Somewhere I have never Travelled
 
by Kirayoshi
 
Part two of the Dying Light series.
 
Timeline diverges after Hush.
 
Told from Willow's POV.
 
Sandra Ogawa and Denise Parkinson are original characters and are owned by Kirayoshi
 
 
Chapter 1 - Willow, weep for me Willow, weep for me
 
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond any experience, your eyes have their silence; in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me, or which i cannot touch because they are too near your slightest look easily will unclose me though i have closed myself as fingers, you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens (touching skillfully, mysteriously)her first rose or if your wish be to close me, i and my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly, as when the heart of this flower imagines the snow carefully everywhere descending nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility: whose texture compels me this the colour of its countries, rendering death and forever with each breathing (i do not know what it is about you that closes and opens; only something in me understands the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses) nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands --E. E. Cummings
 
Neitzche once wrote that when you gaze into an abyss, the abyss gazes back into you. While I'm not one to take advise from someone who inspired Adolf Hitler, I can say that he was right on the money with that observation. I have stared into my own abyss many times. Hell, my hometown was built on an abyss. And only now can I tell others about it. And I have to tell the world. It needs to know the truth about her. About Buffy. Yeah, I remember when it all started. When we fought the greatest battle of our lives, against the monster Adam. The battle that had cost the world its protector, its Slayer. The one whom I loved more than anyone else in the world, Buffy Summers. It was over a year ago, and only now do I have the courage to write about her. Who she was, what it was like to lose her, and what I had to go through to find her again. Before I get bogged down in angsty thoughts, let me just say that my story does have an upbeat ending. Well not really an ending, per se, since it's not over yet, and I hope it won't be for a long time. I went through Hell, both literally and figuratively, to get to where I am right now, I'm not going to lose what I have now. Geez, even when I write I babble. I guess that the reason I'm telling you that there is a happy ending is because I don't want to lose your interest right away. This is an important story I'm writing, even if it will never see publication in my lifetime. It's about the most important person, IMHO("in my humble opinion" for those who don't know cyberspeak), of the twentieth century. Her name is Buffy Summers, and you who are reading this story owe her your life. She has literally saved you, not to mention the rest of humanity, from the most terrible evils imaginable. And in the immortal words of Han Solo, "I can imagine quite a bit!" Reading that last paragraph, it looks like I'm overstating Buffy's life just a tad. I'm not. Buffy Summers has quite literally saved the world at least six times that I know of. If you're alive today, it's because she has busted her butt to protect the world from the things that go 'bump' in the night. And I of all people can say that. My name is Willow Rosenberg, and I've been there beside Buffy from shortly after Day One. She's been my friend, my confidante, my sparring partner, my college roommate, and finally my lover. How does Giles put it? "In every generation there is the Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer." That was Buffy's destiny; the Slayer. Yes, virtually every myth, every creature of your nightmares, they all exist, or existed at one time. And my hometown of Sunnydale was Ground Zero for these beasties. Sunnydale was built over a Hellmouth, a portal to Hell which brought forth all manner of nasties. Really bad zoning, right? Apparently these vampires and other demons existed for as long as humanity, if not longer. And as long as humanity existed, a select handful of young women have had the capability to fight off the forces of Hell. And Buffy, I figure, was the best. How do I know this? Personal experience. I've seen her execute moves that would make Michele Yeoh envious, turning whole platoons of vamps into piles of ash with a well placed spike or a volley of crossbow bolts. I could tell you stories about the Master, Angelus, Mayor Wilkins and the Ascension, Belial and Adam, that would freeze your blood. No one had ever faced evils like them before. But Buffy did. She not only faced them, but at the end, she was the only one who walked away from any of them. Except Adam. She didn't walk away from that one. But that's getting ahead of myself. Goddess, it seems like a lifetime ago. Cordelia and her follower Harmony had been giving me grief about my wardrobe again("the softer side of Sears", my pagan ass!), when a blond woman about my height shows up and tells Cordy and Harmony off! Then she asks me for some help with her homework. That was how I met Buffy. That was about six years ago. The day that my world, or at least my understand of the world, changed forever. Soon, I found myself hip-deep in horror-movie extras, watching this same blond girl make like the Terminator, dusting them right and left. Not long after that, I, along with my childhood friend Xander, my werewolf boyfriend Oz, and Xander's girlfriend Cordelia (yes, the same Cordy, go figure), fought the good fight alongside her. I saw and learned so much then; I met the cursed Angel, Buffy's first love, a vampire with a soul. I faced down the demonic Anya, the rogue slayer Faith, and my own vampiric double. I learned from Giles' girlfriend, Jenny Calendar(may God give her peace) about my own innate talent for magic, and began the long journey to becoming a true witch. All because a woman named Buffy Summers became my best friend. Things changed again when we attended college together. Xander didn't have the grades to make it into college then, so he drifted from job to job. Oz and I had drifted apart, he met up with a female werewolf, and even after she died, he decided to leave me. Losing him devastated me briefly, but Buffy was always there. Always ready to give me a shoulder to cry on, even when I was giving off weapons-grade bitchiness. She loved me like no one else, and before long I realized that I loved her. We just were so used to being best friends that it hadn't occurred to us that we were more. But we were. It was during the Belial fiasco that we were able to confide our love for each other, and once the Belial threat was eliminated, Buffy and I began our real relationship. She and I made love for the first time that night, reveling in the new sensations, new pleasures, new emotions we were no longer ashamed to show. We were thick as thieves since then. Inseparable. We made plans during spring quarter to pool our resources to rent an apartment together. To live together. As usual, however, the Hellmouth had other ideas. When did it start to go downhill? When Buffy started to investigate the Initiative, a shadow-ops organization that apparently was funded by the government to fight supernatural evils, kind of a vampire X-Files? When Maggie Walsh, the Initiative's senior commander, set up Buffy to be taken by an army of zombies? When her creation Adam, a cross between a demon and Locutus of Borg, broke free and killed her, then started recruiting all the vampires and demons in Sunnydale to help him destroy humanity? I think that the blackness really started when Oz returned. He claimed that he had gained control of his werewolf side, and he wanted me back. By this time, Buffy and I were apartment hunting together, so I told him that what we had was long gone, and that I loved Buffy. He smiled, said simply that he understood, wished the two of us luck, and left. I remember Buffy looking at Oz as he left, and the expression on her face was one of supreme doubt. I've seen that look before, when what she called her spider-sense started going off. Something was wrong with Oz. Then came that one day. One very bad day. Buffy had gotten a hot tip from a mysterious demon named Whistler that Adam was planning something big at the rim of the Hellmouth, just outside of Sunnydale. Naturally the Scooby Gang was with her when she investigated, and Oz was with us. For a little while, it was just like old times; Xander, Oz, Buffy and me. Along with Tara, a good friend of mine, who had helped me gain control and confidence in my wiccan powers. Tara and I had just discovered a spell that would allow us to seal the Hellmouth forever, so Buffy's plan was to push Cyber-creep into the Hellmouth and close it behind him. Adam, apart from looking like he was cobbled together from a morgue's spare parts, possessed a computer-like mind, complete with a disc-drive on his chest. He absorbed information by downloading discs. I had used my computer hacking skills to encode a special computer virus onto a disc, which Buffy would plant into Adam's drive. The virus would then play havoc with his memory, his motor skills, you name it, giving Buffy the opportunity to send him through the Hellmouth. Sure enough, there was the Frankenstein monster's uglier brother using some kind of spell to drain off power from the Hellmouth, power that would make him invincible. We tried to stop him, but an army of demons stood between us and Adam. We had tough going at first, but we managed to thin out the demon horde(we of course meaning Buffy mainly, but the rest of us got our licks in). Finally Buffy confronted Adam, and they traded blows. Adam fought savagely, intent on the kill, while Buffy took a defensive stance, pacing herself, waiting for Adam to do something stupid. He obliged us by letting his anger get the better of him. He lunged repeatedly at Buffy, telegraphing his attacks enough for Buffy to evade them. Finally, she had enough of this dodge-and-duck game, so she dove low toward Adam, who tried to block her path. She got under him, then with lightning speed she body-checked him with her right shoulder. As he tumbled to the ground, she whipped out the virus disc, and popped it into his drive. The effect was not unlike microwaving a tin can. He spasmed and jerked around, trying to stand, but Buffy kept kicking him, each blow sending him backward, toward the Hellmouth aperture he had erected. I clearly remember seeing her smile and hearing her quip, "Tell the Master Buffy says 'hi'," before delivering the final blow, the one that sent Adam back to Hell. Once Adam was swallowed by the Hellmouth, Tara and I recited the spell. The spell was working, the aperture was collapsing, and the Hellmouth was closing, when it happened. Oz, who had been fighting off demons with Xander, suddenly assumed a transitional form, between human and wolf, and jumped Buffy. "You shouldn't have taken what wasn't yours, Buff," he growled. "Don't worry, little girl, I'll take good care of Willow!" I stood there, thunderstruck, disbelieving what I was seeing. Oz, the sweetest, kindest, most gentle man I had ever known, had gone all Hannibal Lechter on the woman I loved. "Oz!" I pleaded with him. "What are you doing?" "Adam and I cut a deal, Wills," he snarled evilly at me, grabbing Buffy by the throat. "I betray Buffy, he'd give you to me as a gift. It seems that Adam lost, so Plan B. You're mine, Willow, and this dyke whore won't take you away from me!" Xander charged at Oz, but the werewolf brushed him aside easily, clawing him hard on the side. Xander landed on the ground with all the grace of a wounded hippopotamus, rolling in pain. Seeing Buffy struggling against Oz's grip, Xander wounded by Oz, and the look of madness in his eyes, finally triggered me to act. With a scream of rage, I ran at Oz, intent on clawing his eyes out. His laughter was like the baying of a mad dog at the moon. He knocked me aside with his free arm, and as I landed on my butt, he lifted Buffy off the ground and hurled her into the closing Hellmouth. I ran to the aperture, desperate to grab Buffy, to somehow pull her out, but the aperture closed behind her. And Oz just stood there, proud of his betrayal. He turned toward me, and grinned wickedly, his teeth sharp and glistening with his saliva. "You belong to me, Willow," he barked, stalking closer to me. His eyes glowed with unearthly power, with lust, with evil. The Oz I knew and once loved didn't live in that beast anymore. Laying on the ground where I had landed, I grasped around me, looking for a weapon, anything to put down this mad dog. There was nothing, not even a small stake. I tried to crawl away from him, but he pinned me with his knees, and began to leer at me. In terror, I held on to the only thing I had left of Buffy, my half of the Mizpah coin we shared, the piece of silver jewelry that signified our bond, our love for each other. The bond that had been severed by Oz's treachery. A piece of silver. I yanked it off of my neck, and used the edge of the coin to slash at Oz's face. He reeled in pain, jumping back away from me. "You slut!" he screamed, "I'll kill you for that!" "You already killed me!" I shouted, wielding the coin like a knife in front of me. "You took Buffy away from me! The Oz I knew wouldn't do that!" "The Oz you know is dead," he growled, charging at me again. "Well, why don't you join him?" I cried, throwing myself into a flying tackle. I pounded him back, into the ground, then before he had the time to get back up, I dug into his neck with the coin. I slashed deeply, hitting the carotid artery, and his lifeblood gushed out like a torrent. Within seconds, he had died. I was only vaguely aware of events after that. I knew that Tara was tending to Xander's wounds, while Giles had pulled me away from the werewolf's corpse. They had taken me back to Giles' house, tended to my scratches and tried to feed me. I remembered to bathe, to clean myself, to pee when I had to, that was it. For two days, I existed in a hazy half-life state. Finally, the enormity of what had happened hit me; Oz, the first person I truly loved, had betrayed us, only to die at my hands. And Buffy Summers, the one I loved more than anyone else, was gone forever. I was aware of Giles holding me as I cried. His support, his caring, were the only things keeping me from falling into the abyss. Xander had been standing there beside him, offering what little support he could, as was Tara. I just wept bitterly, not knowing what would happen tomorrow, and not wanting to know. Sure, we had saved the world, once again, allowed humanity to sleep peacefully as another demonic threat was eliminated. None of it mattered. All I knew was that I had lost the love of my life. I had lost Buffy. To my knowledge, no one attended the burial of Daniel 'Oz' Ozbourne. I had visited his grave once, since then, to spit on it. Buffy's parents were together for her memorial service. It was the first time that I had met her father. He wouldn't even look at me. I don't know if he simply disapproved of Buffy and I being lovers, or whether he blamed me for her death. He didn't need to, I was blaming myself for it plenty. I don't think that Joyce had said ten words to the man during the whole time he was here. Giles delivered a eulogy for the fallen Slayer, and I could see the tear tracks on his face. He hadn't been this distraught since Angelus killed his girlfriend Jenny. When I took the podium to speak of my beloved, I recited a poem, 'Funeral Blues', by W. H. Auden, with some slight pronoun changes for gender; "Turn off the clocks and disconnect the phone. Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone. Silence the piano with a muffled drum; Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. Let airplanes circle mournfully overhead, Scribbling in the sky the message, "She is dead". Put crepe ribbons on the white necks of the public doves. Tell the policeman to wear black cotton gloves. She was my north, my south, my east, my west, My working week, and my Sunday rest. My noon, and my evening, my talk and my song. I thought that love would last forever. I was wrong. The stars are not needed, shut off every one. Put away the moon and dismantle the sun. Tear down the ocean and sweep away the wood, For nothing now can ever come to any good." Joyce Summers led me off the podium as I wept again. She invited me to stay with her if I needed to, but I declined. I just wanted to be alone, and I couldn't take her sympathy, not when it was my fault that she had lost her daughter. I had convinced Buffy that Oz was okay, that he was still one of us. I had no idea that he would turn against us, that he would sell us out to claim me. He was obsessed with me, and had used our old relationship to get close enough to Buffy to stab her in the back. I may as well have taken a gun to her temple and pulled the trigger. I was as responsible for Buffy's death as anyone. And all I could do was blame myself. I had continued to blame myself for months after that, making myself more miserable with each passing day. Eventually the numbness wore off, and I had managed to go on with some semblance of a life. I returned to college, continuing my criminology major, but I dropped the wicca practice. I had given up on the idea of using my witchcraft to help others, I knew that I was no good at it. All the magic in the world couldn't save Buffy, could it? It wasn't until nearly a year after Buffy's final battle that my battle had really begun. And what I thought was the end, was just the beginning.
 
