone's holding her hostage." "Whoa, Buffy?" Riley shook his head. "What's she doing in there?" "It's her job, Riley," Willow raised her voice. "She's the Slayer. You saw her take out the Gentlemen, your intelligence people should have some idea what a Slayer is. We're her posse, we help her slay undead stuff." "Then what are you doing consorting with a known vampire?" Riley asked, his voice edged with mistrust. "Uh, can we call someone at home on that, Regis?" Xander chimed in, only to get Anya's elbow hard in the ribcage. "Don't worry about Pretentious-Boy here, he's on a tight leash. We're just making sure he won't cause any more trouble." "I don't know, Willow," Riley hedged. "I like you, and I know that Buffy thinks the world of you, but you've put me in a tight spot. My superiors don't want civilians involved in--" Riley's statement was cut short by sounds of battle. His troops were firing at a mob of vampires and demons, holding their own but doing minimal permanent damage. Riley barked out orders to his men; "Full power on the stun rifles. Fry 'em!" "If you'll permit us," Giles offered, "we may be of assistance." "Oh yeah?" Carter snapped at the retired librarian. "What can you do?" "Well, how about--THIS!" In a single fluid motion, he allowed a small wooden stake to drop out of his sleeve and into his right hand, and threw it like a dart into the chest of a vampire that had risen from behind Carter. Carter turned around in time to see the hapless vampire disintegrate into a small pile of ash. "Bogey at one o'clock!" Xander shouted, ducking back into the car long enough to pull out a crossbow. He quickly loaded a bolt onto the bowstring, cocked the weapon and fired. The bolt flew into the heart of another undead fiend, dusting it instantly. Two more vampires were converging upon Riley and the Scoobs. Willow raised her right arm, revealing the herb packet she wore on her wrist, and shouted rapidly, "Henbane and holly to guard my back, Garlic and rue to repel the attack!" An invisible force hammered into the bodies of the two vampires, and several others behind them, knocking them flat on their backs, and burning them as effectively as the sun. The remaining vampires retreated to the field. Spike got back up on his feet, and asked Willow, "Not that I mind, missy, but why didn't that spell dust me?" "I guess that implant protected you, interfered with the spell," Willow answered nonchalantly. "Consider yourself lucky." Spike pursed his lips, wondering at her coldness. Riley looked around at the evidence of the vampire attack. "Rather old-fashioned weapons you're packing, Giles." "They're effective enough against vampires," Giles answered. "Sometimes the old ways work." "And how did you take the others out, Willow?" Riley scratched his head over that puzzle. "I'm a witch," Willow stated simply. "Wicca, to be exact." "So, you just cast a spell and poof, no more vampires?" he countered skeptically. "Pretty much, yeah." Riley stood silent, considering his options. "You'll forgive me if I'm a little suspicious. I'm a scientist by nature; I don't accept magic that readily." "Arthur C. Clarke once said," Giles offered calmly, "that any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic." "And there are more things in heaven and earth, right Horatio?" Riley thought further, then said, "You seem to know more about what's going on here than we do. Would you care to tell us more about it later?" "Perhaps," Giles smiled at Riley. "For now, you have weaponry, we have information, I say that we put our mutual animosity aside and pool our resources." At length, Riley turned to Carter. "I'm going to take a chance and trust these people." Carter started to protest, but Riley cut him off; "Go gather the troops, we'll be going in on my mark. Dismissed." Carter saluted his superior officer, and left. Riley then asked Giles, "Okay, friend, what do you suggest?" "The two men behind this concentration of vampires are Quentin Travers and a demon called Belial. Belial will be assuming the identity of a human named Snyder. In all likelihood, they have Buffy with them, drugged and helpless. They have something major planned. While we take on the vampires inside, I will confront Quentin. We have a history together, and I feel that I should confront him first. Meanwhile, Willow will find Buffy and administer the anti-toxin. Buffy should recover within fifteen minutes of receiving it." "And then what?" Xander answered for Giles; "Then she kicks butt, we save the day, then we all go home, scarf lots of pizza and watch Jet Li movies." Riley regarded Xander with a smirk. "You seem to have faith in Buffy." "Hey," Willow answered. "She's saved the world three times now. You?" Riley half-smiled at Willow. He then turned to his men, and shouted, "We're moving in, men. Let's do the deed!" The forces of the Initiative marched toward the wreckage of Sunnydale High to face the monsters within. "What about that?" Riley asked, pointing his head to indicate Spike. "He gets a sword and some stakes, that's it," Giles said as he passed weapons around to the others. "I don't trust him with a ranged weapon like a crossbow." To the Slayerettes, he added, "The first sign of betrayal from our peroxide poster child, you know what to do." "Got it, he's a pincushion," Xander said. Willow and Anya nodded in silent accord. "All right, people," Giles announced, crossbow in hand, a bandoleer of stakes over his shoulder. "Let's move in!" And the battle was joined.
