Disclaimer: All characters that have appeared in the series Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, together with the names, titles and back story are the sole copyright property of Joss Whedon, Fox and Mutant Enemy. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. Neither the author nor any sites this story may appear on receive any compensation for the story.
Distribution: The Mystic Muse http://mysticmuse.net
Spoilers: All of season 7 of Buffy and season 4 of Angel.
Feedback: Yes, but I can't guarantee a reply. And it's my first fic, so be lenient!
Author's Notes: Few things you should know. At the time of writing, Buffy has finished, Cordelia is in a coma, Angel is the only one with a memory of Connor and Spike will somehow be resurrected in LA. This story is set one and a half years after 'Chosen', and everything that has happened in both shows are regarded. However, since then (in my wacko fanfic world) Cordelia has woken up and is back to her not evil, yet not wanting to date Angel ways, Connor is still gone with only Angel's memories as proof of his former life, Spike is still a vampire with a soul (and dislike for Angel), Giles has gone back to England and the new slayers have disbanded, fighting evil around the world. Despite everything in the story that may seem confusing, ALL will be cleared up, I swear! One last thing, I'm English, so you'll encounter my English spellings for some things, but I'll really make an effort when American characters are speaking/thinking, I swear! Okay, really the last thing now, as I am human I don't like all characters equally, and hence subconsciously may put these characters in negative or threatening (by which I mean dead) positions. Of course it's all subconsciously. I have no control over it.
PS: There really is a drink in England called Sunny-D (Sunny Delight). Dunno if they make anywhere else. Just thought it was funny. Which it isn't.
Summary: A fatal attack on Willow brings about the Slayers' deadliest foe.
CHAPTER ONE REBORN
"And there will be a time of crisis. Of worlds hanging in the balance. And in this time shall come the Anointed. The Master's great warrior. And the Slayer will not know him, will not stop him, and he shall lead her into Hell."
He pinched his temple, focusing what was left of his energies on completing the text. He could feel the spirit of the prophets leaving his weary shell, but it was this very spirit that was telling him how pivotal completing it was.
"When the stars shall rise to the count of one thousand, following the Septus advent. Five will die, and from their ashes the Anointed shall rise. The Brethren of Aurelius shall greet him and usher him to his immortal destiny."
"As it is written, so shall it be."
And with that, his link to what would come to be centuries from now diminished, he pushed the pages aside to wait for the ink to dry. His stomach alone told him that above the night had risen, and with it the overwhelming temptation to feed and relinquish energies. However it is this very reason that prevented him from doing so. Above him the aristocrats were out for the night, and the events of earlier had drained him of most of his magic, forcing him out of the mask he made and wore in a crowd, and back into face he wore before his mortal death; dark and attention grabbing. The last thing he wanted was to be confused with a slave.
Despite this, he was very happy. Shifting his gaze toward the bed, he let his eyes rest on the figure that lies there. When he had found him, this young man had earned stature among the lords that rule this city, but was far from someone special. Or so they thought.
He knew different. He saw the role this boy would play in the centuries to come, and knew somehow it would fit together and usher in his own revival. Drawing in all his power, every piece of strength he had in his soul, he had offered him his purest blood, and in that moment he was spoken to by the prophets, and instantly came down to record what they were telling. He now knew what this new childe, this Heinrich Joseph Nest, would become.
"You will start it all." He crooned to the pale corpse, brushing his large hand over the Heinrich's short, brown hair affectionately. "With your power, the lesser ones will bow at your feet, and replenish our Brethren. With the power I have infused in you, your face will soon shrug off this disgusting you wear now and the demon will show itself. You shall be stronger than any other. In time they shall call you Master. I shall train you, allow you to become what I have dreamed you to be, and then you shall leave me, betray me." He grinned, and leaned further in to whisper to body. "But there in lies the joke. You'll think you are leaving me for dead, betraying me while you set off to open the Hellmouth. But I've heard it all. You will find these words I've written, the Anointed shall rise, shall lead her. And then you shall split the line. You yourself shall fail yourself, but will appease me. The split you create will start it all. The second slayer shall die, the Goddess shall be born, the Goddess will die, and I shall be revived."
He smiled at this thought. He had endured several millennia without his powers, stuck with little more magic than the other blood suckers of the world. This magic alone had allowed him to alter his own appearance, keep looking human and change the color of his skin to avoid certain prejudices, but it was nothing to the glory he had known.
Turning back to the corpse, waiting patiently for him to arise, he grew hopeful. He had less than one more millennia to endure, and there was much to do. Soon everyone will know the name he chose so many years ago, they will tremble at the mere mention of Lucius Aurelius.
New York, 2004
"Buffy, behind you!"
Buffy turned just in time to see the sole of one of the vamps' shoe flying into her face, but not in time to duck. The vamp instantly straddled Buffy once her back hit the floor, pinning her arms to the ground.
"Tell us where the Goddess is and I swear your death will be quick"
"While I fully trust a soulless creature of the night to keep his promises, 'friad to say I haven't been hanging out in the heavens in years. Me and the Gods don't keep in touch"
"Then I guess it's a slow death." He snarled, bearing his teeth as he lent. Before Buffy knew it she was covered in dust and looking up at Xander baring the broken end of a broom and holding his hand out to Buffy.
"Thanks for that." She exclaimed as she took his hand and pulled herself up, coughing out the remains of her attacker while brushing off the dust from her clothes.
"No probs. Though I've got to say the amount of wooden things people leave in alleys is mighty helpful." He replied, tossing the broken broom on the floor.
Buffy looked up at the gray sky and sighed. "You know, I'm beginning to understand why New York has so many unsolved murders."
Following her gaze, Xander nodded his head in agreement. "It does make you appreciate good old Sunny D. Before it was crater that is. At least there daytime meant sun pretty much everyday. Thanks to these damn clouds vamps here are walking about middle of the day half the time. Maybe we need to call a couple more slayers down here, now that Vi's going. What do you think?" Unbeknownst to Xander, Buffy had long since stopped listening and was far more interested in the ring that hadn't dusted with the rest of the vamp.
"I mean it makes you wonder how Giles is doing in the land of the rain. Must be like vamp central, huh Buff?" Xander noticed Buffy was more interested in something else. "Buff?"
Buffy kept inspecting the ring, not being able to shake off the feeling she'd seen it somewhere before. When she looked at the inside her eyes widened in fear as she instantly recognized the sun and three stars symbol engraved there. It was the ring the Master's Brethren wore, and if there's one vampire she did not ever want to see again, it's him. However, despite her having killed him seven years ago, things didn't always have a tendency to stay dead. She knew that better than anyone.
Gaining the strength to stand, Buffy never lifted her gaze from the ring. "Oh God."
"What? What is it?" Xander didn't know exactly what was so terrible about a ring, but he'd learned long ago if Buffy was this freaked out, things weren't good.
"I've got to call Giles."
"Buffy what is it?" Xander asked, his concern becoming too much to bare.
"Hopefully a coincidence, but I think the boy scouts had a point when they said to be prepared."
"You want me to fetch Willow and Kennedy? They should still be at Grand Central now." Xander asked looking at his watch.
"Grand Central?" Buffy asked in confusion, finally looking away from the ring.
"Remember, they drove Vi." Xander replied. He wasn't too thrilled that the slayer had moved to Seattle, mostly because she was a good slayer and New York needed all it could get.
"Oh yeah. Thanks. Meet me at my place in an hour?" Buffy asked, finally breaking away from the ring.
"Sure. I'll bring donuts. Just like old times."
As the two friends parted, neither noticed the vampire listening nearby, whom had just pulled out his mobile phone. "Grand Central Station…make sure you have as many as possible, she's powerful, has at least one slayer with her and a boy coming to her aid…the redhead is your target…complete destruction of the body…I don't know but I should imagine they'll let themselves be known once their friend is attacked…the one coming has a patch over his left eye…remember, kill, divert them or simply avoid them, but do not fail to kill the Goddess."
"So what do you want to do now?" Willow asked as she walked hand in hand with Kennedy back through the station.
"Anything. We're both young virile women with the whole day to spare." Kennedy answered, glancing sideways at Willow as she did.
"Well, we could go shopping. I want some flip flops for when we visit LA in January." Willow suggested somewhat hopefully, knowing perfectly well what her girlfriend wanted. "I know there's a whole earliness factor, but you know, it's good to make sure…" She trailed, thinking hard to make her suggestion better than it was.
Kennedy smirked at her lover's answer. "Okay Willow, we've been going out for one and a half years now; when have I ever used the words young and virile and not been talking about sex?"
Willow forced a smile to her lips and swung her head around in desperation, resting on the door to the toilets. "I'm just going to the bathroom." Willow said as she extricated her hand from Kennedy's, walking away as she said it.
"Oh, I see you can't wait to get home." Kennedy smirked some more, following Willow until she abruptly spun back around to face her.
"No!" Willow exclaimed. "I really just need to go to the bathroom. Just wait out here."
"Okay. But don't blame me if I get bored and come after you."
Willow found a forced uncomfortable laugh reach her lips as she went into the toilets. In reality she really didn't want the same as Kennedy, but knew the slayer really didn't take this into account when she got in the mood. Since Kennedy had been activated she'd realized the effects of the famous 'hungry and horny' theory first hand, except with Kennedy she didn't seem to need the slaying to set it off. It's not as if she didn't enjoy the sex, and sure they did things over than this, but Willow could never feel fulfilled.
She felt like she was back with Oz; she cared for Kennedy but, it just felt wrong, something was missing. Of course, Willow knew what was missing, and it wasn't something, it was everything. Her everything. When Oz came back, being with him, just talking with him wasn't anything like what she thought it should be, because she'd been with someone who made her feel like she was in Heaven no matter what she did with her, and no matter how great it was to talk to Oz, it just paled in comparison after experiencing spending her time with her. Kennedy felt exactly the same. She thought she might as well be back with Oz! 'Except for the whole penis thing' she thought. However, she realized it she couldn't judge every relationship she has from now on with what she felt with Tara, after all she would never get that feeling back. And if Kennedy was the closest thing, she'd just have to try hard to make the relationship work.
While she waited for Willow's return, Kennedy scanned the crowd. Partly because of her natural slayer instincts to look for nasties, mostly because she was bored. Her gaze was almost instantaneously drawn to a young couple-or what appeared to be a young couple-moving out of the station. The man had an unmistakable predatory glance in his eye you see only in insurance salesmen or vampires. 'Either way, the world will be a better place with him dead' Kennedy reasoned.