Chapter 2 - Bittersweet Symphony Bittersweet Symphony
 
"Cause it's a Bittersweet Symphony, this life; Tryin' to make ends meet, you're a slave to your money, then you die. I'll take you down the only road I've ever been down You know the one that takes you to the places where all things meet, yeah. I won't change that, never change that, can't change, I can't change, Yeah I'm here in my mold, yeah I'm here in my mold, But I'm a million different people from one day to the next, I can't change my mold, Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. --The Verve "Bittersweet Symphony" I had just moved in to the new place. I had decorated it myself; earth tones mostly, dark greens and browns, warm and friendly colors, a mountain of paisley throw pillows on the couch, Coca-Cola ad art in the kitchen, my computer in the bedroom, all the comforts of home. All in all, I thought, the place was shaping up nicely. There was just one element that was missing. One element that would always be missing. Buffy. Just after the funeral, Joyce(it still feels weird calling her Joyce, after all these years.) gave me a box containing some of Buffy's things, things she thought that Buffy would want me to have. Her CD collection, some old books and movie videos, the sweater I had given her for her 19th birthday(the only one we got to celebrate before Adam), and Mr. Gordo, her stuffed pig. I had taken to sleeping with Mr. Gordo in my arms. A poor surrogate for his former owner, but he was all I had of her. I hadn't actively sought companionship after losing Buffy, and I knew that I wouldn't. Buffy was the one true love of my life, I realized that as I lost her. No one would ever touch my heart, my soul, as deeply as she did. So I threw myself into college, into my work. I had taken an at-home job with a small software company called Cybermancers Media, a company that specialized in applications software and fantasy-themed computer games. I made a little bit as one of their regular beta-testers, helping to work out the bugs in their new products. I also created a role-playing game based on the movie "Buckaroo Bansai"(a guilty pleasure of my childhood), which, surprisingly enough, became the company's biggest seller. I was paid handsomely for the game, and used the money to purchase the townhouse where I now lived. I figured I'd better cover my nut, and living rent-free has its advantages. Beta-testing doesn't pay a whole hell of a lot, but it's better than most 'joe jobs'. Plus Cybermancers wanted me to design more software for them. I had just placed a neon-blue lava lamp(Xander's housewarming gift)on a shelf in the living room, when the doorbell chimed(a Westminster chime, came with the house). I answered the door, and was greeted by a hug from Tara. "Beware of Wiccans bearing gifts," she announced cheerily, her voice like a sleigh bell. She shoved a large gift box into my arms, saying, "Good to see you, friend." "Tara," I said, pleased at her appearance. "How've you been?" "Not bad, Willow," she answered. "So you gonna open the box or what?" "Oh, yeah," I suddenly remembered the package. I tore off the bright wrapping paper and lifted the lid off the box. Nestled within the Styrofoam peanuts was a clay statue of the Earth Goddess, a rotund figure with huge round breasts. Glazed in a smooth chocolate brown with beige highlights. "A good luck totem," Tara explained, "to bless this house." "It's beautiful," I answered, touched by her thoughtfulness. "Here, let me find a suitable place for it," I added, clearing away part of the coffee table, displaying the Goddess prominently in the center of the living room. "How's that?" "Perfect," Tara announced. "Even matches your color scheme. So, when do I get the fifty-cent tour?" "Sure," I answered, taking her by the hand, and leading her through the house. I showed her my bedroom, the computer station, the kitchen, all the basic stuff. I had told her about my job as a beta-tester, about my college courses, my family. She told me about her folks, her studies, the major events of her life. "I've missed you, Willow," she said as we faced each other on the sofa while munching on a vegetarian pizza. "Missed hanging out, doing spells with you. Hey, there's a new coven opening up on campus, why don't you join?" I turned away from her as she made her offer. "I'm not into the magic scene these days. I kinda gave it up after Buffy..." "Hey, Willow," Tara placed her hand on mine. "Buffy wouldn't want you to mourn forever. You've got to move on." "I have, Tara," I said, semi-convincingly. "I'm still going to school, I've got a good job, I'm happy with my life." I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Willow, look at me," she whispered. "I'm your friend, I know you. You've seen so much in your life, such evil, such terror. But you've overcome it all, and kept that special something that still makes you who you are. But I'm worried about you. You've been growing apart from the rest of us. When's the last time you saw Giles? Or Xander? They're your friends, don't shut them out now." "I haven't shut them out!" I replied, maybe a little too loudly. I saw Tara flinch as I shouted, so I lowered my voice. "I still see them. I just saw Xander two weeks ago. He said he was fine, that he was doing well in community college. Hey, he just called yesterday, and he wants me to meet him at the Bronze today." "Any reason given?" Tara asked. "No, he's gone all 'it's a surprise' on me." "Well," Tara asked, "are you going?" I stalled, not sure what to say. "I dunno, Tara," I finally admitted. "I haven't been there in months." "I understand," she answered. I felt her hand gently massaging my shoulder, and sensed her lips closer to mine. "But you should get out of your shell sometime. It isn't healthy to lock yourself away from the world. Please, Willow, let me help you." Moved by her genuine concern, I leaned forward into a friendly hug. "I'm glad you're my friend, Tara," I whispered. She didn't say anything to me, she just held me, the way I needed to be held. She leaned her head toward mine, and I could just barely feel her lips pressing against my neck. I found myself leaning toward her face, and before I knew it, her mouth was on mine. I had never touched anyone since losing Buffy. I found that I missed that contact. And it would have been so easy to surrender to Tara's ministrations. She was clearly eager to continue. I had been aware of her attraction to me from the first time we met. And once I even entertained returning her affection. But she knew, and I knew that my heart belonged to Buffy. I guess it still did, even one year later. Before the kiss could increase in intensity, I backed off. "I can't," I said feebly, as I got off the couch. "It wouldn't be fair, not to you." "Willow," she argued, "all we did was kiss." "Yeah, all we did," I answered. "But if we had gone from there...I..." I stopped my train of thought, before I could start babbling incoherently(always one of my greatest faults, although Buffy had told me more than once that she found it endearing), and started over; "Look, Tara, you're my friend, and yes, you're as sexy as all get out, but I can't and won't use you as a substitute Buffy. Please, I'm sorry, just don't...just don't." Tara said nothing for a few seconds, and I was afraid that I had hurt her. Finally, she just smiled sadly at me and said, "I understand, Willow. And I'm glad that you think that I'm sexy. The truth is that I have always been attracted to you. I would love nothing more than for you to carry me off to your bedroom and have your way with me. But you're right. I wouldn't take advantage of you that way. But maybe someday, when the hurt is less," she added, with just a hint of pleading in her eyes, "you'll consider giving me a try?" I looked at her, considering her offer. "Maybe," I sighed, "but I wouldn't get your hopes up." "Hey," she half-laughed. "What are hopes for if not to be raised?" She patted me on the back, just a friendly kind of touch, and said, "C'mon, Willow, I'm taking you to the Bronze, even if I gotta hog-tie you to get you there. And before you say anything, no, I'm not into bondage!" "Yeah right, 'Tara, Mistress of Pain'? I don't see it." I laughed at her comment, and was grateful to be able to laugh. "Okay, let me get my jacket." ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ It had been over six months since I had last stepped into the Bronze, and nearly fifteen minutes after I walked in, I was ready to get out. Six months ago, I had tried to put up a brave front and go on with my life. As soon as I had entered the Bronze then, I noticed the band playing. The former members of Oz's old band the Dingoes had regrouped under a new lead singer and a new name, Evil Petting Zoo. Watching Oz's old friends brought Oz back to my mind, and I wanted to vomit. To think that I had let him touch me, kiss me, make love to me. To remember how he hurt me when he left, and then how he betrayed us all by killing Buffy. I had to run from the Bronze immediately, and I couldn't set foot in it since. I finally screwed my courage to the sticking-place, and entered the Bronze. At first it wasn't bad. A deejay was handling the music that night, and the dance floor was packed with young people, singles, couples and groups, all having fun. I tried to dance myself, and found that I liked it. "Smooth", Santana's duet with Rob Thomas was playing, and I was starting to feel no pain. That was the ticket, I thought, just shake and shimmy it off. For a few minutes, hearing Matchbox 20 and Lauren Hill, life was good again. Then they had to play that damn Pearl Jam song. Their cover of Wilson Frank's "Last Kiss". The refrain stabbed at me like a knife to the heart; "Oh where, oh where, can my baby be? The Lord took her away from me. She's gone to heaven, so I gotta be good, So I can see my baby when I leave this world." It had occurred to me then that I didn't even have that option. Buffy wouldn't be waiting for me in Heaven, thanks to Oz. She was in Hell, because of his actions. I could only hope that she had a good view of his suffering in Hell as well. Maybe if I became evil--oh Goddess, what was I thinking? Tara noticed my face when the Pearl Jam song played. She took my arm and led me to a table, saying, "Oh no you don't, Wills. You're not bailing out now. We'll wait for Xander here." She sat me down on a pile of cushions, and signaled for a waiter. "Two spring waters, please," she ordered, and the waiter left. Trying to ignore the song, I glanced around the room, taking in the time-honored occupation of people-watching. Several couples hit the floor, most hetero, one consisting of two girls. I remembered fondly how Buffy and I would burn up the dance floor together, not caring what people thought of us. We occasionally had to deal with some mean-spirited homophobe or pervert who wanted to make it a threesome, but never any threats of violence or truly hateful gestures. I smiled as I saw the two girls gyrated on the floor, oblivious to all but each other. Me and Buffy, we were like that. So in tune with each other's moods, each other's thoughts, each other's bodies. When we danced together, when we held each other, when we made love, it was like a symphony. Each movement orchestrated, yet we were always able to ad-lib, to improvise, and to pick up from each other's improvisations. It was like unto a work of art. The memory of her love would still sustain me. It had to. It was all I had left. "Hey, Willow, look," Tara pointed excitedly. "Giles." I followed the path of her finger, and sure enough, there was our favorite Watcher(that is to say, the only member of the Watcher's Council that we Scoobs didn't despise!), looking quite out of place amid the younger, and more casually dressed, clientele. He still had his genetic disposition for tweed, his old jacket with the leather patches at the elbows must have been hot under the bright lights of the Bronze. He looked around nervously, found us, and moved toward our seats. "Giles?" I asked, amazed to see him here. "Yes, I received a message from Xander to meet him here," he admitted, sliding his finger under the collar of his shirt. "So," he added, looking around. "This