 
Chapter 6 - Vows of Love, Vows of Hate
 
Buffy lay ten yards away from the two men, ignored as an inconsequence. As she listened to them, she knew that she was getting weaker. It was all that she could do to keep her eyes from shutting, to keep her ears attuned to the conversation between Quentin Travers and Roland Snyder. She feared that should she close her eyes, they would never open in this life again. Whatever Quentin pumped into her veins, it was far stronger than the stuff Giles gave her on her eighteenth birthday. The part of her brain that could function coherently was growing more and more quiet, and her respiration became more shallow with each breath. She knew that she was dying, and despaired that there was nothing she could do to stave it off, or to stop these evil en from their mad design. The more she heard of their plan, the more she raged with desire to stop them. But her body would not respond to that desire. She was trapped in a prison of useless dying flesh. The sounds of energy weapons and screaming vampires interrupted Quentin's business with Snyder. "It seems we have company," Snyder commented. "No one ever accused you of being an original conversationalist," Quentin replied. "Don't worry, Snyder, our troops will take care of them. Now, shall we get on with business?" "Of course," Snyder smiled, a feral display of teeth. "Our negotiations have reached their final stages, the...persons...I represent have agreed to abide by the stipulations of the contract. However, we require possession of the disputed territory within the next twenty-four hours." "This doesn't give the residents of the disputed area time to evacuate," Quentin argued. Snyder simply laughed at Quentin's observation. "Mr. Travers, evacuation was never an option. The residents are part of the disputed area, and must therefore be considered part of the trade. With the signing of this contract, the city of Sunnydale and all its population become property of the Hellmouth." "I understand your position, Mr. Snyder," Quentin sighed, "but there are those among my organization who would find this clause in the contract unacceptable. There could be repercussions." "Quentin, old bean," Snyder grinned like Satan's spin doctor, "you do understand what we hope to accomplish, do you? We are on the verge of forging the first peace accord between humanity and demonkind. This treaty between Earth and the Hellmouth will forever assure the peace for your world. You can no longer rely on your highly vaunted Slayers, Miss Summers and Mr. Giles have guaranteed that. This measure is required for humanity to survive. If a few thousand souls must sacrifice themselves to save a few billion, then, well, you know what they say about making an omelet. You have to break a couple of eggs." Quentin lowered his shoulders, swayed by Snyder's logic. "I suppose you're right. As long as I have your assurances that the demons of Hellmouth, once they take over Sunnydale, won't cross over the boundary lines to invade the rest of the world." "You have my word," Snyder lied. The two men shook hands. From her vantage point behind the bleachers, Alt-Buffy seethed, her disbelief at what she had witnessed; Quentin Travers just sold out the human race to Belial. She made a silent vow at that very instant, that before she completed her mission to undo what Quentin and Snyder were doing, she would kill Quentin with her bare hands. As far as she was concerned, he had proven himself more evil than any vampire, any demon, any monster she had faced before. Master? Yeah, right. Angelus? Amateur! At least those creatures didn't have the burden of souls. Quentin Travers didn't have that excuse. He had a soul and chose to sell it to the devil. He could go to hell as far as she was concerned. And she would send him there herself. ------------------------------------------------------- "Team one, forward! Team two, ground support!" Riley shouted to his men, who responded with both professionalism and gusto. A khaki swarm poured into the football field, as the Initiative soldiers sought out and targeted their undead prey. A number of vampires broke through Initiative lines, only to be felled either by their energy weapons or by the stakes and crossbows wielded by Giles and the Slayerettes. They advanced toward the center of the field, toward where two older men were talking. Giles recognized them as Snyder and Travers. "Look!" Willow shouted excitedly, pointing toward the two men. "Just past Snydeman!" Giles, having dispatched a clumsy newbie vampire, craned his neck to see where Willow was pointing. Ten yards behind where Snyder and Travers were standing, a body slumped over on her side, seemingly unconscious. "Buffy," Giles whispered. "Willow, quickly, get to her and give her the anti-toxin. Xander, Anya, Spike, cover her!" "On it, Fearless Leader!" Xander shouted, his customary fear of nasty situations forgotten by his concern for Buffy. Willow sprinted toward her fallen friend, only to have a pair of especially disreputable looking vampires cut her off. "Well, ain't that sweet," the female vamp, her tattered leather clothes barely concealing her decaying body. "Looks like fresh meat," her male counterpart added. "Geez," Willow teased, her right arm raised, to release the herbal spell. "What are you, the vampiric answer to Team Rocket?" Xander knew a cue when he heard one. "If that's the case," he quipped, "I choose you, Crossbow!" He promptly fired two bolts in rapid succession. They hit their targets with deadly accuracy. Two more piles of dust were kicked aside by Willow's feet as she ran toward Buffy. Xander simply stood back with his crossbow in hand, saying to Anya, "Gotta slay 'em all!" Willow silently gave Xander a raised eyebrow and a withering stare, recognized by all the Scooby Gang as meaning, Man, Xander, are you ever dumb!, then headed back to where she had seen Buffy. ------------------------------------------------------- After quietly felling a demon who had snuck up on Xander and Anya, Spike stood beside them, his sword resting casually in his hand, strangely evoking the image of William Wallace, or at least Mel Gibson in that role in 'Braveheart'. "Nice slayage, Deadboy," Xander quipped, and the former William Blood smirked at the left-handed compliment. He managed to peg two other vampires that had threatened himself and the others. With each blow against his former brethren, he came closer to the realization that he could never go back to being the man whom he was, even if he could ever shake the effects of the microchip that kept him from harming humans. He had little choice in the matter, but when push came to shove, he chose which side he would be on in the eternal battle. It wasn't a matter of humanity, for he still had no soul. More a matter of enlightened self-interest; having turned against his own kind, he knew that they would declare him enemy. So it was only fitting that he declare himself their enemy in deed as well as by perception. And if that meant that I would be forced to join Buffy's merry marching society, he thought at that time, then, Scooby-bloody-Doobie-Doo! He turned his mind away from thoughts of the future, instead thinking only of the present, and the fight at hand. ------------------------------------------------------- As it turned out, Willow didn't need the cover fire from Xander and the Initiative, since her herbal spell was still protecting her. She didn't even notice three vampires who had tried to block her way to Buffy. They jerked back from her as though she had erected an invisible force field around her, just like Susan Richards of the Fantastic Four. At least I can use this spell to protect Buffy. Oh Goddess, grant that I'm not too late! After running for what seemed to her like an eternity, she finally made it to the fallen Slayer's