She soon found out which he was; in the alley nearby lay the girl with a broken neck. 'Damn' thought Kennedy, 'vampires have no class these days. Just a quick bite and run off before anyone has the chance to slay…wait!' Kennedy realized something; since when the vampires break necks instead of feeding? 'Either he's had a large lunch…or this is a…'
At that moment, 4 vamps came charging at her, two from behind her and one ahead. She spun around to face the two behind first, ducking under the fist of the first to reach her and plunging her stake through his chest. She spun round to give his friend a kick in the back of the head, launching him into one of the others. As they hit the ground, Kennedy fought the other, soon realizing they were far from skilled warriors as she soon had her stake firmly imbedded in his chest. Before she could celebrate, another vamp wrapped his arm around her throat and pinned her against himself as his friend advanced on them. Once he was within range, Kennedy pushed herself against her captor, launching her legs up into the face of her attacker. As she did so, she brought her right hand down behind herself in between the vamp's legs, and twisted. With an indignant yelp the vamp loosened his hold and Kennedy forced him back into the wall, with one hand still on his genitalia and the other reaching for her stake. Tightening her grip, she let the vampire's privates give out a large crunch before she put him out of his misery and turned him to dust. She launched herself into a spinning kick as she heard movement behind her and seconds later the last vamp was on his back and Kennedy had her stake through his chest.
As she dusted herself off, Kennedy heard a lone, echoed clapping from behind her. "Bravo."
She instantly recognized him as the vampire that led her out here in the first place. "I could say the same to you but I'd be lying. You really need to get yourself some female lackeys. Guys just can't seem to get the job done. Or so I find, anyway" She added as an afterthought.
"Each of us played our part perfectly. Everything is where it should be."
"Just to clarify, these piles of dust here used to be your vampy friends. To be honest if you're going to go through the trouble of leading me out here to kill me you should've got your best men on the job, assuming these aren't your best men." Kennedy smirked. This vamp didn't look tough, and it was always fun to engage them in a little friendly banter.
The vampire laughed. "Typical slayers. No matter how many of you there are you all think you're unique, that we dedicate ourselves to your destruction. Why do you think such things?"
"You tell me. You're the one leading me on to your trap."
"Oh, but a slayer was never the target." The vampire smirked. "I've never been one for brunettes. I've always been much more of a redhead guy myself." The vampire's grin widened as he watched Kennedy's eyes do likewise as she finally understood what was going on. Glancing down at his watch, his grin cracked into a quiet laugh. "And look at that. The transportation has just left. In minutes your friend will be as dead as…"
He never finished his sentence before he descended into dust, allowing Kennedy to spot Xander standing behind him holding a stake. "As dead as you." Xander quipped. When he spotted Kennedy he frowned. "Kennedy? What is it?"
Willow looked around the small van. Her fear, which was already pretty high up, increased tenfold when she noticed that the inside was laced with C4! 'C4?! What the Hell are vampires doing with C4? And why are they driving so fast? We'll be blown to smithereens!' Thought Willow.
Up until now she thought she was still pretty safe. The vampires obviously had some plan with her that doesn't entail killing, or at least right away, or they would've just killed her outright instead of kidnapping her, right? And even so, despite the fact that she was gagged, her hands and feet were tied up and in the corner the chanting vampire seemed to be doing a pretty good job of binding her powers, she was pretty sure her protection ward should keep her safe from most things. Most things excluding being the center of a C4 explosion.
There were five vampires in the back with her, including the chanter and a psychotic looking one holding the detonator. 'Not the sort of vamp I want holding my life in his hands' Willow thought. To her knowledge there were two up front, including one doing some very risky driving. All the windows were blacked out, and there was no way for Willow to escape without her magic, and that was before she noticed the high explosives. Now she knew even if she had her magics, using them here would be a death wish.
"We're being followed. Silver car. I think it's the slayer." Someone called from the front.
"Lose them!" Psycho boy snapped back.
"I can't. At the speed we're going if I go any faster we're all gonna blow!"
'Xander, stop following. Please stop following.' Thought Willow. She wished her telepathy could function.
The psycho boy thought for a moment then locked his eyes on Willow's as he spoke. "Fine. Then we all blow." He lifted the detonator up and moved his thumb over the button.
"What?" The driver called in disbelief.
Willow was panicking. Really panicking. It sounded as though her 'they don't want to kill me' theory was wrong. She was going to die. 'I am going to die' Willow thought, confused. 'Why doesn't that bother me?'
The psycho called back to the driver. "For Aurelius we live, for Aurelius we die!" He looked back at Willow squarely in the eyes. "She must die, and her body obliterated. From our ashes, he will rise again." Every eye in the back of the van was on him as he took a deep breath. "Goodbye, witch." And with that, he forced his thumb down.
'Finally!' Was all Willow could think.
"Wrong? Nothing's wrong here."
"It is. We're being pulled. You're being pulled. Away."
"Away? But I just got here."
"I can't help it. This is wrong. I feel…separate. We're being separated!"
"No! We can't! Not here! No!"
As his vampire brother fumbled with the keys to the chamber, Veron was getting increasingly impatient.
"Hurry up, Edgar!"
"I can't find the right key."
When he heard his master give out another wail in pain from the room beyond, Veron finally had enough and lifted Edgar up by the back of his neck. "I'll show you the right key." He hissed as he flung Edgar through the wooden door. Jumping through the now demolished door and past Edgar, Veron immediately rushed to his master's side.
Lucius was kneeling in the center of the room, his long dark hair hiding his now pale face and his dark robe draped around him haphazardly. He had stopped wailing but was still shaking violently.
"What is it, my Lord?"
"It is done…the Goddesses…destroyed. The power…finally…" Lucius smiled, though no one could see through his veil of black hair.
Veron, confused, hesitantly reached down to his master. "My Lord?"
Just as his hand was inches from his master's shoulder, Lucius surprised Veron by snatching his wrist and gripping it tight, not caring as Veron gasped from the pain of his cracking wrists. When Lucius raised his head up to fix his eyes to Veron's, Veron found all words escape him as he saw Lucius' eyes replaced by blackish-purplish orbs with small tentacles extended out of them whipping around them like spider legs. His maser's whole face, nay body, was covered in these purple veins that moved around like worms as he clearly saw the power pulsating slowly around his master's body. His face was looking distinctly inhumane, even worse than his game face; it was bursting with demonic presence. As was his hands, which were now much larger with claws accompanying each stick like, but surprisingly powerful, finger. Veron could only imagine that, under his clothes, the rest of Lucius' body had the same look of a demon pushing its way out. However, it was what was happening to his own body that demanded attention in Veron's mind
Edgar, who was watching from the floor, had his mindscape changed from wonderment, as he realized what had finally happened to his master, to horror as he saw Veron's veins turn purple, much like Lucius', yet much larger and much more painful looking. When Veron turned to face him, silently begging for help, Edgar could see why he was silent; his lips were swollen and looked like they were about to burst, as was his tongue. Both were purple. At thinking this, Edgar realized his blood was boiling, and in fact within seconds they did indeed burst, spilling purplish red blood on the floor surrounding him. He dropped to his knees as Lucius kept his grip on him and his skin started melting or burning away while more veins burst within him. His hair had long since fallen from his scalp, and Edgar was sure he sure his eyeballs bubbling. Soon enough, Veron was a pile of bones and burning skin, blood and organs. Edgar had often wondered if it were possible to kill a vampire in a way that didn't involve dust. Now he knew there were, he prayed his end would be a dusty one.
Lucius stood up, admiring his work, before looking down at himself and what he has become. "Finally." He crooned. "It has begun."
CHAPTER TWO NOSTALGIA
Marcus Williams took quick, bold strides down the sterile corridors. He was unnerved by the pure white, ultra-clean decor, and the overwhelming lack of smell. It wasn't that he had anything against science, it's just a stark difference from what he is used to in the old establishment. Plus of course it reminded him all too much of the US government's infamous botched project, the Initiative. He prayed to God this new generation of the watchers' council does not go the same way.
However none of this fazed him as less than a minute ago he got the call he had been prepared for all his life, and knew would come eventually for over year. Every one of his predecessors studied so that they may do what he will. He will observe the 'Benevolent half'.
While he was thrilled at the prospect of finally studying the subject, he also knew what its arrival meant. Lucius Aurelius has returned to full power, and he will undoubtedly rain chaos down upon the Earth. However, Marcus reminded himself, this is why he is doing this. Once he has studied the Benevolent half, he was certain they could find a way to bind Lucius once again.
When he opened the door, followed by his two associates, his eyes immediate fell on the figure in the room behind the two way mirror. The room it was in was decorated in the exact same way as the corridors, and to one side laid a single bed. Other than that, the room was bare. The Benevolent half was huddled in the corner.
"The Benevolent half returned to this plane exactly two minutes, eighteen seconds ago, sir." One of the men already in the room addressed Marcus, simultaneously checking his watch and handing him a report at the same time.
"Excellent." Replied Marcus, flicking through the thick report quickly. "Is the room secure?"
"Absolutely. We have security on high alert and the shamans have enforced a fool proof shield surrounding the area. It will take an advanced user to break this kind of protection and of course this entire wing is under constant surveillance 24/7." He reported back.
"A perfect star surrounded by three smaller ones was on the palm of the subject's right hand the moment of return."
"Just as I hypothesized." Marcus smirked, pleased at his own accomplishments. "Any complaints?"
"The subject seems to be experiencing back pains but not overwhelming, at least not enough to brave the rest of the room and the bed." He laughed quietly and nervously as he pointed between the figure and bed in question. "It's to be expected at this stage."
"Have you tested her magic efficiency?"
"Y-you told us not to proceed with any testing until we've consulted you." The man answered nervously.
Marcus glanced at the worker and flashed him a grin. It pleased him to know he was frightening this young man. He put his hand on the boy's shoulder and leaned in. When the boy gulped nervously, Marcus decided to put him out of his misery. "Good lad." The boy sighed in relief and Marcus brought his attention back down to the report. "I shouldn't imagine her efficiency has changed much since before the death but it's best to be sure. I doubt she could do any real damage even if she had contact with the Power half. Speaking of which, have you contacted Mr. Richmond?"
"Yes sir." Answered the worker. He thought to add the sir, just to make sure he was still in his boss's good books. "He has dispatched his team and they should be leaving for New York within the hour. To my knowledge the death happened in an explosion, most likely conceived by Aurelius' Brethren."
"Tell me as soon as the Power half is caught. With any luck we may be able to use their collective power to once again bind Lucius."
"Of course, sir."
Marcus lifted his gaze back to the figure in the room. "Start the routine tests immediately, blood samples, DNA and the like. Be prepared to start advanced testing as soon as I deliver the word from Travers, is that understood?"
"Loud and clear sir." And with that the young man discussed the procedures with the rest of the men and women who were already in the room when Marcus had arrived. With one final look at the Benevolent half, Marcus turned and left the room, followed by his associates.
"I doubt it is nothing more than a coincidence, Buffy"
"And if it isn't?"