is the Bronze? So named, no doubt, because you could smelt bronze in this heat." "Hey," Tara teased him, "you see anyone else wearing tweed?" "Take the jacket off," I suggested, "you'll be a lot more comfortable." "I'll take the jacket off," Giles said, "but I don't think I'll be any more comfortable." He removed his jacket, placed it on the back of a chair, and sat down. "Believe me, this doesn't change my opinion of your generation's approach to music," he added, having to raise his voice to be heard, even out of the way of the amplifiers as we were. "Is it not the duty of each generation to annoy the previous generation with their style of music, dress and other tastes?" someone asked behind us. Tara and I turned toward the familiar voice, and that's when we saw him. Xander, wearing a pale blue short-sleeved shirt. And a badge. And an empty gun holster. Giles' jaw was hanging freely from his face, while Tara's eyes were bugging out of their sockets. "Oh my goddess," she whispered. She stood up, appraised Xander's uniform, and smiled gleefully. "Xander! You joined the Village People!" She laughed loudly, and started waving her hands above her head, singing; "It's fun to stay at the Y---M, C, A!" "Funny, Tara," Xander answered, smiling. "Seriously, people, as of today, I am Officer Alexander Harris of the Sunnydale PD!" "You serious?" I asked. "You're not pulling our legs?" "Not even a slight tug," Xander answered. "I'm now a cop. I entered the police academy six months ago, just after I passed my high school equivalency tests. Whaddya think?" Tara, Giles and I just glanced at each other, appraising each other's looks. Giles then stood up, and grasped Xander's hand firmly. "Congratulations, boy," he announced. "I want you to know that I am inordinately proud of you." "Yeah, so am I," I added, my mouth finally catching up with my brain. Tara also shook his hand, saying, "You'll make a fine officer, Xander." "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Tara," Xander said, smiling. I could see it in his eyes, his stance, his posture. He hadn't just decided two weeks ago that he was going to be a cop, this was something that he was determined to make happen, and it did. Ever since his demon-girlfriend Anya disappeared after the final battle with Adam ('Good Riddance' I thought), I was afraid that Xander would be even more directionless than I was. But instead, apparently, he used her departure as the impetus to finally change his life. I had been aware that he was attending the community college to achieve his GURs (General Undergraduate Requirements), but I had no idea that he was attending the police academy as well. I guess if you get kicked in the butt enough times, you start to get moving. "I'm not on duty now, so I left my service revolver in a safe at home. I just kept the uniform on to show you guys. Yeah, I'm walking the beat at nights right now," Xander explained as we sat down and talked further. "No glamour, but after dealing with vampires on a regular basis, it's the proverbial walk in the park. Besides, now that the Hellmouth's closed for good, I needed to feel useful again. And wearing this uniform somehow does that for me. It's hard to explain, really. It's like I finally feel like I belong on this planet, like I'm not just visiting. You know what I mean?" "Yeah," I answered ruefully. Ever since losing Buffy, I thought much the same thing about myself. When was I going to finally feel like my being here was justified? A crash of glass from the skylight shattered my latest go-round of self pity, as a figure plunged down from the roof onto the dance floor. The figure stood up, glared at the dancers, and morphed into its game face. A vampire. Even though the Hellmouth was no longer a going concern, there were still a few odd vampires around. I knew that Giles was taking care of most of them, mostly inexperienced newbies, or weakened by lack of blood. This one, however, looked like a veteran. Obviously one who knew its business. It grabbed at one of the girls on the floor, and held her in a hammerlock. "Nobody moves, nobody dies!" it shouted. "I'm just gonna take my girlfriend out for a walk, nobody follows me. Got it?" The girl, a young(I guessed 18) Asian featured young woman, smiled at her assailant, and said, "Got it!" She then threw the beast over her, and into the wall. She then withdrew a wooden stake and easily impaled the monster. The vampire was quickly reduced to ash, and the crowd looked aghast at what they had seen. The young woman turned toward us, and smiled at us. Walking toward our seats, she nodded, saying, "You must be the Scooby Gang. My watcher's told me so much about you. Oh, I'm Sandra Ogawa. The new Slayer. My watcher should be around here somewhere, she wanted to observe me in action." "Indeed," a rich, chocolate voice rang out behind Sandra. Emerging from the crowd was a svelte black woman, mid-thirties I guessed. Her voice was lightly accented in British, and her walk was confident. She regarded us with a look of amusement, and then turned toward Giles. "Hello, Ripper," she greeted the surprised ex-Watcher. Giles blinked as he recognized the new Watcher. "Denise! My word, it's good to see you." "Surprisingly enough, Rupert," she smiled sweetly, "the feeling's mutual." We all stood around, looking at the two Watchers, until finally Xander, in his unique style, said, "I'm going out on a limb here; you two know each other." "Indeed we do," Giles answered, slightly flustered as he realized that we were in the room with him. He started to introduce us; "Willow, Tara, Xander, this formidable woman is Denise Parkinson, the youngest person ever named to the Watcher's Council." "And," she added, "the first to leave it voluntarily. But by no means the last." This revelation surprised Giles even further. "Oh yes, Giles. The Watcher's Council is in disarray. That's one of the reasons I came here. But perhaps we could talk somewhere where the decibel level is below that of a jet engine at full throttle." "A capital idea," he answered. "Let us adjourn to my townhouse." ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ "...So the Watcher's Council renounced Quentin's actions in the Belial Incident, as they called it," Denise explained. "They told the rest of the Watchers and Slayers in training that Quentin acted independently of the Council, and that they would never condone one of their own making a pact with a demon." We all shivered at the thought; Xander, Giles and myself were present when Quentin and the demon Belial hammered out the contract that would have given Sunnydale over to the Hellmouth. If it weren't for a time-traveling Buffy from the future, Belial would have unleashed the forces of the Hellmouth on the world. "You believe them?" Giles asked, his voice tinged with skepticism. "I wouldn't believe them if they said that water was wet," Denise barked. "Increasingly, I've been finding evidence that the Council has been more interested in controlling their Slayers, not aiding them. Take the case of Sandra here. A year and a half ago, they tried to force me to inject her with muscle relaxant, to weaken her for some rite of passage. The muscle relaxant would probably have killed her. That's when I decided to leave the council, and take Sandra with me. Too many lies, half-truths, cover-ups. And judging from what I've heard, I'm not the only one who feels that way. Indeed many Watchers have defected, to strike out on their own. I have no wish for the Council to undermine Sandra's efforts. Sandra has proven to be an effective Slayer, one of whom I am quite proud..." "Please, Ms. Parkinson," Sandra blushed. "Not in front of the Scooby Gang." Denise snickered at Sandra's embarrassment. "Anyway, one of the reasons that I came here was to speak with you, Rupert. I wish to discuss rebuilding the Watcher's Council. You are one of the few senior watchers I can respect, even if you no longer hold that title personally. The Council needs to be reorganized." Giles seemed genuinely moved by her entreaty. "I appreciate your thinking of me in that regard," Giles stated. "I have no desire to return to England, however..." "Who said the Council has to be located in England?" Denise asked. "It's that blind devotion to tradition and ritual that has kept the Council grounded in the Dark Ages. With modern communications, with the Internet, there wouldn't be the need for the senior Watchers to be away from the action, so to speak." "Watch it, Parkinson," Xander quipped. "You're talking to the last of the red hot Luddites over here." "Yes, his hatred of modern technology has become the stuff of legends," Denise joked. I started to like her immediately, which surprised me, considering my opinions about the Watcher's Council in general. "Actually," she continued, "Giles has become something of a legend among the rank and file himself, him and Buffy. The senior Watchers may have had little use for you, but you are much admired among your peers. That's why I hope that you'll consider my proposal. If you were to be instrumental in reconstructing the Council, many of the other Watchers would follow your lead." Giles pursed his lips and hummed thoughtfully. "An intriguing offer, Denise. I will have to consider it." "That's all I ask, Rupert." "So, how about you, Sandra?" Tara asked, leaning in closer. "When did you become a slayer?" "About two years ago," Sandra answered. She hadn't spoken much before now. A bit of a quiet one, she was. "All I knew was that some--thing was attacking my mother, then I'm making like Keanu Reeves from 'The Matrix'." "Okay," Xander figured it out. "She must have become the next slayer when Buffy sent Faith into a coma." Giles nodded in agreement, recalling Buffy's battle with the psycho- slayer. "Do you enjoy being a slayer?" Tara asked. I could sense that she was starting to like this new slayer. "I'll admit, it's not the life I signed on for," Sandra said. "But once I got started, I began to feel a responsibility. And from what Denise has told me, reading me the reports on Buffy Summers, I've kind of taken to her as a role model. I was sorry to hear of her passing, but I can only hope that I can follow in her footsteps." "Just remember to brush up on your jokes," Xander offered. "It ain't enough to slay vampires, you gotta humiliate 'em." "And don't forget to name your favorite stake," Tara offered. "Buffy called hers Mr. Pointy." I sat there silently, watching as my friends slipped effortlessly into their old roles. Like they hadn't gotten out of high school. "And you, Mr. Giles," Sandra asked, "what would you advise?" "Me? Well," Giles pondered the question. "Listen to your Watcher. But first, listen to your instincts. Buffy was never afraid to let me know when she thought that I was wrong. Trust your instincts. They're you're greatest asset as a Slayer. They'll never let you down." "Thank you Mr. Giles," Sandra then turned to me. "And you, Willow? I understand that you were closer to Buffy than anyone else. Would you have any advice for me?" I looked at her, amazed that she would ask me, the one who got Buffy killed in the first place, for advice. I just kept looking at her, until I started to chuckle. My chuckle quickly turned into a maniacal laugh, as everything I've kept bottled up for the last year just spilled over like bad yeast. "You want my advice?" I said, my voice rising with every word. "I'll give you some advice. Go home. Go back to where you came from. Get the hell out of Dodge. Forget you ever met us, forget you ever heard of Watchers, or Slayers, or vampires or any of that crap because all it'll get you is an early grave! It doesn't matter, none of it does! You'll get killed by some random vamp or werewolf or something, then another slayer will show up, and it all starts over again! IT DOESN'T MATTER!" It wasn't until I noticed Tara removing her hands from her ears that I realized that I was shouting at the top of my lungs. I looked around at the others, seeing shock, hurt, concern and pity in their eyes. I couldn't take it, not the pity. I had to get out. Not saying a word, I grabbed my coat, and rushed out the door. I didn't know where I was going, nor did I care. I just had to get away.
 