side. Thankfully, neither Quentin, Snyder, nor any of their hench-monsters seemed to notice her slipping through their defenses, as she concentrated on Buffy's condition. Buffy's eyes were closed, her lips parted, her skin pale and ashen. Willow fought down her panic reflex as she placed her finger on her friend's carotid artery. The pulse was weak, thready, but still there. After breathing a sigh of relief and offering a silent prayer of thanks to the Goddess for saving the one she loved, Willow immediately got to work. She opened the packet of herbs at one corner, and sprinkled them out in a circle, around herself and Buffy. She muttered the invocation, modified for her purpose; "Henbane and holly to guard our backs, Garlic and rue to repel all attacks." The utterance would activate the defense spell, and allow her to work undisturbed. She opened the wooden case, and primed the syringe, pointing it upwards and pressing against the plunger to squirt out any air bubbles. She then gingerly pressed the needle into the lower basalic vein in Buffy's right arm. As the needle first made contact with the skin, Buffy's eyes fluttered open. "N-no, no," she murmured, "no..more...ne-needles..." "Shh," Willow soothed her friend in a delicate. "Don't try to move. I'm not hurting you, Buffy, I'm giving you an antitoxin. Giles gave me this, it'll burn out the bad stuff that Quentin gave you." Buffy tried to squirm, but could only put up token resistance. Willow carefully found the vein, pressed the needle into her arm, and injected its contents. "There now, Buffy," Willow soothed, placing the Slayer's head on her lap. "That wasn't so bad now, was it?" "C-can I...have..a...a..lo-lollypop?" Buffy asked, her voice barely audible. Willow just smiled at her beloved, and stroked her blonde hair. "Now you just lie back for a few minutes, let the antitoxin work. Don't worry, your Willow is here for you." She placed her hand in Buffy's, who squeezed her hand lightly, but with growing firmness. Willow smiled, relieved that the antitoxin was working. Outside of the protective circle, the battle raged. The Initiative's soldiers clashed with the vampires, and both sides drew heavy causalities. Buffy, hearing the din of battle, tried to stand up, to join the fray, but her center of gravity suddenly seemed to shift to somewhere above her neck, and she collapsed quickly. "No," Willow tried to take her arms, to get her to sit for a few more minutes. Buffy despaired as she tried to move with limited success. "I have to get in there," she lamented. "I need to find Giles, to tell him..." "Hush, Buff," Willow consoled her. "Giles is out there, he knows what Quentin and Snydely are up to. You'll be up to full strength in a few minutes, and we'll be safe inside the protective circle." She took Buffy's hand in her own again and whispered, "I'm not about to lose you again, do you hear me Buffy? You're too important to the world. To me." She closed her eyes, knowing that with her next sentence, nothing was going to be the same. "I love you, Buffy Summers. More than anything or anyone else in this world. Always have. Always will." Her declaration, her vow, was greeted with silence. For five seconds, each one dragging on for what seemed like an eternity, Willow was convinced that she had gone too far, that she had crossed a line from which she could never go back, that she had jeopardized her friendship with Buffy forever. She kept her eyes closed, afraid to face Buffy. Then, she heard Buffy speak, an edge of laughter in her voice; "Damn. I wanted to be the first to say it." Willow's eyes snapped open, revealing to her the face of her beloved, her Buffy, smiling at her. She tried to think of something to say, to make sure that Buffy meant what she said, and then felt a hand gently but firmly grasp the back of her neck and draw her closer, and a pair of warm clinging lips press against her own. Buffy's lips were sweeter and softer than she had imagined, and the thrill of kissing her sent electric jolts throughout her nervous system. It took her a second to recover from the shock, and start kissing her back. For a timeless instant, Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenburg were the only two people in existence. No Sunnydale, no Hellmouth, no vampires, no demons, no Quentin, no Initiative, no... "Mhi-mhey!" Buffy mumbled against Willow's mouth. "What?" Willow broke off the kiss reluctantly. "Riley," Buffy repeated herself. Willow turned around, to find Riley Finn staring directly at them. Oh God, Willow thought, I feel a babble attack coming on... "Buffy?" he asked. "Are you all right?" "Right as rain," she answered quickly. Willow just waved at the hapless Lieutenant, clamping down hard on her mouth to keep the babble dam from bursting. "Good," he answered simply, although both women could clearly see the disappointment in his eyes. "I'm sorry, Riley," was all that Buffy could say. "Hey, it's okay." He gave her a half-smile, and said to Willow, "You take good care of her, or I'll beat you to death with a shovel." Riley tipped his right hand toward the two in a casual salute, and turned around, barking orders to his men; "All right, men, let's finish what we started!" Willow looked back at Buffy, saying, "Hey, I'm sorry about..." "Don't be, Wills," Buffy soothed her friend, as she struggled to get to her feet, and became relieved to find that her legs would support the weight. "This is what I want. I'm the one who initiated the kiss, remember?" She suddenly regarded Willow with a tooth-bearing grin. "And once this is all over, I plan on kissing you again. Repeatedly. And probably a lot more than that." "Talk about incentive for world savage!" Willow answered back with what could only be described as a shit-eating grin. Buffy returned that grin with one of her own, sighing, "I do love you, Willow Rosenburg." She then stopped, the smile vanishing from her face. "We gotta find Giles. It's worse than he knows. Quentin's signing a deal with Sny- uh, Belial! He's going to hand Sunnydale over to the Hellmouth!" "And you, Slayer," the quietly evil voice of Quentin Travers replied from out of nowhere, "will not interfere with these proceedings. Buffy and Willow turned around to face Quentin, who held a small handgun aimed directly at Buffy's heart. "I had hoped to let you die in peace, without pain or bloodshed, but since you insist on being difficult..." Without another word, he pulled the trigger. The bullet ricocheted off of the protective field in front of the two young women, and back toward Quentin, lodging in his arm. Buffy looked at Willow and said, "That is one user-friendly spell you got there." "I don't know my own strength!" Willow breathed, awed by the power of her own spell. "That one's definitely a keeper." "I'll just relieve you of that, if you don't mind!" Giles, suddenly standing in front of Quentin, grabbed his neck in a hammerlock, and wrested the gun from his hand. Buffy had never seen Giles this angry before, not at her when she had lied about Angel being alive, not at Angelus when he killed Jenny Calendar, not even at Snyder for any number of reasons. There was a flash of white fire in his eyes, and she swore she could see sparks flaring out of his mouth as he ground his teeth. "And now, traitor," Giles snarled, throwing Quentin to the ground, "I would have words with you!" "You are persona non gratia among the Council, Giles," Quentin puffed himself like a penguin, as though being bodily assaulted had done nothing to his composure. "You have no authority in these proceedings." "What authority do you have," Giles shouted indignantly, "to make such a deal with Roland Snyder? You are talking about sacrificing tens of thousands of people to the Hellmouth!" "Why, Giles," Snyder suddenly stepped forward from his observation perch, oozing mock civility. "What