Giles sighed. He knew the topic of the master hit a particularly sore spot with Buffy but she had a tendency to overreact. "Buffy, vampires are noble creatures and will belong to a sect throughout their eternal lives; just because the Master is dead it doesn't mean that the order of Aurelius has disbanded. I imagine they just have different agendas nowadays."
"Well he did say something about a goddess." Buffy replied.
"Can you narrow it down?"
"He didn't give a name, just said he's after her."
"Well, I'll look at my books, see what goddesses the order may have interest in but from what you tell me I don't see any reason to suspect that the master will be or is resurrected." Giles reasoned.
"Okay. Good." Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. It was short lived however when she spied the news broadcast on the television.
"Is there anything else?" Giles asked. When he got no reply he asked again, speaking louder into the phone. "Buffy? Hello? Are you still there?"
After several more seconds Buffy delivered her monotone reply. "Giles, I have to go." She immediately hung up.
"Buffy? Buffy?" Giles tried eager to find out what had unnerved her to such a degree. He hung up and immediately picked it up again, dialing frantically.
"I wouldn't bother if I were you; the slayer's got her own problems over the pond." Giles was startled away from his phone duties by the voice behind him. It held a New York accent and was owned by a weasely little man with a poor dress sense standing at the doorway to his kitchen. Giles immediately forgot about Buffy, placing the phone back in it's cradle to fully focus on this new arrival. "By the way," The man started, holding up an empty bottle of Sunny Delight, "You're out of Sunny D. Though I s'pose the big crater in California is evidence for that." He gave a small laugh before tossing the bottle in the bin.
"Who are you?" Giles asked as he rose from his chair, ready to move to attack should it come down to it.
"I don't know any Whistler."
"No, but your buddies do." Whistler explained, pointing to the phone behind Giles. "And while a slayer or a vampire with a soul may be better experienced for this type of job, you happen to be here."
"What job?" Giles asked, cautiously.
"The watchers' council. They got themselves a highly valuable new intake. I'm not talking bling-bling value either, I'm talking full blown difference between us all dying or all living, know what I mean? Least the PTB seem to think so anyway." Whistler shrugged as he lit himself a cigarette.
"Ah," Giles smirked, and readied himself for attack, "you see now I know you're lying. The watchers' council was destroyed two years ago."
"You really think they didn't go deeper than one building?" Whistler asked, truly amazed that someone formerly working for the council would think them so ill-prepared. "Here's the drill, the new president is a real bad ass, he's gonna be wanting to use their new intake to increase the council's power, rather than focusing on the problem at hand. Now the powers brought me here about five minutes ago, right by your house, filled me with this knowledge. I've worked for them for a while now but they're being real urgent about this one. Something big is going on and it has something to do with the Benevolent half."
"Benevolent half?" Giles asked curiously
"Name of the intake. Don't know what it is exactly-demon, human, new McDonald's hamburger-but it's powerful. And you and your buds need it."
"Let me get this straight. You want me to storm the council, escape with some entity which from all I know could be a demon that wants to eat my head, avoid security both physical and magical and take it to America to fight something?" Giles surmised, quite amused at it's absurdity.
"It might tricky but the powers wouldn't send me if they didn't think you could do it." Whistler shrugged. "Besides, there's a couple of slayers here in England, ask them to help out."
"This is asking an awful lot, considering you've yet to give to give me any reason why I shouldn't kill you, let alone believe you."
"Yeah, I thought as much." Whistler reached carefully into his coat pocket and passed Giles something quite large wrapped in a handkerchief. "PTB also dropped me off with that. Open it, and then decide what you're gonna do." Giles glanced down at what had been given to him. "I'll let myself out." When Giles looked back up at him, Whistler was gone.
Fixing his gaze back to what lay in his hand, Giles thought about what had just transpired. If in fact Whistler had been telling the truth, the new president of the council would be Benjamin Travers; Quentin's son, whom he or any of the ex-council members he keeps in touch with hadn't heard from since his father's death. However, Giles did not see this as a negative thing, quite the opposite. Benjamin is power thirsty and more psychotic than his father, despite them hating each other. While Quentin followed his predecessors in following tradition, it was no secret that Benjamin favors a more advanced protocol, while being ruthless and sadistic. Many feared that the council under Quentin's rule would be the last generation of the council before it moved into a dangerous new territory, not unlike the Initiative, without the ignorance of the occult, but with all the power to be doing…exactly what Whistler said. If it is true, which Giles had to admit was very likely, he wouldn't be surprised that he or certain other ex-council members wouldn't be informed. Many would think they would frown upon such things. 'Too bloody right we would' thought Giles.
Realizing the danger would be far too great if true to merely ignore the information, but it would be deadly to both him and anyone who aids him to attack the council, and the added risk of the information being false, Giles resolved to research the matter before taking action.
However, the moment he unwrapped the item concealed within the handkerchief and gazed upon it, he felt his resolve go out the window. Inside was an ornate dagger. The edges were worn, but there was no mistaking what it was. On the blade a symbol was engraved, a sun and three smaller suns surrounding it, much like the symbol of…
"Aurelius!" Giles gasped.
Without thinking Giles scrambled upstairs to his bedroom and into his wardrobe. Reaching up to the back, he found what he was looking for-a key. He returned back downstairs and into the wine cellar underneath the cottage, immediately pushing aside a couple of wine barrels on the far wall and pulling up the small, camouflaged door behind them. Having revealed a safe behind the door, he put in the combination, opened it and pulled out a large, heavy box with six locks. He hastily began unlocking each of the locks in a specific combination before opening the lid and reaching in to take out the leather-bound, blood splattered book within.
As he gazed upon the book he now held, he recalled the events that lead him to locking it up in the first place. He knew if he were a wiser man he would destroy it, but he'd been unable to. Despite his hopes, some part of him knew he would he would need it again.
Somewhat hesitantly, Giles rested his hands on the book's cover and began to chant.
"Pado, Pseudamani! Kadamando, Pseudamani! Bashicondimni, Pseudamani!"
He wretched his hands away as the book opened itself and the pages of thick volume fluttered across each other, blowing a fierce wind in Giles' face and filling the air with agonizing howls of pain and terror. Just as soon as it started, the cellar dropped once again into an eerie silence and the book left itself wide open on the page it knew Giles wanted.
The first-and most important-thing Giles noted when he gazed upon the page was the symbol dominating the page; a sun accompanied by three others, identical to that of the dagger's. However, it was the inscription that accompanied the picture that unnerved him the most.
"Goddess of the Slayer."
As Giles read over the passage in earnest his eyes widened further, and his face drained of its color. Finally, he could take no more and slammed the book shut, resulting in a shuddering echo throughout the cellar.
"Dear God." He breathed out. No matter what he did, he'd have to do it fast.
The first thing Willow became aware of was her distinct lack of senses. At this moment, nothing had taste; there was no light, no sound, no smell and no feeling. All she knew was she was in pain.
'Okay, so I guess that is feeling.' Willow corrected herself. 'Not a pleasant feeling, but a feeling.' Her spine felt like it'd been taken out, used as a skipping rope and tap danced on and then put back in by a drunken mechanic. Blindfolded. With no hands. 'At least I'm not dead.' Willow frowned at the thought, not just because her last thought was how inviting that would be, but also the fact is she really should be dead. 'Pain, no clouds, no angels, no Tara…not Heaven. Bearable pain, no sulphur, no flaming lake, no Harmony…not Hell. So where am I?'
'Huh, my senses are clearing up.' Thought Willow as she carefully opened her eyes, only to blink several times to regain her focus. She noticed Kennedy right by her bedside next to Buffy, Xander and Dawn. She was unmistakably in a hospital. 'Guess I survived then. How did I survive?'
"Willow!" Kennedy flung herself onto Willow's lips momentarily before moving her show of affection into a tight hug. "Don't you ever do that again, you hear me?"
"I'll try not to…if I survived this hug that is." Gasped Willow as she fought for air.
Realizing herself, Kennedy withdrew herself, only to be replaced by a fast moving Dawn, then Buffy, and finally Xander.
"Christ Will. I appreciate it but sometimes you can take a gag too far." Xander whispered into her ear before extricating himself from her.
"Hey, sometimes you've got to go to great lengths to beat the local funny man." Willow nodded to Xander, who rewarded her back with a grin.
"I've gotta say that must've been some major mojo you worked up in there Will." Buffy probed. Despite the fact that Willow had been clear of dark magic for two and a half years, Buffy could always feel a small piece of doubt in her mind; the event was far too traumatic to allow even a chance of reprisal.
"I don't even know how I did it." Willow admitted. "Shamans were blocking me."
"Well something sure as hell wants your ass just the way it is because you haven't got a scratch. Something other than me, that is." Kennedy added as an afterthought with a smirk.
"You serious?" Willow asked, genuinely shocked.
"How do you feel?" Dawn asked. It seemed like the first thing anyone should ask, yet no one had.
"Bit of a back ache but that's it. Guess C4 isn't what it used to be." Willow shrugged. She searched her brain for anything useful, coming up with only recollections of her short lived kidnapping. "The vamps in the van said something about wanting my body obliterated?" Her words came out more as a question as she started to doubt whether or not it is really what she heard. "And they said that they'd give their lives for Aurelius."
Buffy felt herself pale at Willow's words. "We should call Giles."
Willow frowned at her friend. "You sure he wont just overreact?"
A shotgun in the hip holster, two pistols, one in each inside trench coat pocket, a samurai sword slung in its holster across his back underneath his coat, and a dagger in each wrist holster.
Giles leaned against the wall of his living room and took a deep breath, barely believing he was about to do what he was. He was pretty sure he would die. He was certain someone would.
Gathering all his courage he walked toward his desk, where the dagger and book lie. 'This is it' He thought, as he took the dagger and, with some force behind it, pierced the skin of his palm, drawing blood onto the blade. He then held the blade over the book, as if he were about to stab its black heart, and let the blood drip onto cover, already marred by other's blood. 'Time to let Ripper come out and play.'
"Pado, Pseudamani! Kadamando, Pseudamani! Bashicondimni, Pseudamani!"
Buffy was shocked. Beyond shocked. And today was a big day for shocks. But this…wow. She must've heard wrong.
"I'm sorry, for a minute there it sounded like you said you're going to ask Willow to marry you."
"What's wrong with that?" Kennedy asked. "Is it 'cause I'm a woman?"
"No," Buffy replied quickly. "it's because you're a Kennedy. And Kennedys don't seem like the type of women to marry."
"I love her." Kennedy explained. "I didn't think I'd get married either, but when I thought Willow might be dead it scared me like hell. Like I've never been scared before. And I realized then that I wouldn't be feeling this way unless it was true love. We're meant to be together forever, I can feel it. And this is what this is about." Kennedy surmised with a smile.