Chapter 3 - Strength of Will Strength of Will
 
"Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are - One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." --Albert Lord Tennyson I ran until my lungs threatened to burst. I ran until my legs were ready to collapse. It still wasn't enough. I was running away from my friends, my past, myself. And I knew that I couldn't run from them forever. Sooner or later, they all would find me. I could deal with my friends. Even with my past. But myself... That voice was always there. Condemning me, damning me for what I had done. I had never shared that shame before, I couldn't. If the other Scoobs knew what I had done, how I had betrayed Buffy... As I stopped to rest, I looked around to see where I was; the middle of Whetherly Park, once the prime trolling ground for Sunnydale's vamps, now as safe as any park in America. I noticed the swing-set where I had played many times before, as a kid, with Xander pushing me, and later, in high school, with Buffy, just sitting in the swing next to me. We would talk about everything and nothing, and not care whether we resolved any issues, had made any decisions, or had changed our lives in any way. Just to be together, best friend to best friend. And that was years before we fell in love. No, I take that back. Years before we realized that we were always in love with each other. And I killed her. I just sat on the swing, the one on the left side, the one where I always sat. I kept looking at the other swing, the one where Buffy always sat, expecting to see her there, but knowing that she was never coming back. I couldn't think, I couldn't cry, I couldn't breath. I found myself hoping that this was it. My death, to make up for hers. "Hey, Wills," a familiar voice greeted me. Damn, still among the living. I didn't say anything as Xander sat in Buffy's old swing. "Gotta say, Wills," he continued, "not liking the fatalistic attitude." "Gotta say, Xand," I answered, tonelessly, "not giving a rat's ass." Xander looked at me, I could feel his eyes on me, I could feel his warmth, his caring, his generosity of soul. I knew that if he knew what I had done, he'd forgive me on the spot. I didn't want him to forgive me. I didn't deserve it. "This is the part where I ask if you want to talk about it," he quipped, "and you say you'd rather be alone. But that ain't gonna happen. Because I don't think it would be good to leave you alone." "Thanks, Xander," I tried to put a happy face on, knowing that he wouldn't buy it, "but I'll be fine. I'll apologize to Giles in the morning." "What about Sandra?" he asked. "You think you should apologize to her?" "Why?" I turned to Xander, not caring if my facade of well being was fading. "I was just telling her the truth. She's caught in a dead-end career, literally, and if she doesn't get out, she'll end up like Buffy." Xander appraised me, the sadness and caring in his eyes touching me like a searchlight. Seeing into my soul. I wanted to get away, but I was to tired. He finally said, sadly, "You still haven't mourned for her, have you?" "I've been mourning for her every day this last year, and will mourn her for the rest of my life," I exclaimed. "Don't you talk to me about mourning." "Well," Xander huffed, getting out of his swing and facing me, his voice approaching a shout. "That's pretty damn selfish of you." I pulled away as he said it, not believing what I heard. "You think you have the monopoly on mourning Buffy, just because you two shared orgasm privileges?" My hand flew hard onto Xander's face before I knew what I was doing. I felt my hand ball itself into a fist, I heard the smack, felt the sting of his cheek on my knuckles, then it registered; I had hit my childhood friend. Hard. He just looked back at me, and half-smiled, through a red swell that was soon to become a livid bruise. "Okay, I was out of line. But you're not the only one who misses her. Hell, I miss her every day. Not a day goes by when I don't think about her, expect her to tell me to shut up after I tell an awful pun, or give me her regular pep talk when things get rough for me. But I've let go of the pain, I got through it. And if you think that you're being fair to Buffy by keeping your pain alive, then here's a hot news flash for you; you're not." I sat there, not believing what I had done. I just rocked gently on the swing as he stood before me, wanting to help, wanting to shout, wanting to slug me if that was what it took. The dam had to burst. I couldn't shore it up anymore. "I--I killed her, Xander," I said, as the tears fell unchecked. I sobbed openly, as Xander scooped me up in his arms, holding me in a bear hug, assuring me, "No, Willow, no you didn't. If you're gonna blame someone, blame Oz. He's the one who pushed her into the Hellmouth." "And I'm the--I'm the one," I continued between sobs, "who convinced her--that Oz--Oz was okay--that we could trust him--" I couldn't continue, I just let the sobs take over. Xander pulled me away slightly, saying, "Look at me, Willow. She knew. She knew there was something wrong with him. Her spider-sense was ringing hard when he came back. She didn't know about his connection to Adam, but she knew that the wolf had taken over. That he had turned evil." I couldn't believe my ears. What Xander was saying made no sense. But the passion in his voice convinced me that what he was saying was God's truth. "But why would she let him back in the Scooby Gang?" I asked, managing to control my crying a little. "Because she wanted to keep an eye on him. You know what they say, Wills. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. She was too busy worrying about Adam and the Initiative, she didn't want a loose werewolf to bite us all in the ass--so to speak," he added when he realized his unintentional pun. "But why didn't she tell me?" I asked. Xander looked at me again, sadness in his eyes, and said, "I don't know, Willow. Maybe she thought that if you knew too much, Oz would get wise. She was fighting a war on too many fronts. I guess Oz was one front too many. And you had nothing to do with it. You didn't turn him evil, his curse did. He stopped fighting it, and just gave in. He embraced his evil side." "'And once you start down that dark path'," I finished, in my worst Yoda impersonation, "'Forever will it dominate your destiny'." I started to giggle, which brought around a fit of giggles from Xander. "Yeah, something like that," he gulped. We stood there, he comforting me, me allowing myself to be comforted. Goddess, it felt good to unload. "You're the first person I've told this," I said to him. "I guessed as much," he murmured. "You've been carrying it around for far too long. You needed to unburden, and I'm glad I was there. Now you can go on." "How, Xander?" I asked as a new wave of tears threatened to take over. "I can't remember a time when I didn't love Buffy." "So don't stop loving her," Xander said. "Just stop blaming yourself. She saved our lives more often than we've eaten in restaurants, you know that? Stay alive. Remember her. Hey, why do you think I became a cop? Because Buffy showed me that there's something worth fighting for. Because she did what she did, and we were there to help her. Now I'm doing the same thing. Helping others. That's what matters." Helping others. Just like what I had said to her once. Shortly before we graduated from high school. That's what I want to do. Fight evil, help people. I mean, I think it's worth doing. And I don't think you do it because you have to. It's a good fight, Buffy, and I want in. "God, I feel like a selfish bitch," I laughed, mostly at myself. He just held me, let me cry it out, until the maelstrom passed again. For the first time in nearly a year, I actually was able to smile, and mean it. "Thanks, Xander. I really needed this." "Any time, kiddo. You want me to walk you home?" "Can you walk me to Giles' first?" I asked. "I owe a few people some major apologies." "No problem," he answered as he gave me his arm. "I told him and the others to hang tough until I got back." I smiled at him. Always thinking of the basic stuff, while Buffy handled the slaying and Tara and I dealt with the magic. Same ol' Xander. "You know what happened to me today, when I was first given my badge?" I just looked at him as he spoke. "Mom and Dad were there at the ceremony. After I was given the badge, Dad came up to me, shook my hand and said, 'You done good. I'm proud of you.' Just like that." "Your dad said that?" I was surprised. I knew that Xander and his parents rarely spoke to each other. "Yeah, just like that," he answered, and I could tell that this new, tenuous bond between Xander and his dad had affected him profoundly. "I took this job because of Buffy, and now my dad's proud of me. How do you like that? One year after she dies, and she's still looking out for us." I smiled more broadly, warmed by the thought. Buffy, perched on a cloud, looking after her friends still on Earth. I started to think that no just and benevolent God or Goddess would leave Buffy's soul in Hell, even if that's were she landed at first. It made me feel good to think of Buffy watching over me. I looked up at the sky, and imagined seeing Buffy's face among the stars. For the first time in a long time, I wasn't dreading waking up in the morning. I thought that I could finally get on with my life. Thanks, Xander. Thanks, Buffy. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Xander and I walked slowly back to Giles. I was reveling in the sense of peace that had suffused me. I hadn't felt like this since losing Buffy. I really began to think that things would work out for me. We started playing 'Slug-Bug', seeing who could spot the most VW Beetles. I threw Xander off by announcing "Y2K Bug", when I saw one of those new Beetles. We had a spirited debate whether that counted, or whether the newer cars should be included with the older models. Slug-Bug was something that Xander and I did as kids, and playing it again with him brought up so many good memories. As we made sight of Giles' townhouse, we noticed a car that we didn't recognize in the driveway. When we got closer, I read the license plate; "QUEEN C2". "Oh my dear lord", the rookie cop standing next to me whispered. We knew only one person who used that license plate. Xander shuddered. "Cordy?" I hesitantly knocked at the door, and Giles answered. "Willow," he greeted me. "You and Xander had better come in." He ushered us inside rather brusquely. As I entered his living room, I noticed Cordelia sitting with the others, and Joyce sitting next to her. Standing behind the couch, tall and stoic as I remember him, was Angel. Angel and Buffy hadn't parted on the best of terms. Shortly after Buffy and I first became lovers, Faith had switched bodies with Buffy, and tried to take over her life(a situation that still made my skin crawl at the thought of it; I had made passionate love with Buffy, only to find out it was with Faith! I had to live in the shower for a week!). Shortly after getting her body back, Buffy tracked Faith to LA, only to find that Angel had been protecting her. Faith had manipulated Angel into giving her sanctuary, and by the time her deception had been discovered, the damage had been done. Buffy looked at Angel, her first love, and saw only an enemy. Shortly after that was the final battle with Adam, and I don't remember seeing Angel at her grave since then. And now he was here, with Cordy and Joyce. Buffy once said that there were two things that she didn't believe in; coincidences and leprechauns. After seeing Cordy, Angel and Joyce waiting for me at Giles', I decided right then and there that I was never going to Ireland. No telling who or what I would find there. "Hello, Xander," I heard Cordy greet her old boyfriend. "It's good to see you." "Likewise, C," Xander answered, and I didn't feel any pretense in his civility. His voice was warm, his greeting genuine. "Hello, Willow," Angel greeted me. "It's been a long time." "Too long," I said. Whatever Buffy thought of him, I still had a soft spot for our favorite Vampire-with-a-soul. I went to where he was standing and hugged him. I turned again to Giles, and said, "I just wanted to apologize for wigging out back then. I didn't mean any of it..." "I understand, Willow," Giles answered. "But that may be academic, if what Angel has told us is correct." "Angel picked me up when he first got into town," Joyce explained to me. "He just told us why he's here." She stood up and looked directly into my eyes. I could see recent tears on her cheeks, but her eyes carried a glow of desperate hope. "She's alive, Willow," she whispered. "Buffy's alive!" "Wha--" I could barely speak as I heard what Joyce was saying. "How--" A thousand thoughts and emotions collided within me. I felt my knees shake, threaten to give way. Angel sensed this, and directed me to the first available chair, which Cordy had promptly vacated. "How can that be?" I finally asked. "I saw her. I saw her die." "No you didn't," explained Angel. "You saw her fall into the Hellmouth, but she was alive then. If my sources are right, and I have to believe they are, then she's still alive, trapped in the Hellmouth." I was stunned. At first, I couldn't absorb this information at once. Buffy alive. Buffy in Hell. I heard myself whisper hoarsely at Angel, "So help me, if you're jerking my chain about this, I will kill you." "He's telling the truth," Cordelia rose to his defense. "I saw her. You know that I became a seer after Doyle died. I saw her in the Hellmouth, just the other day. She was frozen, not moving, but don't ask me how, I got the feeling that she was still alive." She spoke haltingly, as though her experience as a seer disturbed her. She had told me that she didn't enjoy being a seer, but it had come in handy for her and Angel in the past. "Her vision had been so strong," Angel continued, "that I had to consult the Oracles. Normally they're not exactly forthcoming with that kind of information, but they're exact words told me what I needed to know; 'The living is among the dead, the Chosen One must return'. I have to believe that they're talking about Buffy." I turned to Angel, and looked back around the room. We were all trying to digest this news. The others had heard it from Angel moments before I got back, but to Xander and myself, it was new. Xander's jaw was unhinged, and just hung there. I guess that mine was the same way. "I need to be sure about this, Angel. Can you be certain? I mean 100 percent, absolutely, hand over heart certain that this is what the Oracles meant?" "As certain as I can be about anything they say," Angel replied. "They're notorious for withholding information, unless it suits their purpose to tell, or if it's urgent enough. And if the Oracles are telling me that Buffy has to be rescued, then I believe them." He held out his hand to me, saying, "I need you, Willow. You and Giles are the only people I can trust to find whatever spell or ritual or whatever it will take to bring her back." "What about Wesley?" I asked. "Isn't he on your payroll nowadays?" "Wesley's good, but I need him to hold the fort back in LA," he answered. "Especially with Wolfram and Hart still giving me grief. I need you. Will you help me?" I looked at him, trying to determine from his expression whether he was leveling with me. I finally decided that he wasn't kidding. He'd never do that to me anyway. Especially about Buffy. I took his hand in mine and said, "Like you even need to ask." I looked at the assembled Scoobs and others around the room and said three words, which were greeted by loud agreement; "Let's get Buffy!" ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Over the next week, I dove into every search engine, every web surfer, every resource I could find to look for the key to the Hellmouth. Giles buried himself in his ancient texts, aided by Denise. The others did what they could to help; Xander and Sandra patrolled the town in their roles as cop and slayer, respectively. Tara reminded me to eat at least once a day. Cordy, Angel and Joyce provided whatever support they could. It felt for a while like the old Scooby Gang, like time passed backward to some day of great glory, when we were younger, when we felt invincible. Save the world, then party. That was us, the Scooby Gang, the Class Protectors, and we were back. It was Tara that gave me the crucial clue; the source of the spell that we used to close the Hellmouth in the first place. I tore through that codex, rereading each passage until my eyes grew blurry from either the ancient script or the eye-screwing Celtic spirals on every page. Finally, the book surrendered its secrets to me. I found what was called The Ritual of Restoration. I read and reread the passages until I committed them to memory, and then assembled the extended Scooby Gang at Giles' place to outline the Ritual; "Okay, gang," I started. "According to the Cildargen Codex, the Ritual of Restoration will allow us to bring a soul wrongly imprisoned in Hell to its rightful place. Since it doesn't specify Heaven, I'm assuming that it will allow us to bring Buffy back. I'll explain the ritual first, then I'll field your questions. "The ritual can take place only four times a year, on the first full moon following either the Spring or Fall Equinox, or the Winter or Summer Solstice. Fortunately, the Summer Solstice was last week, and the first full moon following it is in four days. The spell requires two witches or mages to open the portal to Hell. Tara, will you help me?" "You got it," she answered. "Thanks, Tara. Now, the rest of you, Tara and I will be drawing on your psychic energies during the casting of the spell. I need you at that time to concentrate on Buffy, on her well being, on any characteristic, fond memory, whatever. It has to be positive, the spell can only occur in a spirit of love and friendship. Are we on the same page?" The others nodded. I looked at Denise and Sandra, who were there with us. "I'm not sure about the two of you, since you never knew Buffy personally." "That is true," Denise answered. "But we had always admired her, and if we can help her, we'd be glad to." "Glad to have you on our side," I thanked them. "Now, once the portal is opened, the ritual calls for three of us to enter the portal, and retrieve Buffy. Preferably three who are especially close to her. I don't think I gotta tell you that I'm going in." I noticed Joyce starting to raise her hand, but I stopped her. "Sorry, Joyce, but only experienced Scoobs need apply. I'll need you topside to keep the portal open." "I'll go with you," volunteered Angel. "I've been there, I know the terrain." "Thanks, Angel," I smiled at him. "I'm not gonna be outdone by Deadboy, here," Xander announced. "Count me in, too," I could hear him add under his breath, "Did I just say that?" "You sure, Xand?" I asked. "This ain't just a grocery run to the Twenty Four Seven." Xander turned around, answering, "Uh, yeah, I guess. After what Buffy's done for us, it's the least I could do. Besides, after a patrol of Hell, walking a beat will be no problem." I noticed Cordelia smiling warmly at Xander, and Xander took her hand in his own. I started to wonder what was going on between them. I continued. "Okay, we have our posse. Now, once we're in, we need the rest of you to keep thinking good thoughts about Buffy. This will be like a candle in the window. It'll be our beacon to find our way out of Hell again." "One question, Willow," Joyce raised her hand tentatively. "How will you find Buffy once you're in?" The others looked at her, clearly wondering the same thing. "I mean, you'll be passing through Hell, searching untold billions of souls for one soul. Can anyone else say 'needle in a haystack'?" "Good point, Joyce," I said. "But you can always use an electro-magnet to pull the needle out of the haystack." "Too bad we don't have a Buffy Magnet," quipped Cordy. "But we do," I answered simply. I started to finger the Mizpah coin that I still wore around my neck. "Me. That's why I gotta go in. The key passages of the Ritual clearly state that only a soulmate can find the lost soul. Once we're in, according to the Codex, I must concentrate on Buffy. Once I empty my mind of all thought except for her, I'll get a clear sense of where she is. Once we find her, we'll send our thoughts out to you, and the portal will open again. That's why we need two mages. One on each side of the portal to keep it from closing for good once we're in." I had finished explaining my plan, and awaited the questions. There were a few, but mostly they understood the plan. "Guys, I won't lie to you," I finished. "This is gonna get hairy. I'm talking serious world-threat level danger. If we don't pull this off, the Hellmouth may take all our souls, or split wide open." "Wills," Xander commented, "I'd forget about your brilliant future in advertising." "Like I said," I continued, ignoring Xander's jibe, "This isn't an easy or safe route. But it's the only way to save Buffy, and if Angel's right, we're gonna need her soon. This is entirely voluntary. You want out, there's the door, I won't think any less of you. Anyone want out now?" Everyone shook their heads, or looked around. Finally Giles said simply, "I think I speak for all of us when I say, we're behind you all the way. For Buffy." The others murmured, "For Buffy." My heart was lightened by their instant agreement. I should have known better; they wouldn't back out now or ever, not if they could save Buffy. "Okay, gang, four days from now," I finished. "Angel, Xander, I guess we're going to Hell."
 