an unexpected surprise. You and Miss Summers, and her little witch friend," he grinned evilly at Buffy, who held Willow a little tighter, a little more protectively. "I suppose that Xander Harris is here as well? How delightful, I get to see the four who caused me so much grief over the years die at the hands of my associates." "This is not about revenge, Mr. Snyder," Quentin glared at the former principal. Apparently, he hated the man as much as Giles and Buffy did. "Giles, what I am doing here is safeguarding the lives of over five billion humans. I have met with Mr. Snyder, who has represented the denizens of what you euphemistically call 'the Hellmouth', and together, we have forged the first treaty between humanity and demonkind. Sunnydale will be sacrificed to the Hellmouth, and yes that is a tragedy, but that is the price that we were forced to pay because of you, Buffy Summers." "Oh, no, no, no," Buffy flared, her rage slowly matching that she saw in Giles. "You try to pin this one on me, I'll filet you!" "Indeed, Miss Summers, it is that attitude," Quentin continued, "that has forced the Watcher's Council to accept this non-aggression pact with the Hellmouth. You and your fellow slayer Faith have proven unreliable, therefore we require a peaceful solution." "Peaceful solution?" Giles sputtered. "You honestly think that you can deal with that--that--creature?" "Sticks and stones, Giles," Snyder tut-tutted. "You're a greater fool than Neville Chamberlain," Giles continued his tirade, ignoring the demon in barely-human form, "when he signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany! He called it 'Peace in our time', then shortly after began the Blitz! You think you'll fare better dealing with demons?" "If you had kept a tighter rein on your charges, none of this would have happened." Quentin then turned to Buffy, damning her with his eyes. "Your rebellious nature has made you a liability, I'm afraid. You have constantly defied our orders, flaunted your association with your so-called 'Slayerettes'--" "We prefer 'Scooby Gang'," Xander chimed in. The horde of vampires had thinned out considerably, and the Initiative was eliminating the last few of them, so Xander and Anya had joined the debate at the center of the football field. "Besides, we wanted in," Willow defended the gang. "Buffy's our friend, we watch her back." "My point exactly," Quentin growled. "The Slayer is a solitary person, she must go alone through her life--" "Blah, blabity blah, I'm so stuffy, get me a scone!" Giles interrupted, shouting a line Buffy had used on him when he delivered a similar speech years ago. Buffy, remembering that incident, had to laugh out loud as she heard those words coming from Giles lips. In his own way, Giles was saying that Buffy was right all along. And he had heard enough of this fool Quentin, he was going to give him a piece of his mind. The Ripper is back, Giles thought, taking names. "Has it ever occurred to you, Quentin," Giles continued, "that Buffy is the most successful Slayer in the long recorded history of the Watcher's Council? That she is so successful, not in spite of her defying our ancient, archaic traditions, but because she defies them? And that is why you wish to eliminate her? Because she's her own person? Nice plan you have here, eliminate Buffy, and Faith while you're at it, she'll be killed while she's in a coma, and destroy an entire town to cover up the evidence? And then two new slayers will emerge to replace Buffy and Faith, and hopefully be more pliant to the Council's wishes? I will never believe that the Council would ever approve such a monstrosity!" "None the less, Giles," Quentin said quietly, "the pact is struck. It only awaits my signature, and..." A sledgehammer blow interrupted his declaration, sending him reeling to the ground. Buffy and Willow shuddered when they saw the figure who delivered the blow, and was now punching, kicking, clawing and kneeing the hapless Quentin. Alt-Buffy had remained hidden from sight, listening to Quentin's mad plan until she could hear no more. "Don't pass out on me now, ass-wipe!" she shouted, a year's worth of rage boiling over in her gut. "I want you to look at me, to know who it is who kills you!" "Buffy, don't do it!" Giles shouted at the time-traveler. "He's not worth it!" "Oh, this is worth it, Giles!" Alt-Buffy screamed, a desperate cry of righteous rage. She grabbed Quentin by the collar of his shirt, and shook him with her one good hand. "Do you know who I am, Quentin? DO YOU?" Quentin, dazed by the onslaught, turned a bruised eye toward his captor, and gasped. "Bu-Bu- Buffy?" "Yes, dickweed, Buffy! I came from the future, from the world that you created. You signed a deal with that thing that calls himself Snyder. But do you know who he really is? He's Belial, a major demon! He used your blasted contract to invade this world, to lead an army of vampires, to destroy every living thing on this planet!" She threw him onto the bleachers, hard enough to break his arm. "My world is dead!" As he struggled to right himself, she rammed her palm up his jaw, breaking seven of his teeth. "Humanity is extinct!" She tried to kick him in the side, but Xander finally managed to grab her by the arm, restraining her, just barely. "And you killed them all!" She struggled in Xander's grip, but was unable, with only one arm, to get enough leverage to break free. "Congratulations, Quentin," Giles intoned, his disgust at his former superior officer putting steel in his voice. "You just surpassed Judas Iscariot as the greatest traitor who ever lived." Quentin, his body one vast area of pain, looked around at the two Buffies, and the others who had gathered around them. "My-my God," he stammered, his speech slurred by extensive injuries to his jaw. "Is this true?" Giles nodded. Alt-Buffy finally stopped struggling and just glared at Quentin. Perhaps no human face before had ever displayed such contempt, such raw, unfettered hatred. "Come now, Quentin," Snyder smiled. "You're not going to let these delinquents sway you from the great work you're about to complete, are you? For the first time in millennia, there will be peace between the two worlds. You can't bail out now." "Get thee behind me, Satan!" Quentin whispered. "You misrepresented yourself, demon. You lied to me about your intentions. You make me ashamed of my part in this blasphemy. No more! I refuse to sign your contract, monster! Our pact is null and void! Be gone to your realm and never come back!" For a full ten seconds, not a sound could be heard. The injured Quentin and the supplicant Snyder just stood, staring at each other, each daring the other to make the next move. Snyder stepped forward until he was just inches away from Quentin. He sagged his shoulders, saying, "I'm sorry you feel this way, friend." He then lunged his right hand forward, bursting through Quentin's ribcage, and pulling out his still-beating heart. He stepped over the newly-killed corpse, taking the parchment on which the contract was written. He smeared the heart over the parchment, chanting; "Words of a traitor, penned in black; Blood of a traitor, to seal the pact. So long as this contract is in my hand, This world is no more the dominion of man!" His laughter echoed across the field, and beyond, disturbing the dreams of all sleeping people around the world, and chilling the souls of the waking. Snyder turned toward the younger Buffy, the grin on his face reminiscent of Batman's eternal nemesis, the Joker. He seemed taller, more muscular, no longer the weakling authoritarian he appeared to be at Sunnydale High, but a true force of evil. "Remind me, Buffy, what was the name of that song you and your classmates liked?" he chortled. "By REM, I believe? Ah, yes; 'It's The End Of The World As We Know It, And I Feel Fine'!"