Buffy forced a genuine looking smile to her face and gave Kennedy a hug. "Then I'm happy you, really." She told her. "I hope you'll make it work." But she was far from happy. Kennedy hadn't seen Willow before. Anyone who had would have seen instantly who Willow was going to be with forever. And it wasn't Kennedy. Buffy knew Willow better than anyone, anyone living at least, and she knew the only thing keeping Willow together was the thought that at the end of it all she'll be with Tara forever. Kennedy doesn't get that, Buffy realized, and her fear was that unless Tara herself walked into Willow's room, she'd never get married.
As Buffy hugged her, Kennedy gave a sigh of relief. 'It isn't that she doesn't like me', she thought to herself, 'she's just a little shocked.' Kennedy was glad. She knew they all liked Willow's ex, that Tara chick, but from the pictures she'd seen of Tara she wasn't anything special, she certainly thought herself better looking, plus she was a real slayer. She could protect Willow. Throughout the relationship Kennedy knew her biggest job was getting Willow over the blonde, but as Willow didn't talk about her much, Kennedy figured she must not have loved her as much as her friends seem to thing. Not as much as Willow's now in love with her. Kennedy figured her friends must've seen a better part of the relationship, and thought that Willow loved Tara more than she really did. It must've been pretty bad, after all Tara left Willow. 'Stupid bitch' thought Kennedy, 'Willow deserved more than that anyway. That's where I come in.' She thought happily. When she heard Buffy, she sighed contently. "We will."
Willow was already bored. She'd only been it hospital for a couple of hours but she was bored beyond reproach. The frustrating thing was she knew she was fine; she didn't even have a back ache anymore. But the hospital refused to let her go yet. 'Seems being in the center of an explosion is a pretty big thing' She thought.
"I'm going to the bathroom." Dawn announced as she left Willow alone to go into the bathroom connected to the room.
'Boredy, bored, bored, bored.' Thought Willow. She hated hospitals. Just simply because they were boring. She'd hate to work in one. 'And it all seemed like such go fun when me and Xander played doctors.' Willow rolled onto her side and closed her eyes. 'Maybe I'll have some exciting dreams' She thought hopefully.
"Miss. Willow Rosenberg?"
"Yeah?" Willow asked as she rolled over to face the English accent. The next thing she knew her vision was filled with a cloth descending over her mouth and nose, held on by the speaker. 'Chloroform!' Thought Willow as she descended into unconsciousness.
"By the order of the watchers' council of Britain…" That was all she heard, yet it was enough.
Marcus gave a wide grin as he watched the tests through the glass of the room and sipped on his coffee. The subject, whom fell unconscious about a minute ago, was restrained to an operating table while several shamans attempted to remove an essence of her power. They had tried a number of different techniques, though none of them had been successful. However, most of them were excruciating, at least for the subject, and that is what Marcus was taking his pleasure from. If he were honest, it was quite a turn on to be watching this beautiful specimen put through this torture. 'The longer it takes', he thought with a smirk, 'the better'.
All of a sudden the lights came down for a moment, before returning, dimmer than before.
"What the hell is that?" Marcus barked to the boy in the room with him, while motioning the shaman in the room on the other side to continue.
"Something has taken out the power, backup's online…but…" The man explained nervously
"But?" Marcus snapped angrily.
"Something has taken out all security." He gulped
"Still operational. No unwarranted entity can get to the subject without incredible power." He reassured.
Marcus leaned into the boy and asked slowly. "How much power?"
He was lost for words; fortunately he didn't need any. The door flung upon and there, with his trench coat twisting around him in a magical wind, stood Giles. He strode into the room as Marcus jumped for his gun on the table. Before he could reach it, however, Giles raised his hand and called. "Scoodo!" A powerful blast of red energy ripped through the air and smashed into Marcus, blasting him through the glass and into the room where the shamans looked on, unable to think what to do. The young man, without thinking, charged at Giles, but before reaching him Giles flung one of his throwing knives into his stomach, incapacitating but not killing him. As long as someone gets him to the hospital quick enough.
He reached into his pocket, taking out the Goddess of the Slayer dagger, and walked up to the now broken window. Giles plunged the dagger through the window, penetrating the shield which had now become a visible blue force field surrounding the walls of the room Marcus, the shamans and the unconscious subject were in.
"El commonderro, entrati" Giles called. The blue force field was absorbed into the dagger in a manner of seconds.
Free of any security, Giles ducked through the shattered window just as Marcus got up in front of the table where the subject lie, shouting at the four shamans in the room. "Stop him!"
The four shamans chanted as one as Giles held out the dagger he still held from the shield in front of him. As the shamans finished their chants, a black energy shot at Giles. In the same moment, Giles called out to the dagger. "Reveruscari". The black energy was absorbed through the dagger, which then shot the energy back at the shamans, each of whom failed to get back up from the blasts.
Turning his focus on the now very scared Marcus in front of him, Giles put the dagger away and pulled out the samurai sword from behind his back.
"Who are you?" Marcus breathed in a shaky voice.
"I'm Ripper." With that, Giles sliced the blade across Marcus' chest, killing him in an instant. "And I'm ba…" Giles' quip trailed off when he noticed for the first time the Benevolent half restrained on the table.
"Good Lord." He breathed out, before cupping the cheek of the unconscious subject with his hand. "Tara…"
Giles allowed a couple of tears roll from his eyes as he gazed down upon the beautiful young woman that he once knew. Closing his eyes for a moment, composing himself and gulping down a sob that threatened to emerge, Giles kept his hand where it lay and spoke out the final incantation. "Discade." And with that, they both vanished from the room.
CHAPTER THREE INTO THE FIRE
Buffy slammed the payphone down, nearly breaking it in her frustration.
"No answer again, huh?" Xander guessed.
"Where the hell is he?" Buffy asked through clenched teeth. "Just when we need him he goes and gets himself a life!" Buffy kicked the wall, careful not to exert any real strength. While this saved the wall it did nothing to exhilarate Buffy's stress, so she contented herself with sitting in the chair and digging her nails into her scalp beside the sleeping Kennedy.
Seeing the state she was in, Xander squatted in front of Buffy, meeting her eyes with his own. "Buffy, level with me here. What's going on?" He asked with genuine curiosity and more than a bit of fear.
"Xander…" Buffy began to answer but, seeing Xander's own version of Willow's resolve face, she dropped her head. "That ring we found. I recognized it. It was the same the Master's minions wore. They were the…something of Aurelius." Buffy frowned.
"Aurelius!" Xander asked, recognizing it from what Willow said. "As in the same Aurelius guy the vamps that took Will were talking about?" At Buffy's nod, he probed further. "You think this has something to do with the…" He stopped, looking around briefly before leaning closer into his friend and whispering, "The Master?"
Buffy sighed her response. "I'm not sure. Giles seems to think even though it's the same cult they're probably not working for The Master anymore, what with him being dead and all."
"That'd make more sense." Xander nodded in agreement.
Buffy, wanting to underline her own fears, shook her head. "No. I'm getting some major wiggins here. I don't know what exactly but there's definitely something not good about all this."
"I'd say that's pretty much a given." Xander replied back as he glanced around the near empty waiting room, steering the conversation back to what was unnerving him most of all. "But what would anyone want with Willow?"
"BUFFY!" Dawn shrieked as she thundered into the waiting room, waking Kennedy doing so. "They've taken Willow!"
"Willow?" Kennedy asked
"Vampires?" Buffy inquired urgently.
"Watchers' council." Dawn shook her head as she struggled to get the words out. "They just took her…taking a plane to London…I heard through the door." Before Dawn was even finished Buffy and Kennedy were down the corridor.
"Buffy!" Xander called after her. When she stopped briefly he tossed her his keys before she ran off again.
"Keep calling Giles." She called over her shoulder as her and Kennedy passed the corner and out of sight.
"Hurry up." Mr. Richmond barked at his fellow councilmen. "Just fling the bitch in the plane." He instructed them as he gripped his pistol tightly and tried to reassure himself of his own safety by looking at the armed men surrounding the plane. The phone call he'd received informing him of the death of Mr. Williams and the subsequent theft of the Benevolent half had unnerved him. And pissed him off of course.
He turned back to the small plane to see two of his associates fling the still unconscious Power half into the plane before his attention was brought back around to the sound of a car thundering toward the plane he stood in front of at 90 mph.
Looking at the men around him, who were looking at each other for some clue as to how to act, Mr. Richmond roared at them "Don't just stand there, shoot the bastards!"
At his word they started shooting at the car, which once under heavy fire skidded to a halt, allowing Buffy and Kennedy to escape it, and come charging toward the plane, not caring about the men who were still shooting at them. Mr. Richmond instantly recognized Buffy from the council profiles, and could only assume, with the way she was dodging bullets, that the other was one of the so-called 'new generation' slayers.
As they got increasingly close without so much as a scratch, Mr. Richmond backed up into the plane, screaming out angrily to his inferiors, "Why can't any of you pricks shoot properly?" In all his panic, he forgot that he himself was holding a gun, which he was now gripping so tightly his fists were white.
Once they were close enough, Buffy and Kennedy were able to incapacitate the men in a manner of a few seconds. Mr. Richmond was in deep fear, knowing he had no chance against two slayers, when he noticed the girl lying beside him, and acted out of survival instinct alone.
"SLAYERS!" He shrieked out, grabbing the attention of Buffy and Kennedy and bringing them to a halt on their rampage. When they turned to him, they quickly realized they haven't much chance; Mr. Richmond had a gun held to Willow's head. "Now that I have your attention let us negotiate."
"I don't negotiate with bastards" Kennedy spat out.
"Kennedy…" Buffy warned as she held Kennedy back by the arm.
"Well maybe it's time you should." Mr. Richmond snapped back. "You and I would both rather have the Power half here alive." He said, nodding his head to Willow. "But if you are unable to let her come with us without any hassle I am more than prepared to put a bullet through the cow's face and run our tests on her corpse!"
"Power half?" Buffy asked to herself, barely audibly.
"He's bluffing." Growled Kennedy.
"He might not be." Warned Buffy. She knew from experience how ruthless the watchers' council could be.
Darting her eyes across the floor, Kennedy reached for one of the men she had just knocked to the ground and pulled him to his feet while simultaneously pulling the knife from her boot. "How about we start negotiating now, huh? You let her go and we don't kill every man here?" She challenged, ignoring the man's struggles.
Mr. Richmond kept his face in the same uninterested expression as he turned his gun away from Willow's head and shot the man Kennedy was holding three times in the chest in quick succession. Kennedy dropped the man when he went limp. Kennedy and Buffy watched in shock as the corpse hit the ground with a thud, and slowly turned their expressions back to Mr. Richmond. "I'll tell you what. If I can take her, I'll let you kill everyone here, everyone in this city, my wife and my kids. Cause nothing stops me from doing my job at one hundred and ten percent. And if my job is to cut up little girls," He spat, glaring at Willow's still sleeping face in his hand. "I'll make sure to keep the instruments sharp and the subject screaming."