Chapter 4 - Personal Demons Personal Demons
 
And we passed through the cavern of rats. And we passed through the path of boiling steam. And we passed through the country of the blind. And we passed through the slough of despond. And we passed through the vale of tears. --Harlan Ellison "I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream" The next day, I began to prepare myself. It had been over a year since I had attempted any kind of spell. I had abandoned the practice of Wicca after Buffy's disappearance, blaming my inability in that area for what had happened to her. Now I had to rededicate myself to the art, to save her. I spent the next four days in silent meditation, cleansing my mind of all negative thoughts. I meditated repeatedly on the Wiccan Rule; Bide the Wiccan Law ye must, In perfect love and perfect trust. Eight words the wiccan rede fulfill: An' ye harm none, do what ye will. What ye send forth comes back to thee So ever mind the law of three. Follow this with mind and heart, Merry ye meet, and merry ye part. Blessed Be. Just saying these ancient words somehow made me feel at peace with myself. I knew that this was right, that rededicating myself to the Goddess in this manner was what I was meant to do. Tara and I had begun to memorize the elements of the Ritual of Restoration, and what I thought would be an uphill struggle turned out to be as natural as breathing. In my secret heart, I felt that we would be successful. That we would find and save Buffy. I needed that optimism to survive the days before we could complete the ritual. Angel had told us before, from his own experiences in Hell, that time passed much more quickly in Hell than on Earth. He had been stranded in Hell for a few months, our time, but it equated to many years in Hell. I hoped that he meant that symbolically, not literally. Buffy had been gone for over a year, how much time had passed for her? Buffy could be ancient, old enough to be my grandmother. Or long dead. Angel and I had talked about it the night before the ritual, and he could only say that the Powers That Be wanted her back on earth for some purpose. At least he was led to believe that by the Oracles. I could only trust that Angel was right. For Buffy's sake, he had to be. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ The night of the full moon, we were as ready as we were gonna be. The site of the Ritual of Restoration was an abandoned graveyard. The former site of the Initiative headquarters. The site of our last battle against Adam. The site where we lost Buffy. And the only site where the Hellmouth could be safely opened, to allow us to get Buffy back. Xander, Cordy, Angel, Giles, Joyce, Denise and Sandra stood in a circle around Tara and myself as we began the ritual. We required silence from the other participants, and their complete trust. The spell could only work in an atmosphere of trust and love. No negative emotions. I had noticed something going on just before we started. I looked at Xander as he spoke with Cordy. I could hear them both clearly, and what they said made me smile; Xander started it, saying, "Well, Cordy, looks like I'm finally putting the Zeppo to rest." This comment, referring to Cordy's old opinion of him, made her sad to hear it again. She looked directly at him, and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You know, Xand," she started, smiling for his benefit, "there's one thing about Zeppo that I just remembered." "And what was that?" he asked. She didn't answer at first, she just wrapped her arms around his waist, and leaned in for a kiss. After the kiss, she lifted her face, stroked his hair, and smiled at him, and this time the smile was genuine. "In those old Marx Brothers movies," she whispered, "Zeppo always got the girl." She kissed him again, quickly, and then said, "Come back alive, Xander. I always liked men in uniform." Xander smiled at Cordy, and anyone present could easily guess that their old passion had resurfaced. I had to smile as I watched them. Even though Cordy and I hadn't started as friends, that's what we became over time. And I gotta say, I always thought that she made a better choice for Xander than Anya. Of course, any woman in the world would have been a better choice than Anya. Finally we were ready. I called for silence as Tara and I began the invocation with the Charge of the Goddess; "Whenever ye have need of anything, Once in the month, and better to be when the moon is full, Then shall ye assemble in some secret place; To these I shall teach things that are yet unknown, And ye shall be free from all slavery. Keep pure your highest ideal. Strive ever toward it, Let nothing stop you nor turn you aside. Mine is the cup of the wine of life, And the cauldron of Cerridwen. I am the mother of all living And my blood is poured out on the earth. I am the beauty of the green earth, The white moon among the stars, And the mystery of the waters, And the desire in the heart of woman. Before my face let thine innermost divine self Be enfolded in the raptures of the infinite. Know the mystery, That if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, Thou wilt never find it without thee. For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning, And I await thee now. Blessed be." I motioned for Angel and Xander to join us at the center of the circle. They each had to recite one line of the spell, as each of us called for one of the four ancient elements. Facing east, I began it; "All hail the guardian of the Watchtower of the East, guardian of the air. Bless us with your grace this night, Aid us as we breach the portal to the realm of the unliving, To find the lost soul within!" I felt a wind lift up and caress me as I performed the ritual. A power suffused me as I spoke the words. Yes, this was working. Angel, facing south, continued; "All hail the guardian of the Watchtower of the South, guardian of fire. Bless us with your courage this night, Aid us as we breach the portal to the realm of the unliving, To find the lost soul within!" The wind blew fiercer, and I could tell that the others felt it too. Dark clouds formed on the horizon, and the electric smell of an oncoming thunderstorm filled the air. It was Tara's turn; "All hail the guardian of the watchtower of the West, guardian of Water. Bless us with your wisdom this night, Aid us as we breach the portal to the realm of the unliving, To find the lost soul within!" Lightning bracketed the skies. We were unleashing powers I had never controlled before. I started to feel fear, but I wasn't going to let it conquer me. I would see this through, no matter the personal price. Finally, Xander spoke; "All hail the guardian of the Watchtower of the North, guardian of Earth. Lend us your strength this night. Aid us as we breach the portal to the realm of the unliving, To find the lost soul within!" A crash of thunder drowned out the invocation, but it was enough. Finally, we spoke the final words in unison; Gods and Goddesses, we call to thee, In love and trust we call to thee. Open the mouth of Hell to us, That we may seek our friend, Our champion, Our defender, Our soulmate. We ask this in the name of all that is good, Of all that is sacred, Of all that is love, Of the love we bear our friend. So mote it be! The Goddess heard the words, and acted on them. A bolt of lightning speared the space between the four of us, and the ground erupted below our feet. We managed to back away before being knocked off our feet, and were able to watch as our ritual had its desired effect. A sinkhole formed at our feet, a vortex of unholy energies. The hole crackled with its power, with its hunger. As I stared into the abyss, a revelation came to me; into this pit were cast the souls of countless men and women, saints and sinners, martyrs and madmen. Into this pit Buffy was cast by Oz. And, quite possibly for the first time, three souls were about to enter it willingly, expecting to emerge unscathed. Well, too late to turn back, eh? Tara turned to me, and I could see the tears forming in her eyes. She was afraid for me, and I understood that. Hell, I was afraid for me. But I think she was afraid for herself as well. She had confessed her attraction for me a few days ago, and was now throwing away any chance she had with me, to help bring back Buffy. My heart ached for her, and I wanted to comfort her, however briefly I could, before I left. I think she understood what I was thinking. She just wrapped her arms around me in a fierce hug, and said, "Good luck, Willow." "Keep a candle in the window for me," I answered. "Extra flamey, right," Tara answered. "Go already!" She tightened her hug briefly and let go. I smiled at her and thanked her. "Okay, guys," I said to Xander and Angel. "Last chance to back out!" "Now why would I do a dumb thing like that?" Xander asked. "Besides, I stay behind, Cordy won't let me hear the end of it!" "Let's do the deed, Willow," Angel added. I nodded to my friends, and closed my eyes. "On three, then!" I shouted. "One!" I could feel Xander holding my left hand. "Two!" Angel took my right. "THREE!" And we jumped. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ How do you describe the indescribable? How can I give you a clear picture of what I saw when I opened my eyes and looked upon the landscape of Hell? Could anyone give a clear picture of it? If Salvador Dali, Hieronymus Bosch, H. R. Giger and Clive Barker were to collaborate on a single work of art, that would encapsulate the darkest regions of the human soul, it would look like a Batman comic book compared to what I saw inside the Hellmouth. We stood on a plateau, of shifting colors and textures. There was no fixed landscape, but shifting vistas and perspectives. We could only get a vague sense of things, of distances. And virtually everything in Hell was a world away from everything else, while being next to it as well. I know, makes no sense, but it's the only way to describe it. Even the three dimensions we take for granted in the 'real world' were arbitrary in this realm. "'We few, we happy few'," Angel intoned. "'We band of brothers. For whoever sheds his blood with me this day shall be my brother'." He turned to us and said, "Shakespeare." I nodded, thinking to myself of what this place reminded me of. "'Half a league, half a league, half a league onward'," I recited. "'All in the valley of Death rode the Six Hundred'. Tennyson." Xander looked at us, and looked back at a horizon on fire. "'On the whole, I'd rather be in Philidelphia'. W.C. Fields." He grinned. Trust Xander to go for the jokes, even in Hell. "So, Willow," Angel turned to me. "It's your show. Now what?" "Now, I concentrate," I said, fighting back the rising tide of fear that threatened to undo me. I held my Mizpah coin in my hand, hard enough to leave an impression on my palm. I closed my eyes, shut out all the fear, all the uncertainty I was feeling, and concentrated on Buffy. Her eyes, her soft blond hair, her sweet smile. Everything I loved about her. I felt a strange feeling of peace, even in this unholy realm, as I brought her to the forefront of my mind and heart. I opened my eyes, pointed, and said, "That way." Suddenly a path cleared itself before us, a path into an unearthly wilderness. "Okay," Xander announced. "Since the other Five-hundred and ninety-seven look like a no-show, we'd better get this party started ourselves." With that, we entered the Inferno. We followed the path laid out before us, my sense of Buffy's presence being our only guide. Impenetrable woods flanked us on either side, and when I chanced a look behind us, our path was obscured by more wilderness. I turned to Angel for guidance, but he shook his head sadly. "I wish I could be more helpful, Willow," he explained. "But this doesn't resemble the Hell I was trapped in. I guess it's true, we each make our own Hell." "Any advice beyond that, Soul Boy?" Xander snapped at Angel. Angel just regarded him with a "you're-lucky-I-gotta-soul-because-otherwise-I'd-tear-your-heart-out" look. "Just don't let anything spook you here," he said. "It's not real, everything here is an abstraction, taken from your greatest fears. Nothing here is real" "And nothing to get up about, Strawberry Fields Forever!" Xander added. "Well you've been warned, Xander," I shuddered, "expect to see lots of frogs." Frog fear. Still one of my main weaknesses. "A horde of Anya-headed frogs," Xander said, giggling. "With Cordy's temper," Angel chuckled. Hearing Xander and Angel banter back and forth, I started to feel my fear abate. Like whistling past the graveyard. I concentrated again on the soul-signal I was getting from Buffy. Suddenly, the forest was gone, and we stood before an enormous clearing. Like a vast desert, only without even a dune or sandbar to mark a landscape. I concentrated again. I felt her again. Stronger than ever, like she was right there in front of me. But why couldn't I see her? "Buffy," I said aloud, "If you're anywhere here, please, let me know. Show me. Come back to me." The signal coalesced in my mind, and suddenly, I knew. "Straight ahead," I announced. As I spoke, a shaft of golden light appeared in front of us. Angel looked dubious. "Could be a trap." "I don't think so," I said. "She's here, I know it!" I wasn't as sure as I sounded, but I had to say it. To convince the others, and maybe to convince myself. We set out again, and the light stayed ahead of us. I was reminded of the Passover Story, of how Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, and how God appeared before them as a pillar of flame at night and a pillar of smoke by day. I didn't know then what the light was, but it comforted me to think of God, or the Goddess, sending us this sign. It sure as hell beat the alternative. Sure as hell. Strange choice of words there, Wills, considering the location. As we moved forward, we heard noises, howls, cries, roars. Of agony, of unholy triumph, I didn't know. The light grew dimmer and dimmer, until it faded entirely. The flat landscape we walked gave way again, this time to a narrow corridor, infinitely high, six feet or so wide. At either side were iron bars, like jail cells. I took the risk of looking into one of them, and the sight chilled me to the marrow. Oz. In his wolf/human transitional form. The form he was in when he betrayed Buffy, when I killed him in revenge. Veruca, the werewolf who seduced him, who brought out his darkness, was with him, her human form fully submerged within the wolf. The two werewolves just glared at me, grinning ferally. I jumped back toward Angel and Xander, who turned to see what was giving me the wiggens. Xander understood instantly; "Your greatest fears, Wills. Past enemies, vampires, demons, other assorted nasties we've faced over the years." "Not real, not real, not real, not real," I repeated to myself over and over. It didn't alleviate the soul-chilling ice of Oz's eyes, entirely bereft of the good man who was once Daniel Ozbourne. I turned away from them and just kept moving forward. Always forward. Suddenly, Xander jumped back, nearly bumping into me. "I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do, I do believe in spooks!" he muttered. Angel and I saw instantly what startled him. "Jack O'Toole," Angel recognized him. I nodded solemnly. I recall Xander telling us about him; while Buffy and I were concentrating on a demon who tried to open the Hellmouth, Xander tried to shake his insecurities by buying a car. He ended up hanging with a zombie gang, led by Jack O'Toole, a sadistic zombie who had his own plans for Sunnydale. Xander ended up saving the day for all of us, and we didn't know about it until later. "Just move forward, Xand," I advised him. "He isn't real. None of it's real." "Okay, he's not real. He's just a figment of my imagination. Oh, no he's not." "Hey, soulboy," a voice beckoned from the cells ahead. A familiar voice, one that chilled us all. Angel ran forward, toward the voice. He stopped short, and gaped at the speaker. We blinked at the sight, and Xander asked, "Another Angel?" "No," I corrected him. "Not Angel. Angelus." The demon who wore Angel's face formed his lips into a jack-o-lantern grin. "Well, well, well. Don't you guys ever learn?" "What, that you're just a figment of our imagination? We've all seen our greatest fears, the monsters that keep us up at nights. Mine just happens to be a piece of me. You think you can scare me just by appearing at the wrong time and place? News, Angelus, it doesn't work that way." "I know that, friend," the demon laughed. "I know also that you're here to find your girlfriend. Or is that ex-girlfriend? That old happiness clause. Doesn't exactly make a great pickup line, does it? 'Hey babe, want to raise some Hell, literally?' I hear she's batting for the other team these days." He regarded me the way a vulture regards a large carcass in the middle of the desert. "Of course, you'd know more about that than I do-uhng!" Angel grabbed his evil self by the neck, saying, "Not another word. I remember what it was like to be you, and I hated every moment of it. Now, give me a reason to let you live." "How about 'you can't kill me', you putz!" Angelus spat back at him. "I'm you, Soulboy. I'm a part of you that you can't get rid of. You lose me, you lose you. I die, you die." "Just tell us where she is, bastard!" Angel hissed through clenched teeth. He morphed into his vamp face, snarling, "I won't ask again." "Hey, hey, peace, peace," the demon chided. "Don't get your delicates in a bunch, oh mighty anal-retentive one. She's right here," he gestured toward the end of the hallway. "Go get her." We ran down the hallway, without even thinking whether we could trust Angelus. Or even if it was really Angelus. I saw Oz and Veruca, Xander saw Jack O'Tool, Angel saw Angelus. We all faced the monsters that hurt us the most. If we had beaten them by leaving them behind, I didn't feel it. After an eternity of running, I felt something. The Buffy signal again. Stronger and stronger as we ran. Whatever that thing was, Angelus was honest with us at the time. Buffy was there. We finally found ourselves in a central plaza, like an arena. Rows of cells surrounded the surreal prison yard, stacked twenty or thirty high. I squinted my eyes in the semi-darkness as I tried to see anything beyond the prison bars. A large crystal shard suddenly erupted from out of the center of the plaza. I ran toward the grisly grey shard, and stood back, thunderstruck at what I saw within the crystal. Buffy. In the exact same clothes she wore when she fought Adam that last time. Her face holding the exact same expression of shock I remembered from the last time. Her soul was embedded in that crystal. She had been trapped inside that shard from the second she entered this infernal place. In perfect suspension, unchanging. I couldn't even sense that she was aware of her surroundings. Xander and Angel caught up with me, and saw her within the shard. "It's like she's--" Xander tried to grasp what he was seeing. "--frozen. Like suspended animation." "Exactly what it is, Xander," Angel said. "She's been like this for God knows how long, no awareness, no consciousness. But I don't get it. She's responsible for the people in these cells being here. Why wouldn't they just torture her for eternity?" "Who the hell cares?" Xander shouted. "Let's just get her out of there!" "Feel free to jump in with a suggestion on how to do that, Xander," I said. "There's got to be a way to draw her out." I pondered this riddle for a few seconds, until I grew aware of the sounds of latches being unlatched, of bolts sliding out of doors, of giant hinges swinging open. "Oh, God," Angel exclaimed, as the monsters were freed from their cells. I caught sight of their faces, their bodies; Vampires, demons, monsters. The Fear God, the Gentlemen, the Master, Lothos, the Hansel and Gretel demon, Trick, Kakistos, Belial, Mayor Wilkins, all joined by Oz, Veruca, Jack O'Tool, and Angelus. Nearly every foul thing that Buffy had faced over the course of her career as a Slayer. All in one place. All glaring at the three of us. "Oh, God," Angel repeated, "we were wrong. They didn't bring her here to torture her. They brought her here to keep her from escaping. To prevent her from slaying any of their brethren." "And now that we're here," I guessed, gulping hard, "we tripped some kind of silent alarm?" "And they're all here," Xander added, visibly shaking, "to stop us from getting her back. Any way they can." We said nothing else. There was nothing else to say. We could see it in that instant. We had failed to save Buffy. Angelus, the ringleader of these monsters, stepped forward, arrogance visible in every stride, every look. He stopped just short of Angel's face, and announced, almost casually, "Well boys and girls, let's get ready to rumble." And the monsters moved forward.
 