 
Chapter 7 - Class Protector
 
"Elizabeth Anne Summers," Belial, the demon who wore the shape of former high school principal Roland Snyder hissed through gleaming teeth as he tossed Buffy's body around like a rag doll, "you don't know how much pleasure I'm deriving from this moment!" Buffy managed to roll as she landed to minimize any injury, but the force of the impact with the ground still knocked some of the wind out of her. "I thought that merely expelling you was the height of bliss for me, but actually killing you, oh, that's the ultimate rush!" Xander threw himself at the demon Belial, desperately trying to stop his assault on Buffy, only to be shrugged off like a spit wad. "Pathetic as always, Xander," Belial responded to the attack. "Don't be impatient, I'll get around to killing you soon enough!" As Xander fell back, Spike took his turn. Sword in hand, he approached the demon almost casually, saying in a conversational voice, "'Ere now, gov, that's no way to act. If you're gonna take over this mudball, you're going to have to get along with the local-UNGHH!" "You shame your kind, whelp," Belial hissed, as he cracked Spike's skull with one blow, knocking the vampire unconscious. "Hanging around with the cattle! That's all they are, do you hear? Cattle!" He returned his attention to Buffy, who had managed to stand up and dodge his next blow. She was getting stronger, in part the result of the anti-toxin Willow had given her and in part the result of her confession of love for her. But Belial was a tough one, maybe even stronger than what Mayor Wilkins became after his Ascension. She didn't know if she could hold out long against him. "I remember conferencing with your mother, when I tried to enforce your expulsion," the demon continued, "and her pitiful efforts to have you reinstated. She asked me how I could be so caviler about your future." Buffy tried to duck his outstretched arm, but he proved too fast for her. He grabbed her by the hair, pulling her face up toward his. "Your future! Don't you see? My sole purpose in being on your miserable dirtball of a planet is to insure that you and your entire species didn't have a future! That fool Wilkins thought that he could eliminate me, but I showed him! This world is mine! MINE!" He laughed gleefully, assured that no one could stop his conquest. As she struggled to release herself from Belial's grip, Buffy was peripherally aware of Giles firing several bolts from his crossbow with point-blank accuracy, only to watch them bounce off the monster's hide. She noticed Willow about to fire another crossbow at Belial, only to watch as the fiend raised his left fist and landed it on Willow with the force of a club. Buffy screamed as she watched her newly discovered love fall, and managed to twist her body upwards to connect a high scissor kick to Belial's jaw. The demon was sent reeling, briefly loosening his grip on Buffy's hair, but with enough time for Buffy to gain her freedom. She immediately ran to Willow's side, calling out to her; "C'mon, Willow, don't die on me, not now!" Instinctively she checked for a pulse and breathing and was relieved to find both. "Will? Are you okay? How you feeling?" Willow choked and wheezed as she tried to regain her composure. She looked at Buffy and said, gasping, "I--feel as though--a very large demon--used me for a punching bag. Other than that, not too many complaints. I think that the last of my herbal spell cushioned the blow, but my shields are down. I don't think I can take another blow like that." "Don't try, love," Buffy murmured as she took her Willow into her arms. "I'm not going to lose you now that I found you." She kissed her on the forehead, and turned toward the battlefield. Belial had been suddenly occupied by the forces of the Initiative, who had concentrated their firepower on the demon. Electro-rifles and other energy discharging weapons fired heavily at Belial, but if they had any effect on him, he didn't show it. "Pour it on, men!" Riley shouted. "Everything you got! Fry that bastard!" Bolts of electricity, gouts of flame, beams of concentrated photons, all converged on their target. With each passing second, the demon Belial slowly shed his human guise, resembling his true form, or as close to his true nature as mere mortals can fathom. Willow thought he resembled the demon from the "Night On Bald Mountain" sequence from Disney's "Fantasia". Buffy recalled the Tim Curry character from "Legend", while Xander saw it as an anime monster. As the fiend transformed, however, he laughed. His unearthly laughter rolled across the battlefield like the thunder of doom. "You can't stop me," he shouted, mocking the soldiers. "I'm eternal! I am the author of all misery! I will foul this planet with my seed! I will sear the mountains, I will boil the oceans, I will..." "YOU WILL SHUT YOUR STINKING PIE-HOLE!" A swift flying kick to the jaw caught Belial off guard, as Alt-Buffy pressed her attack against the demon. The monster who destroyed her world wasn't going to get his chance, not if she had anything to say about it. She kicked, gouged, bit, clawed, attacked with feral savagery. "I've spent the last years of my life fighting scum like you!" Foot to the ribs. "You think you're so damn hot?" Fist to the jaw. "You're just another demon with delusions of grandeur!" Heel to the groin. "And I'm just the girl to send you back to Hell!" She delivered another scissor kick, directly to his hideous head. Belial grabbed her ankle in mid-flight, and her inertia tossed her flat on her back. "Fool," he grinned at Buffy. "A hundred Slayers cannot stop me now. Get the message yet, Summers? Invincible. Look it up." He stamped his cloven hoof down hard on Alt-Buffy's torso, severing her spine. "I'd like to stay and chat, Summers, but I have a world to destroy. Sorry, I'm swamped." He turned away from the fallen slayer, and rose his muscular arms, the contract clutched tightly in his right hand. With his gesture, a maw opened in mid-air. The flaw in space widened further, casting a baleful light over the field. The two Buffies, Giles, Xander, Anya and Willow all knew what the maw was; the Hellmouth was opening, at Belial's command. And soon, all that was foul would rush forth onto the world. Riley rushed to the fallen Buffy, joined by her younger counterpart. "My god," he murmured as he looked at the wounded slayer's face, and then back at younger Buffy. "How...how..." "I'll tell you later," Buffy answered as she tended to Alt-Buffy's slashed face. "Assuming one, that there is a later, and two, that we're still on speaking terms, considering