Kennedy was once again held back by Buffy when she tried to make a run up at Mr. Richmond. "Ah, ah, ah." Mr. Richmond teased, directing the gun back at Willow's head and turned to face the pilot in the front of the plane. "Harry, get going." He turned back to the slayers as the propellers on the wings started spinning. "Don't worry girls." He called over the sound of the propellers. "I'll send you a Polaroid of what's left of her." He smirked as he slid the slide door closed.
Buffy and Kennedy watched silently and stationary as the plane maneuvered to the start of the runway before going at full speed and taking off into the night sky. Each were having one lone, raw emotion bubble up inside them, waiting to burst out; Kennedy was angry, Buffy was afraid. Kennedy was the first to explode, waving her arms about and stomping in anger. "Damn it!" She exclaimed. "Damn it!"
"Kennedy…" Buffy tried to choke out to calm the girl.
"I'm gonna kill him!" Kennedy roared, ignoring Buffy. "I'm gonna find the little bastard and rip his ugly head off! I'm gonna…" Kennedy stopped, lost for words and gasping as the anger took over her body. Unable to now express herself with words, Kennedy merely gave out a loud screech, an expression of undiluted rage and frustration.
Buffy however, failed to notice as a single tear spilled from her left eye and down her cheek.
"Come on, come on…" Giles muttered into the mouthpiece.
"RING…hello?" Through the phone came a distinctively feminine, young voice, though understandably sleepy.
"Ah, Karen, there you are."
"Mr. Giles? It's 3 am." She stated obviously.
"Ah, yes, well I apologize for the time but we're in a spot of bother. I'm in town and quite…well quite out of raw power to be honest with you and we're in need of some protecting. I fear anything less than a slayer may fall short." Giles explained
"What are you doing Colchester?" Karen asked.
"It's the furthest I could teleport away from the watchers' council. Hopefully it will be enough. I'm er, I'm staying at the Swan Hotel. You should see it on your way to the Harvester."
"Wait, why can't you stay at my place?" Karen asked. "And I thought the watchers' council was gone?"
"Uh, evidently not. And with the resources they have they'll be able to find out where you live in no time at all. Add the range of my teleportation and the fact that I still keep in touch with the slayers and you're the first place they'll look." Giles explained, having thought it all through.
"Good point. I'll be there in about ten minutes." Karen reassured.
"Thank you Karen. And sorry ever so much for all this."
"Don't mention it."
When Giles heard the phone on the other end of the line hang up, he held the button on the phone for a couple of seconds before letting go. Hearing the dial tone, he began dialing again. While he listened to the ringing, praying that someone would answer, he leaned into the bedroom of the hotel room, and made out the outline of Tara sleeping soundly on the edge of the double bed, curled up in the fetal position beneath the covers. As he watched her shiver and frown in her sleep, he guessed it was a nightmare from the tests she endured at the hands of the council. Although he freed her before the worse ones could start, it sickened him to think of such vulnerable, loving woman being subjected to such things, especially after all she had been through, and everything that still can't be avoided. He made a vow to himself right there to do everything in his power to spare her anymore pain.
"Right, we check our messages first, try again for Giles then check the flight times to England." Buffy explained to Xander, Kennedy and Dawn as Dawn opened the door to their house. "We're getting the first plane over there and rescuing Willow from those…"
"PHONE!" Dawn interrupted with a yell when she heard the ringing as she opened the door, already running toward the object itself. "Hello?"
"Dawn?" Giles' voice came over like a beacon of light to Dawn.
"GILES!!!" Dawn screeched. Before she could get another word in, the phone was wrestled out of her hand by Buffy. "Hey!" She protested, going unnoticed by her sister.
"Giles? Where the hell have you been? We've been calling you for hours." Buffy snapped angrily.
"I'm not at home, Buffy." Giles explained, suddenly finding fear quell up in his stomach at the urgency of Buffy's voice. "Things have taken a dramatic turn."
"Not more dramatic than over here I'll bet." Buffy scoffed.
After taking a glance to the door to the bedroom, Giles turned his attention back to the phone. "How much are you willing to wager on that?"
Buffy ignored his comment and got straight to the crux of her concerns. "Giles, your ex-employers have taken Willow and have her on a plane to London."
"The council have Willow?" Giles wanted to double check; if it were true the situation had turned even worse.
"The same council that the First supposedly got rid of." Buffy confirmed. "They took her, a few hours after Willow was in the center of an explosion that should've left her in pieces." Buffy instantly regretted her choice of words when she felt her stomach churn and her memory take her back to what the man from the watchers' council said.
"Good Lord, is she alright?" Giles gasped.
"Not a scratch." Buffy told him. "But she said someone was blocking her powers and she had no where near enough to survive, let alone be in mint condition."
"I shouldn't imagine she'd have enough even if she weren't blocked."
"Giles, this isn't the worst thing. The council called her the Power half or something like that, and the explosion was courtesy of those harmless Aurelius vamps I mentioned earlier." Buffy informed.
Giles felt his heart sink with every word Buffy said. His instincts soon took over and he formulated a plan. "Buffy, I want you all to get to the travel agents."
"I'm on it," Buffy assured him. "but it could be days before I get to England."
"You're not going to England," Giles stressed, predicting the response he was likely to get. "You're going to Los Angeles."
"Wha-?" Buffy began to question, but was interrupted by Giles.
"Stay with Angel and contact every and any slayer you can and tell them to get there, I'll do the same. Watch your back until Willow and I get there." He avoided mentioning Tara, figuring it wasn't the time, and she had to be seen to believed. Heck, he'd seen her and he still didn't quite believe it. "I'll get her back Buffy, I swear to you. I'll call you as soon as she's safe and get on the next flight over there."
Buffy, having listened to Giles' words and sensing the fear, urgency and dread behind them realized that this is probably bigger than even she feared. "Giles, what's going on?" She asked, her voice quiet and shaking.
"Buffy, there's something I could tell you, but you need to see it." Giles breathed out. "This is bigger than one slayer, even you. We need everyone in one place. Can I trust you to do that?"
"You can." Buffy resolved, pushing her chin up proudly and promising herself to beat whatever's coming. "But as soon as you get here, no matter how ugly, you tell me everything, understood? Whatever the bad guy is, it's coming after Willow and I don't know who it'll come after next."
"Just watch them, all of them, yourself included. I'll tell you everything I know." Giles told her genuinely. Now wasn't the time to have divisions in the ranks.
"You better. Good luck." Buffy breathed out. There were very few she would trust to do such a thing. Despite having no supernatural powers, other than a bit of magic, and going behind her back over Spike and the First, Giles was still one of them.
"You too." Giles returned, before hanging up the phone.
Edgar shifted nervously, watching his master as he stared into the night sky through the windows that covered the far wall of the large chamber.
"What is it?" Lucius asked, not bothering to turn.
"Everything is in place, my Lord." Edgar gulped nervously.
"He completed the task already?" Lucius asked, a surprised smile creeping onto his face,
"Single handed." Edgar confirmed.
Lucius chuckled maniacally to himself, shaking his head as an expression of his surprise. "I have to admit I underestimated him."
"Also sir," Edgar continued cautiously. "we really should be moving if we hope to have the goddess as one again."
Lucius frowned at this, turning to face his subject for the first time. "We?" He asked. "Since when is it 'we'?"
Edgar shifted nervously. "I-I-I only meant…" he trailed off, not sure what he meant.
Lucius smiled as he began his slow walk toward the minion. "I know what you meant, my friend. You are concerned for me and my cause." Lucius stood mere inches from Edgar, piercing him with his stare. He then lifted his hand and caressed Edgar's cheek. "You are a great rarity, Edgar." Lucius complimented, using his minion's name for the first time. "Such determination for our noble cause. It comes only in a great while."
Edgar sighed, feeling honored by having been given such compliments and intimacy from Aurelius himself. And best yet, the Lord had used his name. Such was a feat not to be taken lightly.
Lucius sighed before continuing onto what he was getting at, "I'm going to have to find someone with such qualities in the true breeds. It will be difficult to replace you."
It took a second for it to sink in, and when it did, Edgar felt it needed confirming. "My Lo-" He suddenly felt his words cut off when Lucius' caresses turned into a vice grip on his jaw, eliciting crackling sounds around his fingers and sparks of intense pain throughout Edgar's face.
Taking a look around the walls of his chamber, Lucius began again. "I've noticed you've taken a fancy to my collection of blades." With this, every axe, knife, dagger, throwing star and sword floated from their place on the walls, each one individually spinning, doing a dance of its own accord in mid air. "Why don't I leave you two alone and you can get better acquainted."
He started walking toward the double doors in front of him, casually tossing Edgar over his shoulder and into the middle of the room as he went. Once he had reached the doors he pulled them open and stepped out, turning to face the room once more and leaning one arm on each door.
Edgar knelt in the center of the room, nursing his jaw in one hand and holding his other out as plea to Lucius while glancing around at the blades around him which continued dancing in their place, anxious to strike. He was shaking violently in fear, which was a large rarity in vampires. "Please…my Lord…"
"Goodbye, Edgar." Lucius pushed the doors closed, relishing Edgar's wide eyed fear. Once the doors were closed he leaned his head against them, and grinned wider as heard shrieking and shouting, followed by the unmistakable sound (to him, anyway) of a blade tearing through flesh, and blood gushing from wounds, followed by more shrieks-only now they were ten times louder. He thanked the beings in Hell for his hearing, which was far superior even for than a fellow vampire. 'However,' he reminded himself, 'you're not just a vampire; not anymore. You are what you should be. You are once again what you were.'
With a smile at the continuing sounds of horror behind him, Lucius strolled/skipped down the hallway, spotting the pale faced (even more than usual) vampire who guarded the chamber on his way. "Send a cleaner in there in about ten minutes, would you?" He told more than asked with a wide grin. The vampire could only nod in response.
Karen stared at the sleeping figure in the bed for a few seconds, before turning to the sound of the bathroom door opening and Giles rushing out busily. "Mr. Giles, hey." She alerted him.
Giles jumped slightly before glancing back at the front door while he slipped on his jacket. "I've really got to get into the habit of locking doors."
"So," Karen begun, glancing back at the sleeping blonde. "She's cute. A little young for you though, isn't she?"
"Hmm?" Giles regarded the petite brunette before catching her drift. "Oh, no. Believe me, I'm most definitely not her type." Giles explained "I also plan to keep my skin." He muttered as an afterthought.
"What?" Karen asked, not quite understanding what he was talking about or why they were here. 'And did I hear something about skin?' she asked herself. "Who-or what-is she?" She asked him seriously.