Chapter 5 - We can be Heroes We can be Heroes
 
"I-- I wish I could swim, Like dolphins-- Like dolphins can swim. Though nothing Can keep us together, We can beat them, Forever and ever, We can be Heroes, Just for one day. --David Bowie "Heroes" The army of monsters surrounded us and began to close in, as we circled the wagons around the crystal that contained the body and soul of Buffy. A seething mass of the vilest evil that ever plagued the Earth. All sent to the bowels of Hell by Buffy Summers and us, the Scooby Gang. And the only thing on their collective mind was our destruction. Yeah, you could say I was scared. "Willow," I heard Xander say, as a vengeance demon glared directly at him. "I just wanted to say now, seeing as how I'm probably not going to get a chance later, that I'm sorry about stealing your Happy Hairstyle Barbie doll in elementary school." What he said to me almost didn't register. I was already too bogged down in my own despair. I had risked everything to save my beloved, and lost it all. Add to the cost of my failure the lives of two of my best friends. I wanted to scream "It's not fair!" into the face of Hell, but my heart was in my mouth. I could sense Angel beside me, ready to fight to the last. Even Xander had abandoned his normal fears in order to take a final stand against these demons. I felt proud of them, and at the same time, I knew that I didn't deserve their support. I had failed them. I had failed her. And as I reached the deepest pit of self-pity, I sensed that light again, the light that led me here, to Buffy's side. But it was different. Not from anywhere, not from a specific light source, but from everywhere. I gasped at its gentle radiance, as realization hit me; the light didn't come from anywhere, it came from me. I was that light, and the monsters were afraid of it. As I tried to grapple with this new development, I heard in my heart, my soul, my mind, the words from the Charge of the Goddess, which I had recited with Tara at the beginning of this rescue mission; "Know the mystery, That if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, Thou wilt never find it without thee." Within thee. Within myself. At this point, I figured, Hell, what have I got to lose? I started to ponder within myself. Who I was. Willow Rosenberg. Daughter of Ira and Sheila Rosenberg. Native of Sunnydale, California. Jew. Computer hacker. Wiccan. Spell-caster. Scooby Gang member. College student. Code writer. Lover of Buffy Summers. Servant of the Goddess. And suddenly, so much more. My transformation didn't go unnoticed. Angel suddenly gawked at me, shouting, "Willow? What happened to you?" I smiled serenely, knowing without understanding how I knew that all would be well. "If they're abstractions, Angel," I answered, feeling the energy coursing through me, and unleashing it into a fireball that burnt the first wave of monsters that were on the verge of attacking us, "then so are we!" And the light suffused me. I knew, I felt, I was, more than I ever knew, felt and was before. The power of every goddess, every heroine of every myth, coursed through me. Hera's power coursed through my veins. Athena's wisdom shone from my brow. Artemis's skill guided my hands. Aphrodite's passion burned in my loins. Hestia's grace flowed from my heart. I was Gaia, mother Earth. I was Lilith, the demon first wife of Adam. I was Eve, his true wife and mother of all man. I was both Guinivere, the consort of Arthur, and Morgaine Le Fay, his sister and lover. Saint Brigid, Macha, and Grace O'Malley, all these legends and more, these were my names. I was a Goddess among demons, and these demons dared to keep me from my beloved. I almost felt sorry for them. I rose, floated really, above the heads of the frightened monsters. I glared at them, and my stare was steel. "You have taken a soul that doesn't belong to you!" I cried out to them. "We've come to take it back. Any questions?" I belatedly noticed Xander and Angel standing below me. Xander's eyes were bugging out of his head, and even Angel, who has witnessed over two centuries of weirdness, stood stock still. "How--how did you--" I heard Xander stammer. "You have to look within yourself, Xander," I answered, calm and serene. "We make our own Hell, Angel said as much himself. We control who we are here. Not them." Angel regarded me with a knowing look, and took Xander's hand in his own. "I think I get it, Willow. Xander, follow my lead." Angel closed his eyes, and Xander did the same reluctantly. I lowered my body down, and held their free hands, to speed the change. I saw them shudder violently as the power I knew coursed through them. Angel shook his head, and I started to see him differently. Gone was the brooding, melancholy figure we had known for years. In his place stood an amalgam of the great heroes of his native Ireland, and the United Kingdom. He was Chuchulan, the legendary barbarian hero of Ireland. He was Saint Patrick, Ireland's patron. He was Beowulf, slayer of the Grendel. He was Arthur, king of the Britons, as well as Sir Lancelot and Galahad. He was Robin of Locksley, better known as Robin Hood. He was William Wallace, the Scots rebel known as "Braveheart". He was Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue. His stance was bold, proud, mighty. His sword(materialized at his whim) glistened in the dim light. He was a warrior borne, and prepared to fight any horde of demons. I glanced back to Xander, and saw a similar transformation. He had worn a T-shirt and blue jeans. Now, he sported a leather bomber jacket, Ray-Bans, an enormous gun in each hand, and a wild look in his eyes that would have intimidated the Devil himself. I realized that he drew from his own heroes and legends as we did, but while I chose the goddesses and strong women of myth, and Angel drew from the heroes of the British Isles, Xander patterned his inner self from more modern heroes. He was Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Samuel L. Jackson, Lawrence Fishburne, Jean-Claude Van Damme and even a little Jackie Chan thrown in for good measure. He was taller, more massive in the upper body, more powerfully built, more confident. I suddenly understood why he chose to join the police force. His inner self was, because there was no other term for it, a crime-fighter. A superhero. The Supercop! "Okay, boys," I announced, "It's showtime!" I conjured a staff, an enormous diamond at its head, and cast the light of my soul upon the creatures before us. The light burnt as it touched their flesh, and they leapt back in agony. "YEE-HAH!" Xander shouted, spraying a shower of bullets at the retreating monsters. "Welcome to the Matrix, baby!" Angel said nothing, but jumped into the fray, slicing demons left and right. I had to smile as I watched him work, cleanly and efficiently. We suddenly had the advantage, and we were using it. He had just destroyed two Gentlemen when a loud, familiar bellow could be heard. Xander and I had recognized the shambling heap that emerged from the thinning crowd of demons. The patchwork body, the misshapen figure before us. Adam. The last demon we ever faced. And the toughest. "Impressive," he said, almost passively. "But in the end, futile. The Slayer's soul is ours. And soon, your souls will be ours as well." "Guess again, Mix-n-Match!" Xander quipped. He fired his automatic guns, an infinite supply of bullets in their clips, into the unholy beast's chest. He just shrugged them off. "That's my boy," Angelus commented, stepping up next to Adam. "Takes more punishment than Wile E Coyote. You can't take him down, not here. You've followed Buffy here just to join her, sweetcheeks." "We're taking her with us," I said simply. "You don't scare us anymore, Angelus." "Then I'll just have to destroy you. And what better way to destroy you than to take out your heart?" He started toward the crystal in which Buffy was entombed, while Adam lurched toward Xander. Angel suddenly lunged toward his other half, standing between Angelus and Buffy. "You want her, you have to go through me!" "Whatever," Angelus said, as a sword appeared in his hand. A big sword, looked like a sharpened crowbar. He thrust at Angel, who countered his every blow. They fought like demons, each determined to destroy the other. Each one was equally matched, but it was only a matter of time before Angelus started fighting dirty. And I feared that Angel wouldn't be ready for his betrayal. "Willow," Xander shouted at me, as he wrestled with Adam. "It's up to you! Whatever power you're channeling, you're the only one who can free Buffy!" "Wha--" I stammered. I started to argue with him, to ask what he meant, but the Goddess power sang in me. Something happened, something I can't quite explain. Last Halloween, we faced the Fear God, summoned accidentally during a frat house's Halloween party. The Scooby gang were forced to face our greatest fears, and our terrors turned us against each other. Buffy and I blew up that night, she claiming that my magic was about fifty-fifty in the reliability department, me taking offense at being labeled the 'sidekick'. What we said to each other had really shaken me. I had to deal with my own insecurities over my magic. I screwed up every once in a while, cast the wrong spell, caused Buffy to fall in love with Spike, that sort of thing. And even now, I still feel those fears. But at that moment, clarity came to me. Absolute clear focus, for the first time in my life. The Halloween party was long gone. My fears, my insecurities, all were forgotten. I knew what I had to do. I erected a shield between the monsters and Buffy's crystal and myself. I didn't even try to remember a specific spell, I just did it. I knew it would work, the Goddess power within me assured me that it would work. I faced the crystal, and saw her within. Her body, but also her heart and soul beyond the physical form. They were still intact within her. Scared, disconnected, confused, but still there, and still as beautiful as I remember. I closed my eyes, and reached out to her. I held the Mizpah coin, my talisman to her. I concentrated on that sensation, the call of her soul to mine. Buffy? Are you there? I felt something, trying to reach me. I started to relax myself. To feel, rather than think. I felt for her, like a lifeline. She was my lifeline. I had been grasping for her, for my beloved, for the last year. It was now or never. Buffy? Buffy? Come back to me! There was something, some formless entity. But it was familiar, warm, safe, beautiful. Buffy. Buffy, I'm here. It's me. Willow. I've come back for you. The