that I've just dumped you for Willow." "I'm still your friend, if you'll have me," Riley answered, as he examined Alt-Buffy. "Oh, God, Belial did a number on you," he said to the older Buffy, as he took in her injuries. "I'm afraid you're looking at permanent paralysis, friend. I'm sorry." "Hey," Alt-Buffy half-smiled at Riley. "Right now, that's the least of my problems. How do we stop Belial?" "It's the contract," Giles, who had emerged from his cover behind the bleachers and gathered around the two Slayers. "That's the key; 'As long as the contract is in my hand', that's what Belial said! The contract is the conduit by which he's opening the Hellmouth!" "So we destroy the contract, and then--" Buffy started, looking at Alt-Buffy. Alt-Buffy took the young slayer's hand in her own, and coughing, said, "Do it." Buffy nodded at her other self, then said, cold determination in her voice; "Giles, take care of her, keep her as comfortable as you can. Riley? Do you have a spare flame-thrower?" ------------------------------------------------------- "Be patient, my brethren," Belial cried out to whatever unholy beings lurked on the other side of the opening Hellmouth, "our time of waiting is nigh at an end! Soon the world that once was ours will be ours again!" So absorbed with what he was doing was he that he didn't notice four lone figures planning against him. Suddenly, a blast from a flame-thrower seared the demon's back. He shrieked in brief pain and turned to the direction of the blast. "Summers?" "Hey, Your Ugliness!" Buffy taunted the monster, waving her flame-thrower around like a sword, and shouting trash. "I'm the one you want, right? You want a piece of me? Here I am, Snydely Whiplash! C'mon, Creepo! Isn't this what you wanted? You and me, the big throwdown?" "You're that impatient to die?" Belial howled. "I shall rend your flesh, I will use your skin for a drumhead, your bones as my mallets as I shout my victory march!" "Yeah, yeah, I'm so shaking, your Skankyness!" She beckoned with her hands. "C'mon! You talk the talk, can you walk the walk? Hit me with your best shot!" "You will suffer as none before you," Belial promised. He advanced toward Buffy, not noticing Riley sneaking around behind him. Suddenly, Riley made his move; he grabbed Belial's right wrist, and with adrenaline-fueled strength, managed to loosen his grip on the contract and snatch it from his hand. Suddenly aware that he had lost the contract, Belial turned his concentration from Buffy toward Riley, who was running from him fast and furious. "Give me the contract, you fool!" he bellowed in rage, lunging at Riley, grabbing his legs. As he fell, he held out the contract, calling out, "Xander! Catch!" Xander immediately grabbed the contract from Riley, and ran off in a zigzag pattern. "Harris receives from Finn and is charging down the field," he shouted as he crumpled the contract into a ball, "looking for a long bomb!" "Xander!" Willow shouted, waving her arms frantically. "I'm open!" "Harris throws a bullet to Rosenburg!" he shouted as he tossed the crumpled contract to Willow. Willow ran toward Buffy, crying out, "Rosenburg takes it to the offensive glass and slams it in for two points!" As she took the contract from Willow, Buffy said, "That's basketball! Xander was going for football metaphors!" "So I don't know sports!" Willow shouted. "What do you want me to do?" "Oh, I'll think of something later tonight!" Buffy promised, her smile turning into a leer. She strode toward Belial, who was still wrestling with Riley. "Yo, Snyder!" she called out, displaying the contract, which she had un-crumpled for display purposes. "Looking for this?" Belial turned toward Buffy, letting go of Riley. Riley fell to the ground in an inglorious heap. "Give me that contract, girl!" Belial screamed as he stalked toward Buffy. Buffy simply stood her ground, directly opposite of the wound in the sky behind Belial. She held the contract in one hand, the flame-thrower in the other. "Snyder!" she called out, grinning from ear to ear, then waited a beat. "You're expelled!" She tossed the contract into the air, and as it started to drift lazily to the ground, she pointed the flame-thrower at the parchment and fired. The document was ash before it hit the ground. Belial screamed in agony, as the aperture to Hell started to contract. A violent gust of some unholy wind blasted the battlefield, and Buffy and the others braced themselves for the blast. Belial however was pulled toward the vortex by the unearthly gusts. Frantically he clawed the ground with his hands, desperate to fight the pull, but the vortex would not be denied its catch. Within seconds, Belial lost his grip on the sod and was thrown, spiraling, tumbling, into the portal, which suddenly snapped shut behind him, like the iris aperture on a camera. The wind and the lightshow ceased. A profound silence remained, as all those assembled processed what they saw. The calm after the storm was then shattered by the riotous cheering of the Initiative troops. Buffy and Willow led the rest of the Scooby Gang to where Alt-Buffy was lying. Giles, who had been looking after the brave young woman, turned toward Buffy and said to her, "It doesn't look good, I'm afraid. Too many internal injuries." "Hey, Buff?" the injured Slayer coughed, trying to smile. "You--did it--" "We did it," Buffy smiled back, holding her hand firmly. "You gave us the time to come up with the plan. You saved us all." "Yeah," she groaned, smiling through her agony. "But there's still(ugh)--still one thing--I have to do. Behind the bleachers--" Buffy nodded, and ran to where she indicated. She fetched the tattered old duffel bag, and returned quickly to the fallen Slayer. Willow had cradled Alt-Buffy's head as she had done with her Buffy not long before, as Giles was trying to steady her, saying, "Please, Buffy, try to hold still, or it will only hurt more..." "No, Giles," she stopped him. "You don't understand. I need the staff--to finish--the spell--I'm not supposed to exist anymore--" "No, Buffy!" Willow wailed. "You can't die, not now!" "But it's not--not death, Wills," Alt-Buffy answered her dearest friend, lifting her hand with great effort to stroke her cheek. "The Buffy you love--is right here. She's not going anywhere." Alt-Buffy took Willow's hand, and placed it in Buffy's, who reached around Willow with her other arm, holding her closely. "Please. Promise me--that you'll love each other." "We will," they said in unison, and looked at each other as the words were spoken. For all intents and purposes, they realized, they had made a lifetime