Glancing over her shoulder, Giles suddenly realized how much he wished he knew. "I don't know." He muttered, before staring into her eyes a seeing utter confusion there. "But I'm almost certain she's not a danger."
"Almost certain?" Karen asked, not liking the first half of that phrase.
"Karen, I don't have time to get into this now," Giles explained. "But she is vulnerable, and people are out to hurt her. Now you must promise me that while I'm gone you will not let any harm come to her. If anyone comes by run, fight if you have to but get away. Don't let them take her." Giles underlined.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Karen breathed out, holding her hands out and trying to figure what on earth the girl could be to worry Mr. Giles so much. "Where will you be?"
"I shan't be long." Giles assured her as he moved toward the front door. "Hopefully little more than a few hours." With a glance back at the bedroom door, Giles added, "If she wakes up, she'll probably be wondering where she is. Get her anything she needs, and tell her Mr. Giles will explain everything when he returns. That's all." Giles underlined, affectionately remembering Tara's mannerism of being the only Scooby member to call him 'Mr. Giles'
Somewhat hesitantly, Karen agreed. "Okay; no questions, right?" She guessed.
With a small smile, Giles nodded to his guest. "Precisely." He picked up two pistols, pocketing them and then lifted a bag onto the table, checking its contents. 'I'm getting a strange sense of kamikaze-like deja-vu.' Giles thought.
Not being able to resist, Karen tiptoed closer to Giles to peer into the bag, shocked to find it housed an array of knives, a sword and even a double edged axe. 'Whatever this is, it's big' Karen realized. "Mr. Giles?" She begun, shifting her gaze up to look him in the eye. "Are you sure you don't want me to do this while you look after the girl?"
Zipping and lifting up the bag onto his shoulder, Giles answered her. "I'm afraid I must be the one to do this, I made a promise." Giles opened the door.
Stopping to look back at her, Giles thought about his answer for a second before settling. "My daughter."
Karen frowned slightly, finding it hard to believe that she hadn't known Mr. Giles had a daughter. Deciding now was not the time to quiz him on the matter, she broke that frown into a soft smile, which was returned by Giles. "Good luck." She whispered softly before turning away, finding the eye contact to intense.
"You too." Giles whispered by, repeating his earlier wording from his conversation with Buffy.
When Karen turned back to face Giles, he was already gone, the door closed behind him.
"We're what?!" Kennedy asked, not quite believing her ears.
"We're going to LA." Buffy explained to the group. Dawn sat on the sofa while Kennedy and Xander stood side by side beside it, with Buffy opposite them. "I've booked all of us a flight for tomorrow. Rona too."
"Buffy, they took Willow to London." Dawn reminded her sister, thinking she may have momentarily forgotten.
"And besides, why the hell would we leave New York slayer-less?" Kennedy asked, once again questioning Buffy's decision making skills.
"I'm following Giles' orders. He told us to head to LA and he'll save Willow and join us ASAP." Buffy explained
"He's gonna rescue Will?" Kennedy scoffed. "Alone?"
Xander decided it was time to speak up, worried about the welfare of his two friends. "Buff, I have to agree it'll be dangerous for Giles. If two slayers cant get Will back how well can a middle aged, stuffy ex-librarian do?"
"Well, he fought black-magic Willow." Buffy countered. "Besides, we can't get there before they do and by then it'll be too late anyway. Giles told us to just head to LA and round up all the slayers."
The rest of the group were stunned by this final sentence, the same question running through everyone's minds; 'What would they need all the slayers for?'
Xander felt the sentence needed confirming. "All the slayers?"
"What for?" Kennedy asked, her brow furrowed.
"I…" Buffy began, but lost the words quickly as she realized she didn't know herself.
"Buffy?" Dawn asked, trying to offer support to her sister, while begging for the same in return.
Grabbing eye contact with her sister, trying to give her a reassured glance, Buffy started again. "I'm not sure. But Gilles is freaked and he's not the only one. There are major players here."
"Order of Aurelius," Xander began the list, receiving a gaze from Buffy.
"The watchers' council," Dawn continued, staring into space.
"Willow." Kennedy added pointedly, scowling as she did so.
Buffy noticed Kennedy's stare and faced her head on. "You're right." She admitted, before breaking off contact and glancing between all three of them. "And they're just the ones we know of. Add the fact that the vamps said something about a Goddess…"
"And we're talking something biblical." Xander finished off.
"Something biblically bad." Buffy corrected. "But Giles seems to be the plan guy, which is miles ahead of us, plus I'm not exactly hating the idea of backup."
The other three looked at each other. Xander and Dawn had already made up their minds, and Kennedy finally caved. "Fine." She threw her arms in the air. "But tell your watcher, I want that bastard on the plane to suffer."
"Oh, sweet Jesus…"
Giles had been witness to many stomach churning in his time, but had seldom seen a sight of such horror in all his years on this earth.
The abandoned runway-which Giles correctly guessed the new council were also using-had been the scene of a massacre. The plane was now an unrecognizable pile of flaming wreckage lighting the night sky, surrounded by smaller but no less fierce fires, which Giles could only guess were from the plane's fuel. At the time when the plane landed, there must've been around ten councilmen-or women, he couldn't tell-on the runway, and probably no civilians, as per usual for council business. The runway was covered in blood, and each…corpse (for lack of a better word) had been killed in a different way. One was still attached to his intestines, which lead about ten meters away into the burning wreckage. Another had a propeller blade through his face, and was hanging from it, while the flames lapped at his skin. Many were just burnt. Most had some kind of limb, organ or a large section of skin removed. For a moment he thought he saw one in the flames move. His hopeful brain told him he was being paranoid. His rational brain said otherwise.
He held a handkerchief to his mouth in an attempt to stop his gagging. The worse fact, however, was that he would have to inspect each of them to ensure that none of them were Willow.
"WILLOW." Giles screamed at the top of his lungs, praying she answered. He didn't know which thought unsettled him more; the idea that whatever had did this (which was more than likely after Willow) had found her and killed her, or that it found her and took her. But he knew if he were to find Willow's body in the same state as the ones around him, he wouldn't be able to keep the vomit from escaping his stomach. While the sight before him was disgusting, to Giles they were still just faceless corpses (in some cases literally), but seeing a loved one like that makes it all the more real. Especially Willow, who, like Buffy and the others, he thinks of much like a child of his.
"WILLOW." He tired again, desperate for results. When all he got back was silence, he began moving through the carnage, scanning the bodies but not dwelling on them to avoid further nausea. With each step he took things seemed to get worse, until he stumbled upon a note on the floor written in blood and…parts.
Giles directed his attention to the runway tower in front of him and sprinted up towards it. Once he reached the door, he pulled the axe from his bag and dropped the rest just in case whatever did this was up there. He favored it over the pistols, thinking this to be a monster of such carnage that bullets would prove ineffective. Though he still kept them on him, should he be mistaken.
As Giles ascended the stairs of the tower in almost complete darkness he found himself almost stumbling twice over bodies left on the staircase, and thanked God he couldn't see the corpses themselves, especially when the step over the second one gave out a squishing noise. Upon reaching the door he gripped the axe tighter, kicked the door open, and gasped at what he saw before him…
CHAPTER FOUR HEAVEN AND HELL
Upon reaching the door he gripped the axe tighter, kicked the door open, and gasped at what he saw before him…
He had prepared himself for anything; mutated corpses filling the room, a hideous creature from the pits of Hell bearing down on him, even Willow's corpse-and for a second that's what he thought he had-but what he did see shocked him.
Willow. In the center of the room. With the unmistakable rise and fall of her chest that came only with the living.
"Willow…" He breathed out, letting his defenses drop as he rushed over to her and checked she was okay. He became fearful upon noticing her unconsciousness, but once he found no marks, resolved that it must've been a result of the watchers' councils' kidnapping technique; they'd need her under heavy inoculations to prevent her magic use.
With reassurance that she was fine, he picked her up in both arms, her light frame making her easy to carry, only to almost drop her again when he turned around.
Nailed to the right of the door was the corpse of slim man, with a scalp of gray, thinning hair. 'Compared to the mutilations everywhere else, this man, this…Mr. Richmond, has been given an extremely merciful death' thought Giles, as he glanced at the man's name tag. As a matter of fact, once you look at the corpse more closely you cannot even notice his cause of death-despite being nailed to the wall with his arms spread, an homage to Jesus Christ's crucifixion-the fact that very little blood poured from where the nails pierced his skin suggested that when the body was put up, it was already dead, and drained of blood. This point struck a particular cord with Giles, being used to such deaths. Setting Willow gently to the ground once again, he peered closer to the body, more specifically his neck, and what he saw he both expected and least expected. Two deep, punctury scratches, as his unconscious companion would put it. A vampire. What's more, a single vampire. These were the only bites on the body. While the lack of blood meant this made sense, what about the carnage outside? That was almost certainly not brought on by vampires, let alone a single vampire. These were not ordinary victims, after all, this was the watchers' council, and almost anything would have no chance. But outside, that was brought on by something with relevant ease, and there was no evidence of a vamp attack. So why this one? Only one idea sprung to Giles' mind as to why this victim was so 'lucky', yet this too made little sense. However, Giles did not like to risk chances, and so, gripping his axe harder, gave a powerful, horizontal swing right into-and through-Mr. Richmond's neck, and consequently into the wall behind, allowing the head to bounce about the floor, coming to a stop inches away from Willow's own face. Much like a kid would kick a coke can in the street, Giles kicked the head away from his friend's face and lifted her back into his arms, carrying her out of the room and out of the building, being cautious of the bodies still littering the stairs.
As he carried Willow back across the runway, Giles decided to take extra care for Willow's well being, fearful that whatever did this would still be about, and decided to go around the carnage rather than opting for the shorter route through it like he had earlier. After all, he now had no reason to inspect the destruction; he had Willow, and the identity of the beast that did this was definitely inconclusive. Also, it was possible for Willow to wake up at any moment, and he didn't want this to be the first thing she saw. She had been through more than her fair share in just 24 hours. From what Buffy had told him of her resurrection, the scene she was confronted with was not entirely different than this one, and she had thought she was in Hell. He didn't wish that on anyone, certainly not Buffy nor Willow.
It took twice as long as it could've, but Giles was still satisfied when he reached his car. After carefully lying Willow across the backseat, Giles glanced back at the sickening Hell before him. 'Hell. That's precisely the word for it.' Thought Giles. He glanced at the night sky, which in a couple of hours would finally become sunrise, and was amazed at it's beauty. Far away from any artificial light, he was given an clear view of the stars, and it looked well and truly magnificent. It gave Giles hope after what he'd just witnessed, reminding him that such sights still existed in this world. Giles saw a certain grotesque twist to this sickening sight being beneath such beauty, much like Heaven and Hell, two great opposites, each tainting the other, and between them lying the Earth; a world controlled by a species of equal parts good and evil. But as he thought back to Tara, he realized how wrong this was; she had absolutely no evil in her. However, the world is made up of balances; for every plus there is a minus, and he shuddered to think where all the evil that abandoned Tara went. 'No doubt, this is the result of it' Thought Giles. Deciding he'd had enough of the runway, Giles got into the car and drove away.