entity took a more defined shape. It reacted to me. I could almost sense that it recognized me. Xander, Angel and I came back for you. We're not leaving without you this time. We're bringing you back with us. I touched the crystal, and it vibrated under my touch. It felt strange, like a warm electric blanket, but with a pulse. A heartbeat. Wil--low? I jolted when the voice echoed in my head. I reached further, tracking the source of the voice. Willow? Buffy! It's you! Buf--fy? Buffy! Yes, Buffy! It's me, Willow! I could hear the monsters fighting on, the crash of sword against sword, the breaking of bones. I blotted those sounds out of my field of concentration, honing in on the voice of my Buffy. I glanced behind me. Things weren't going well. For all their newfound strengths, Angel and Xander were still fighting hard against their opponents. Angelus and Angel were almost equally matched, and as I knew he would, Angelus started to fight more savagely, more aggressively. He had Angel on the defensive, and I could tell that Angel was tiring. As for Xander, he was leaping out of Adam's reach, but Adam started to adapt his fighting style to compensate. He started to attack Xander as he landed, and Xander couldn't get out of the way fast enough. Soon, Adam had him in a hammerlock, and he couldn't get loose. I turned back to the crystal. Okay, Buffy, it's showtime! C'mon, I know you're in there. You're missing a hell of a fight. We need you out here, Buffy!N-no, Wills, I heard her answer in my mind. I don't know how to get out.Just focus on me, Buffy, I answered desperately. That's how I found you. I'm right here, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not going to lose you now. I leaned my head against the crystal, and sent one thought, one hope, one prayer. I love you, Buffy. Silence. Within myself, outside of myself. Adam and Angelus stopped their attacks on Xander and Angel. A flaw started to form in the crystal's surface. The crack spread quickly, splitting across the crystal, and a shaft of infinitely bright light poured out of the crack. Within seconds, the crack encompassed the whole of the crystal, lengthwise, cleaving it into two shards. The shards fell to the ground, and fragmented, without sound, only the light. The light filled the chamber, blinding, piercing, penetrating everything and everyone within. Adam, Angelus, and the others who stood as spectators, watching the battle, didn't even have time to scream as their bodies had simply disintegrated. I dared to look directly at the light. I saw a figure, standing above us, the source of the light. Angelic, terrifying, and at the same time, as familiar as home, and as beautiful as the sunrise. Long hair haloed a sweet, smiling face. Her face. I couldn't laugh, I couldn't cry, I could only shout out; "BUFFY!" It was enough. The angel that was my Buffy regarded me with a level gaze, and then smiled at me. It was her smile, the one she wore whenever I served her favorite ice cream, when we laughed together watching "The Princess Bride", when she cradled me in her arms after lovemaking. She opened her arms to me again, and I jumped in without saying a word. There was nothing to say. No words were needed to express my joy, and I don't think that the words that could encapsulate the love I felt for Buffy even exist. A tiny corner of my mind echoed out to Tara and the others topside; We have her. Now. Two seconds later, I felt suddenly heavy, and cold. I glanced around me, and realized that we were out of the vortex. Angel and Xander were standing beside me, and the others were gathering around us. I saw Cordy throw herself at Xander, who caught her in his arms. I kneeled on the ground, cradling a body in my arms. I looked at the body. Buffy was unconscious, her pulse was weak, her breathing was shallow. But she had a pulse, she was breathing. She was alive. Joyce kneeled beside me, hope and fear fighting for control of her face. I looked straight at her, not minding the tears that streamed out of my eyes. I laughed and cried together at once, whispering hoarsely, "We got her!" Giles stood next to us, and as I looked up at him, I could see the absolute joy that radiated from him. The normally unflappable Englishman was beside himself with relief, with joy that Buffy was well. "She looks pale, and her breathing's a bit shallow," I continued, lifting her body up a little. "We should get her to the hospital." Angel lifted her body in his arms, and took her to Joyce's SUV. I had to follow them; I just got her back, I wasn't leaving her now. I climbed into the back of the SUV as Angel placed Buffy's body inside, treating her like a Faberge egg. I sat beside her, watching her sleep. I had to take her hand, to touch her, to feel her fingers with my own. I had to feel her, to look at her, to know that she was alive, with me again. I whispered my thanks to the Goddess for allowing me to save Buffy Summers. For reuniting us again. Pray God you can cope I stand outside, This woman's work This woman's world At the hospital we all waited. Giles sat with Joyce, Tara sat next to Sandra, while Denise stood fascinated by Angel. Xander and Cordy arrived later, as they stopped in the gift shop, and when they arrived in the waiting room, the upper half of Xander's body was lost within a cloud of brightly colored Mylar balloons with "Get Well" slogans. Oh, it's hard on the man His part is over, Now starts the craft of the father. I looked at Giles, knowing how hard he had taken Buffy's loss in the first place. Almost as hard as I did. He was her Watcher, her surrogate father, her protector, and he felt that he had failed her. Now, he stood by helpless, as we waited for the doctors to examine Buffy. I could tell that he was praying for Buffy. Like we all were. I know you have a little life in you yet. I know you have a lot of strength left. C'mon, Buffy. You're stronger than anyone I've ever known. Not just physically, but in spirit, in heart. You taught me how to live, how to care, how to love. And I want to spend the rest of my life showing how much I learned from you. I want to hold you, kiss you, dance with you, cook for you, make love to you, sleep in your arms. I should be crying But I just can't let it show, I should be hoping But I can't stop thinking. All the things I should have said That I never said, All the things we should have done That we never did, All the things I should have given But I didn't, One year. We've lost a whole year of our lives together. I could complain that it's not fair, but so much of life's not fair. Besides, we got something so few people get in life. A second chance. I'm not going to blow it. I've got you back, Buffy, I'm not going to lose you now. Oh darling, make it go, Make it go away. Give me these moments back. Give them back to me. Give that little kiss. Give me your hand." --Kate Bush "This Woman's Work" A plump nurse emerged from the e.r. ward, and motioned to us. "Are you the ones waiting for Miss Summers?" "Yes," Joyce answered hesitantly. "I'm her mother, Joyce Summers." The nurse smiled gently at us. "Your daughter is resting, Ms. Summers. She's been dehydrated, so we've got her on an I.V. drip, and we'd like to keep her overnight for observation, but there's nothing to be worried about. She's slowly gaining her appetite, and Doctor Wiseman assures me that she's going to make a complete recovery." "EEEEYYES!" Xander shouted happily. "Buffy Summers is in the building!" The nurse gently reminded him to keep his voice down, but his exuberance was felt by all of us. The nurse looked around, and asked, "Is there a Willow here?" I shyly raised my hand. "Me," I stammered. "I'm Willow." "Miss Summers has asked to see you. I can only let you in for a few minutes, but she's rather insistent." "That's our Buffy," Cordy quipped. "Can I see her now?" I asked. "Certainly," the nurse said happily. I could feel my heart thud in my chest. The same heart I couldn't feel at all a year ago, as I watched my soulmate fall into the abyss. "But be advised. Whatever she went through, she may have sustained some partial amnesia." I could feel Joyce's arms around me, as she whispered, "Tell her we love her. She'll remember you." I gave her a watery eyed smile in return and promised to tell her. I followed the nurse to a private room. I saw Buffy, my Buffy, the woman I loved more than life itself, the woman I mourned, the woman I missed for so long, lying on the bed, her eyes half-watching Jay Leno. I cleared my throat to get her attention. "Buffy?" I managed to get out before the lump in my throat got too big. She turned her head toward me, and the smile I missed for so long was more dazzling, more loving, more beautiful than I remember. "Willow," she breathed. "Come on over here." She patted the side of her bed with her hand. "Set that beautiful butt of yours over where I can admire it more." "You--you remember me?" I asked timidly as I approached the bed. "Of course I remember you, Willow Rosenberg," she teased me. "My friend, my roommate, my love, my life." She beckoned me with the faintest gestures of her hand, with the clarity of her eyes, with the slightest twitch of her perfect lips. I sat down on the bed beside her, and she managed to lift herself up so that we were level. All the emotions that were warring within me, all the things I wanted to say to her, all the opportunities that I had to hold her and missed, all came out of me in one second, and I broke down and wept for joy. Buffy held me in her arms, as I held her. I wanted the connection to last forever. For a moment, it felt like we were outside of time, outside of the world. There was nothing and no one but us, and no place where I wanted to be but where I was now, with Buffy Summers in my arms. I heard her whisper "I love you, Wills," and my heart sang. This is what I was meant to be. This is the person in whom I had found everything. And I wasn't ever going to lose her again. The real world intruded, in the form of an outlandishly happy Xander bursting into the room, his huge bouquet of balloons in his hand. The others followed more quietly. I don't recall what everyone said at the time, mostly cries of "Welcome Back," and "Great to see you". I didn't care what they said. I gazed into the wondrous vistas of Buffy's eyes, and she smiled into mine. When people ask me if I believe in miracles, I have one ready reply for them; Hell yeah! I had a miracle sitting right next to me, saying that she loved me. A miracle named Buffy Summers.
 
Chapter 6 - To Come To Come
 
 
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