commitment of love and trust, as binding as a wedding vow. A commitment they both knew they would honor for the rest of their lives together. No more words were said, as Buffy handed her time-lost other self the Staff of Hermes. The brass rod glistened in the dim streetlights around them, and then seemed to come alive in Alt-Buffy's hand, with an incandescence of its own. Alt-Buffy held the staff aloft, closed her eyes one last time, and said in as clear a voice as she could muster, "Mutatis Mutandis." Her arm gave out its last iota of strength, as she slumped in Willow's arms. Her body then seemed to shimmer, to ripple, to fade, until only the memory of those whom she had met remained to testify that she existed. Willow wept openly now, her face buried in Buffy's shoulder, as Buffy stroked her lover's red hair and whispered assurances to her. Her unconditional love for Willow kept the girl from crashing, from falling into the abyss. Watching the time traveler simply accept her fate and fade from reality was closer to seeing Buffy Summers die than she ever wanted to get. Xander coughed an 'ahem' to get their attention. "I hate to break this little lover's moment up, girls," he said quietly, "which, incidentally, I'm entirely cool with, in case you were wondering," Anya nodded in silent agreement with her boyfriend. "But what happened to Spike?" They turned around, and Buffy nodded, "He's headed out, toward Wetherly Park. Let him go, Xander. He's still got that chip. He won't be putting the bite on anyone tonight." Her lame pun got a smile out of Willow, a smile which melted Buffy's heart like ice-cream on a hot day. "Giles," she turned to her mentor and asked, "Just what did Alt-me say just before--" she couldn't finish. " 'Mutatis Mutandis'," Giles explained somberly. "Old Greek. Meaning, 'The necessary changes have been made'." The others nodded Riley Finn watched these events unfold, realizing two things; First, that there were truly some events that modern science could not begin to explain; and Second, that Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenburg were as much in love as any two people that he had ever known. And whatever he had hoped for in his relationship with Buffy, he had neither the right nor the desire to interfere. Buffy looked at Riley as he started to walk away, taking his men away from the field, and felt sympathy for him. She offered a silent prayer to any god in the vicinity, that Riley would find someone who could make him as happy as Willow Rosenburg made her. Another thought took hold of Buffy at that point. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm hungry enough to eat a sled dog team!" "Omigod," Willow exclaimed, "the antitoxin. Giles said that it would cause you to become hungry!" She turned to the Watcher with a sinister grin, adding, "He also said something about springing for a post-world-savage pizza party." "I did, didn't I?" Giles laughed at the young wiccan. "I'd be delighted." Giles' announcement was greeted with cheers from all concerned. "So long as nobody orders anchovies!" he amended. ------------------------------------------------------- The pizza party was the social event of the season, Scooby-Gang-wise. A karaoke system was available at the pizzeria, and the gang were pleased to monopolize its use. Anya started things rolling, with a rousing chorus of the DiVinyl's "I Touch Myself", amid catcalls from several other tables. Xander requested Don McLean's "American Pie" but true to form, sang the "Weird Al" Yankovic lyrics. Buffy, Willow and Anya gleefully sang along with the second chorus; "My, my, this here Anakin guy May be Vader someday later, now he's just a small fry, And he left his home, kissed his mommy goodbye, Saying, Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi, Soon I'm gonna be a Jedi!" Even the normally reserved Giles got into the act, belting out a surprisingly decent version of David Bowie's "Heroes", followed by "Take Me To The Pilot" by Elton John. On the second track, Buffy and Willow got on stage with Giles, dancing close together and singing backup vocals. Willow then took the stage, saying, "Okay guys, this is a John Hiatt song. Jewel sang it in the soundtrack for 'Phenomenon', that John Travolta thing. Here we go. This one's for you, Buffy." Buffy smiled beatifically at the mention. The music started, Willow waited for her cue, and sang; "When the road gets dark, You can no longer see, Let my love throw out a spark, baby, Have A Little Faith In Me. When the tears you cry, You can no longer believe, Give these loving arms a try, Have A Little Faith In Me. Have A Little Faith In Me, Have A Little Faith In Me. Have A Little Faith In Me, Have A Little Faith In Me. When your secret heart Cannot speak so easily, Come here darling, whisper a start, Have A Little Faith In Me. When your back's against the wall, Turn around, you will see, I will catch your when you fall, Have A Little Faith In Me. Have A Little Faith In Me, Have A Little Faith In Me. Have A Little Faith In Me, Have A Little Faith In Me. I've been loving you for such a long time, darling, I expect nothing in the world but for you to have a little faith in me. You see time is our friend, for you and me there is no end, All you gotta do is Have A Little Faith In Me!" She sang with full throat and diaphragm, and from the heart. Any doubt that Buffy had concerning the emotions they shared was eliminated by her heartfelt display. At the close of the song, Willow bowed deeply, smiling broadly. Buffy met her at the stage, and hugged her close, kissing her cheek. "I love you, Wills," she whispered into her ear. "I love you back, Buffy," Willow answered. "Y'know," Xander quipped, his mouth full of Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza, "It seems to me that we've heard from everyone at this party, except a certain Vampire Slayer we all know and love," he leered at Willow, "some more than others." Willow threw a straw at Xander, as Anya chuckled. "Yeah, Buffy, let's see you humiliate yourself in this cultural display of vanity," Anya purred. "Oh no," Buffy protested. "You don't want to hear me sing, really." But her protests were drowned out by Xander and Anya chanting, "Buffy, Buffy, Buffy!" She turned to Giles for support, but he merely shrugged, "I'm sorry Buffy, but you're on your own." "Please, Buffy?" Willow entreated, giving a deadly combination of her Resolve face and Big Puppy Dog Eyes face. Buffy looked at her amazed. "You play dirty, you know that, don't you?" "Wait until I get you alone, Slayer," Willow grinned, winking. Anya whooped with glee at Willow's