On the way, he thought about the success of his mission. On the one hand, he had indeed been successful; he'd saved Willow, and he hadn't even had to kill (unless counting what may have been a yet to awakened vampire). On the other hand, he'd been too late, after all he'd have never done such damage, and by being late he'd allowed many to die in the worst way imaginable, and enemy or not they are still human. Worse than that though, whatever had done this obviously had an interest in Willow, but for whatever reason had left her alive for someone to find, and there was every reason to believe that Giles himself was that someone.
'Why do I suddenly feel like chicken being led to KFC?'
"Don't you wankers ever quit?!"
Spike's question was answered when yet another black van came skidding across in front of him. It was Spike's vampire reflexes that saved him, his instincts kicking in in a split second and making him steer his motorbike past the van. As it happened, one of his pursuers had less luck.
"Serves you right, git." Spike quipped, glancing back. However, he still had three motorbikes bearing down after him, and they were much faster than him. 'What do these bastards want?' thought Spike. Who they were was easy enough to guess. Wolfram and Hart. They'd pissed him off on more than one occasion since coming to LA, but they'd never gone through this much trouble to take care of him. They were after him. Now though was not the time to think of what made them decide to go after him in such force, and Spike was smart enough to realize that. He needed to lose them. He made a quick turn into an alleyway, and wasn't surprised when they followed. He was hoping there might be a few vamps there wanting a late night snack that the bikers could run into, but alas he found only rubbish. And a metal pole sticking out of a dumpster. 'Could be useful'. As he passed, he snatched it up and checked his mirror; the one on his left was right behind him. He left the alley, driving straight across the street into the alley opposite, and moved right in front of the bike behind him-literally inches apart. With all his strength, Spike slammed the pole into the wall on his left, embedding it into the wall and consequently pushing himself to the right. The bike behind him, however, hadn't time to move, and crashed straight into the pole, knocking the rider clean off his bike. Having moved to the right, Spike realized two things. First, that the next bike was little more than a few meters directly behind him. Secondly, he was nearing the end of the alley, which if he wasn't mistaken also meant he was nearing a brick wall. Something has to be done-QUICK! Noticing the raised fire escape ladder up ahead, Spike readied himself before making a well timed jump, resulting in him hanging off the bottom bar and his legs dangling down-right in front of the rider's face. The rider smacked into Spike's boots and, despite staying on his bike initially, soon skidded the bike on it's side and rolled off it. The force of the impact made Spike's entire body swing forward, and Spike himself pull on the bars he was holding. Spike was shocked to feel himself falling, and soon realized he was pulling the ladder down. When he reached the ground, Spike could hear the roar of the last bike behind him all too well. When he turned around, he saw the last bike less than a second away from smashing into himself and the ladder. With his vampire strength and reactions he jumped clean over the biker as he smashed into the ladder, leaving him and his bike in a crumpled heap on the floor and Spike the only one left on his feet.
Realizing that it had been about ten seconds since he incapacitated the first of the riders in the alley, and they could get up and cause him grief at any moment, Spike grudgingly came to the quick decision to ask for Angel's help. Him and his team had more experience with Wolfram and Hart than Spike did; as a matter of fact up until recently they even worked for the law firm, and hence may have insider knowledge. Besides, Angel investigations' estrangement from Wolfram and Hart led the firm back to it's trying to kill Angel ways, which meant any ways they could attack the law firm would be just as useful to them as him.
Resolved, Spike ran several feet to where his bike had fallen and turned it around, facing back the way he came. He thought about stealing one of the Wolfram and Hart bikes, but figured it was more than likely that they would have a tracer or something, and he did not like tracers. Besides, he liked his bike. Sure, it wasn't as fast as others, but it gave him a certain feeling, plus he'd been through a lot with it, despite it not being the bike he'd had in Sunnydale. That bike, the one he'd stolen from the hellions the night Buffy was resurrected, was later destroyed, along with Sunnydale and Spike himself. However, when Spike realized this following his own resurrection-the details of which were still as of yet unknown-he hunted down the hellion group, finding them not far from San Francisco, and stole yet another of their bikes. He just liked them.
Racing back across the near deserted night streets of LA, Spike's mind once again were brought back to his resurrection, and those first three months…
Los Angeles, 2003
The last three months were eerily similar to the few hours he'd spent in the Initiative. Although at least that'd been easy enough to escape from, and he weren't shackled to a wall. Plus they'd never gone so far as to actually do anything to him. He couldn't say the same for where he was now. They'd put him through hell, literally torturing him. They made what they wanted perfectly clear-the amulet. They said they expected him to have it on him when he came back, but clearly he hadn't. It was when they had said this that Spike became enraged. 'When I came back' he thought. 'They knew the person who wore the amulet would come back. Yet the bastards wont tell me why!' Spike made several attempts to find out, and soon struck up a deal: Spike tells them precisely what happened when the Hellmouth was destroyed, and they tell him why he's back.
Once Spike had told them what happened, which was the truth, they told him what he wanted to know. They told him that the amulet was prophesized to be the weapon pivotal to besting the First and closing the Hellmouth. However, once it had fulfilled this prophecy, it would have a far greater purpose; one of three ingredients in a ritual for harnessing the power of the First. So once the amulet was used, the wearer would reappear with it, so it may be used this way. However, as it would seem, it hadn't quite worked out that way, and they wanted to find out where the amulet was.
This was all after less than a month, and when they still couldn't find the amulet, they decided the vampire must still either be lying or have it somewhere on himself. So they'd tortured him, forced him to tell them again and again what happened and searched him everywhere. 'And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere' thought Spike with a shudder. They'd looked up every opening on his body, and where there wasn't one, they created one. And still they found nothing.
It had now been three months, and this was still all Spike knew. That, and that he was in a lot of pain. He still didn't know where he was, who had him, or how Buffy and Sunnydale was.
He raised his head at the sound of the door opening, and saw five suits make their way into the room, lined up in a row. The one in the middle was the one who actually spoke.
"Hello, Spike." He began. "I trust your well today?"
Spike smirked as best as he could. However much pain he may be in, it was impossible for him to ignore the chance to be sarcastic. "I'm just peachy. Brought some new curtains for me cell. Thinking of maybe having a window put in, you know?"
The man gave a small smile before proceeding. "I'll see what I can do. In the meantime, seeing as you are having a good day, maybe you'll be more cooperative today."
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Spike returned, "But my cooperative nature tends to get shadowed but my ripping off your bollocks side."
This wiped the smile off the man's face. Unfortunately for Spike, he intended to do the same to him. Pulling out a long electrode he had hidden behind him, he then forced it into Spike, pushing it against the vampire for a full five seconds, watching him flail about in agony at the shock of the extremely high voltage before pulling away. With a nod to his associates, he watched as the now near unconscious Spike was carried out the door, and followed them out.
Spike watched with a hazy vision as he was dragged along the corridor. This corridor was also like the Initiative; it was mostly white, and by the lack of windows he would guess also underground. A dark figure was moving toward them, not caring for the stark contrast they were creating with their surroundings. As Spike focused more on the figure he felt something-power-magic power, to be precise. And what's more…it wasn't human…
The man who was leading Spike also noticed the figure moving toward them, but was not so perceptive as his vampire hostage. However, the fact that this figure had a black cloak on did more than enough to alert him of the figure's presence. "Excuse me," he began once he reached the figure, "but do you have the authorization to…"
The man's question was cut short when the figure lifted it's head to reveal scaly skin and pitch black eyes. Before he could reach for his electrode the man was flung back several feet by the demon's telekinesis, along with everyone holding Spike. Without the help, Spike wobbled, barely managing to keep himself upright.
"Bind!" The creature hissed, binding Spike into a crouching position. He leaned into the vampire, not noticing the guards behind him until he heard the gun shots. One of the bullets shot through the creature's torso, not killing him, but diverting his attention and breaking the binding on Spike.
Seeing his chance for escape, Spike got his second wind and darted away from the creature and the security guards. The pain was unbearable, his vision was still misty and everywhere he went there were more guards waiting to take him down, but he knew he was making progress by the number of stairs he was climbing. Once at the top of the fifth set of stairs, Spike realized that his surroundings no longer resembled a science lab, rather an office building!
Nonetheless, Spike was pleased with the change of scenery, as offices meant windows. Opening another door he was presented with a huge room, which was obviously the lobby. Alarms were sounding all around him, but the guards seemed to have their own worries-namely the battle going on in this room!
There were a few demons and magic users, but this was mostly a battle of guns, and Spike had know idea who to route for, or even who was on what team. As a matter of fact, he didn't know who the teams were! He read off the large sign over reception. 'Wolfram and Hart'. He'd heard of them from other demons-a law firm for the forces of darkness. Spike had no idea what they wanted him for, but when several of the fighters in the lobby, upon noticing Spike, tried to grab him, he concluded that they weren't the only ones.
Spike made a dash toward the entrance-it may be daytime, but there was still a hell of a lot more chance of surviving out there than in here. Dodging fists, feet, bullets and bolts of magic weren't easy, but eventually he came crashing through the doors into the outside world, and kept on going as fast as his legs would take him until he reached the shade of an alleyway. Relieved to see a sewer opening, Spike jumped in and kept running as far away as he could.
Karen clutched the kitchen knife hard. She didn't know what all this is about, but she knew that since finding out she'd been activated as a slayer via some kind of spell, and that demons, vampires and gods are real two years ago, she'd been put through a roller coaster ride. But Mr. Giles was the man she could always rely on, and if he told her to protect this girl, she'd do it.
However, her virtue didn't help her better judgment, and she was still juggling whether or not to answer the banging at the door. On the one hand, if it were Giles, surely he'd tell her, and it could be the watchers or someone else. However, maybe it was Giles and he was hiding from the watchers. Deciding to go with her gut, she swung the door open and swung the knife up, ready to attack…
"Karen." Giles breathed out. "Dear God, I thought the council had already found us." He said as he carried Willow into the hotel room and into the bedroom that Tara wasn't occupying.
Karen closed the door, talking as she followed him into the bedroom. "Well you could've told me, or used your own keys. I thought it was a demon or the council or something."
"I couldn't have opened the door while holding Willow and shouting through a door in a hotel is frowned upon at four-thirty in the morning." Giles explained as he set Willow down on the bed. "There we go." He spoke softly to the redhead. "Oh, and demons rarely knock. Nor the council, for that matter."