efforts at seduction. Buffy threw her hands up, saying, "Okay, okay, before this conversation gets aired on late night Cinemax, I'll do it!" The Scoobs applauded as Buffy looked at the playlist. Selecting a song she thought appropriate, she took the stage, announcing, "This one's for you, Willow. A little Natalie Merchant. You have been warned." The song started, and Buffy sang out a surprisingly clear string of 'la-la-las' leading up to the song; "You've been so Kind and Generous, I don't know how you keep on giving, For your kindness, I'm in debt to you. For your selflessness, my admiration, For everything you've done, you know I'm bound, I'm bound to thank you for it, La-la-la, la la la la, la-la-la, la-la-la, la la la la--- You've been so Kind and Generous, I don't know how you keep on giving, For your kindness, I'm in debt to you. And I never could have gone this far without you, For everything you've done, you know I'm bound, I'm bound to thank you for it! La-la-la, la la la la, la-la-la, la-la-la, la la la la--- I want to thank you for the many gifts you gave, For the love and tenderness, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for your generosity, For the love and the honesty that you gave me. I want to thank you, show my gratitude, My love and my respect for you, I want to thank you, I want to thank you, thank you, Thank you, thank you, Thank you, thank you, Thank you, thank you..." The song ended, friends cheered, and the party went on for several hours after. When the party wound down, the two girls went back to their dorm to finish packing for winter break, a task they started just that afternoon, a lifetime ago. Buffy took Willow in her arms again, and kissed her soundly. Willow reciprocated, and their mouths and tongues sought to taste, to feel each other. Breaking away reluctantly from the kiss, Buffy smiled to the love of her life, saying, "You know, I never quite felt like this before." "I'll bet you say that to all the girls," Willow said, trying to sound sultry. Buffy had to admit she was getting close. "No, Wills, really," she tried to explain her thoughts, despite the distraction of Willow's blowing on her ear. "It's like I finally know what my life is all about. Sure, I'm the Slayer, the one girl who can stand against the vampires, the demons, yadda yadda, but now there something more. Being here with you, holding, touching, kissing..." she couldn't resist taking another sip from Willow's lips before continuing, "it's like I'm renewed. Like this is what it's all about. The reason I keep fighting the nasties. Why I keep saving the world. Because you're a part of that world. You're my world, Willow. I don't know how to explain it any better than that." "I understand, Buffy," Willow answered, moved by Buffy's confession. "It's like Oz, Xander, anyone I thought I was in love with before, that was all just a rehearsal for loving you. I do love you so much, Buffy." She kissed her again, and this time, the kiss grew in tempo and in heat. Willow's hands felt around Buffy's back, reaching under her tee-shirt, slowly tugging at it. Buffy backed away just enough for Willow to slip the shirt off, revealing a black sports bra. Buffy started to unbutton Willow's shirt, and within two minutes, their passion began in earnest. For the rest of the night, two lovers explored each other's bodies, memorizing every curve, every nuance, every sensation they could elicit from each other. After their initial frantic lovemaking, and the first fiery orgasms, they still cuddled, still touched, still groped, until the erotic cycle started again, and again for hours. They were fully aware that the world would crash in on them later on, and there would be challenges to face in the cold light of day. There was still the Initiative to deal with. Despite their assistance in the final battle with Belial, Buffy still didn't know what to make of them. There was the problem of how others on campus would take their newly defined relationship, once it became public knowledge("And it will" teased Buffy, "because you're such a screamer!"). And there was the constant parade of demons, vampires and assorted monsters to deal with on a nightly basis. But for this one night, none of that mattered. There were only two young women, who had been burnt by first loves before, only to find in each other the love that they had been searching for all along. And for one beautiful night, there wasn't a thing wrong in Sunnydale, California.
 
Epilogue - An Angel's Blessing
 
Los Angeles, New Year's Eve, 1999; "Hey, Boss," Cordelia Chase greeted the youthful looking man who walked into the office that night. "How's life--uh, so to speak." "Fine, Cordy," Angel answered. "Any plans for tonight?" "Oh, not really," Cordelia answered. "Just me and a bottle of cheap champagne, waiting for the computer to crash. Oh, speaking of which, I got an e-mail from Willow." "Hey, that's good," Angel perked up. "How's our favorite hacker?" "Still hacking," Cordy started. "Uh, you may want to sit down for this," she added nervously. "What's the what, Cordy?" "Well," she started, "Willow's found someone new." "That's all?" Angel asked, puzzled. "I knew about her and Oz splitting, but if she's found someone else, isn't that good news?" "Uh, it's who that someone else is that's problematic," Cordy started. Angel looked directly into her eyes, and asked, "Is it Buffy?" Cordelia sat slack-jawed at the vampire's observation. "How-how did--" "Hey, I've been around for more than a few years," Angel smiled. "A couple hundred years of people-watching, you pick up a few things. Buffy and Willow have always had this connection, I've been aware of it from day one. That's why Angelus kept threatening Willow when he was out to get back at Buffy. He knew that Buffy would die before letting anything happen to Willow." "And this doesn't bother you?" Cordelia asked. "Not at all," Angel replied. "I knew that Buffy and I had no future, that's why I left, to give her the chance to find someone who could give her what I couldn't. If she has, I'm happy for her." Grabbing his duster jacket, he announced, "Come on, Cordy, I am taking you dancing. We'll celebrate Buffy and Willow's happiness, and ring in the new year right." "What the hell," Cordy answered. "Can we swing by my apartment first, so I can find a dress?" "Sure," Angel quipped, "Then we'll have just enough time to ring in the year 2001." "Hey!" Cordy complained as they left his office, "That's why I left Xander..."
Finis, but not for long. Continued in I'll stand by You
 
 
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