"Duly noted." Karen nodded, her attention on the sleeping redhead on the bed. "So who is this Willow?" Karen questioned, frowning. "And is she gonna be okay?"
"Yes. And I believe so."
"Is there a reason we're not putting her with the blonde girl?" Karen questioned, noticing as Giles walked in his avoidance of the room.
"Tara." He corrected, sighing. "Did she wake up?"
"No." Karen shook her head, figuring he was avoiding her question. "So is there a reason?" She pushed. "Are they both unconscious for the same reasons."
"Uh, no." Giles cleared his throat, his eyes still firmly on the rise and fall of Willow's breathing "Probably not, anyway. They were both kidnapped-in a sense-by the council, but I believe Tara fell unconscious due to a type of attempted magical extraction, while with Willow they were just keeping her from fighting back." Giles explained, trying to avoid the other question, realizing it will bring about more questions. "And yes, there is an extremely good reason why I'd rather they not see each other until I have an explanation."
Karen frowned again, her patience finally ending. "For what? Giles, what is going on here?"
Giles turned to face Karen, putting his hand on her shoulder. "You should get some sleep. I will stand guard."
Looking him straight in the eye, Karen shrugged off his hand, wanting an explanation. "No you don't, I'm not sleeping at all until I get an explanation. Besides, with all you've been through it sounds like you need to sleep more than me."
"Believe me, after what I've seen it'll be a long while before I can sleep soundly again." He explained, rubbing his eyes and realizing how right he was. When his sight was clear again, he saw Karen staring back at him and realized she both demanded and deserved an explanation. "Put on the kettle while I phone Buffy."
Buffy breathed a sigh of relief, which was followed by three more by the audience around her when she made an OK with her hand. "Thank God. How is she?"
"She's been unconscious since I found her but other than that I count ten fingers and toes, a head, four limbs, a torso and no marks. I presume her state was just precautions from the council against her attacking." Giles reassured.
"Makes sense." Buffy nodded, despite the action's futility. "How about you?"
Giles cleared his throat before going on. "I'm fine. I…I didn't even have to attack."
"What?" Buffy frowned. "Then what'd you do? Walk up to them with a convincing looking moustache and top hat and ask if you could borrow their redhead?"
"I arrived and…" Giles hesitated before continuing. "It was like Hell Buffy. Willow was the only one to survive. The rest…they were ripped apart."
"You said Willow wasn't even hurt." Buffy demanded, unable to keep an accusing tone from her voice, and bringing the audience back to close attention.
"She is, Buffy." Giles assured as quickly as his mouth would allow. "That's the thing, whatever attacked the council, they left Willow well alone. As a matter of fact, they left her safe from any danger while they finished up their…grotesque art."
"Why?" Buffy asked. "Giles, what did this?"
"I-I honestly don't know, Buffy."
"Giles, I should get down there." Buffy reasoned. "Protect you until you can get a plane to LA."
"Buffy," Giles sighed. "I have a plane booked for the day after tomorrow. I'd be gone before you get here. Plus, there are slayers here in England. One right here with me."
"You sure?" Buffy checked.
"Just stick to what I said. Get to LA and gather all slayers that you can." Giles instructed.
Sensing the undertone, Buffy probed hesitantly. "Giles, what's happened?" When Giles didn't answer, Buffy found her patience wane. "Giles, tell me."
Giles sighed, debating what to do. On the one hand, Buffy would almost certainly find out sooner or later. However, it wouldn't be fair to alert everyone without first consulting Willow and, of course, Tara herself. "I'm sorry Buffy, it wouldn't be fair to tell you. Not yet."
"Fair to who?" Buffy demanded.
"Buffy, please?" Giles pleaded. "I promise you, you're not being kept in the dark anymore than anyone else. I'm the only one who knows about it, and I believe it'd be best if it stay that way until we reach LA." Giles explained. "Please, just stay patient."
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK
Wesley shuffled in nervously, pleased to see that Angel was engaged in his sketch of a demon he encountered earlier in the night.
"Er…how is that sketch coming along?" He asked, skirting around the real issue.
"I swear, some demons have faces that cannot be drawn." Angel frowned in frustration.
"Well, I haven't found anything based on your descriptions…are you sure he was just targeting you. No civilians?" Wesley asked.
"You didn't come in here to tell me that, did you Wes?" Angel asked, not looking up from his drawing.
"Sorry?" Wesley asked oh-so-innocently.
"What is it, Wes?" Angel asked, having had enough of playing Wesley's game.
"We just received a phone call." Wesley explained hesitantly. Deciding it was best to get it done with, he jumped in. "Buffy."
Finally Angel stopped to look up. "Is she okay?" He asked, a tint of fear creeping into his voice.
"She's coming to LA. I said she could stay here." Wesley explained.
Angel's eyes widened. Whatever it was, he was fairly certain the visit wouldn't just be social. "Why?"
Wesley opened his mouth to speak, but no words were given time to escape his throat before Cordelia burst into the room urgently. "You guys gotta come out here." With that she left, with Wesley and Angel eagerly behind her.
Angel knew what it was before he saw it. The second he was out of the office he could smell the cigarette smoke. Sure enough, leaned against the pillar on the staircase smoking stood Spike. Gunn, holding an axe in his hand, Fred, with a crossbow, and Lorne, behind the counter, were already there.
"Howdy, gel-head." Spike greeted him in his own way. "You may want to advise your employees on their people skills." Spike mentioned, nodding over to Fred and Gunn.
"Last I checked, you ain't people." Gunn challenged.
"What is it this time, Spike? We're busy?" Angel demanded.
"Well you can watch teletubbies later. I'm here for business." Spike explained. "Those lawyer buggers. Sent a bunch of assassins after me, and I just escaped. How do you explain that?"
"They were unlucky?" Cordelia quipped.
Ignoring Cordelia's comment, Spike went on. "They've never packed so much heat on me before. Plus the word is there are some very unpleasant nasties on their way. I'd say team Angel's got itself a spot of bother."
"Erm." Lorne spoke up, grabbing attention away from Spike. "I hate to side Mr. Idol, but he's not the only one who's been hearing things. Apparently something's coming that's gonna make Cher look like a beauty queen."
Spike frowned at the demon's analogy for a moment before continuing. "Greenie's hit it on the nail. Add to that the fact that Wolfram and Hart aside, the world seems to want to cut me up and see what they can find this week."
"Can't say I blame them." Fred mused, gaining a glare from Spike.
"Who?" Wesley inquired.
"Well," Spike thought, thinking of the one giving him the most grief. "among others, a tough old demon blighter with a fancy for sharp edges."
This peaked Angel's interest. "What'd it look like?"
Before Spike answered, a roar erupted from the balcony above them. Standing there was a seven foot, blue demon with large fangs going over it's mouth and long, dark hair going halfway down it's body. It wore brown fighting garb, covering the demon's strong body. In the last week it'd already attacked Spike and Angel.
"A lot like that." Spike answered.
The demon jumped from the balcony to the ground floor and pulled out two swords from behind him. Gunn was the first to respond, charging at the demon with his axe. The demon blocked Gunn's attack with one sword, knocking the blade to the side, and then kicking Gunn back towards Fred. Having just dodged Gunn's flying body, Fred shot the crossbow at the demon, but it the demon didn't even notice, it's attention resting firmly on Spike. Spike had pulled out a broad sword from his jacket and jumped into battle with the demon, faring much better than Gunn, but still not exactly besting the demon.
Gunn scrambled to the weapons cabinet and threw a sword to Angel. "Angel, here."
Angel caught the sword, giving it a quick spin before joining Spike. Despite being outnumbered, demon was holding it's own tremendously well, going for decapitating blows to Spike and Angel whenever it could. Wesley, having made his way to the weapons cabinet, picked up a few throwing knives and threw the first at the demon, embedding it in the demon's left eye, sending it stumbling backwards with a shriek.
Once the demon had recovered, the first thing it saw was Spike's sword going straight for his neck. The demon, sensing victory was out of reach for today, ducked under the blade and ran toward Fred, it's swords drawn. Just before it reached Fred, who had her eyes wide with fear, it jumped over her and onto the balcony above, running along it and out of sight.
"You poof!" Spike exclaimed in frustration.
Gunn rushed up to Fred's side, worried about his former girlfriend. "You alright."
"Yeah." Fred breathed out. If truth be told, she was completely shaken.
"It completely ignored her." Wesley observed. "It wasn't trying to kill."
"Wasn't trying to kill?" Spike scoffed. "I didn't see you going one on one with it."
"Spike's right, he was going for decapitating blows." Angel had to agree, having found the fight tougher than with your average demon.
"That was with you two. He could've killed Gunn but he just kicked him away." Lorne added, having found it strange the moment he saw it.
"So this guy's got a vendetta against these two?" Gunn asked. "Something they did back in their massacre days?"
"Hey!" Spike objected. "First time I saw that blighter was when he went after me a night or two ago."
"Maybe you lost some of your memory." Fred suggested. "Since your…you know." She ended smiling nervously.
"Well I don't recognize him either." Angel added.
"It's more likely we're dealing with a demon with something against vampires in general." Wesley suggested, having seen it before. Demons aren't known for liking vampires.
"Good for him." Gunn shrugged.
"Hey!" Angel and Spike objected simultaneously.
The demon continued down the dark alley way, nursing it's bloodied eye. As it got further, it heard the unmistakable sucking of vampires feeding. As it carried on it found the culprit; a vampire feeding on a young girl. Hearing the demon's footsteps, the young vamp expected another meal. However he's face paled (or would've months before) as he took in the large demon, who he wouldn't have a chance against. The demon leaned in closer to the vampire, frowning, and sniffed the trembling vampire. Uninterested in what it smelt, the demon carried on past the vampire. Having escaped a confrontation, the vampire abandoned the half dead girl and scrambled away in the opposite direction.
Upon waking up, Willow quickly realized that she didn't have a clue where she was. That, and that her head throbbed. 'I'm getting sick and tired of being kidnapped. I'm catching up with Dawn' Willow thought. She carefully pulled herself off the bed, careful to avoid adding to her headache. Noticing some light coming from the window, she shuffled to it and pulled the curtain away, wincing at the sunlight flooding through her dilated pupils. Squinting, she realized that the sun had just started rising in front of her window. What's more, the roads beneath the window didn't look normal. They were narrower. They looked like the ones she saw when in…
"England!" Willow gasped, her eyes wide. As she thought back to the hospital, she remembered what the man said; 'By the order of the watchers' council of Britain…WATCHERS' COUNCIL?! What do they want with me? And this doesn't look like a very secure prison' Willow thought.
Seeing the closed door, Willow wondered whether or not she should try her luck at it. On the one hand, she could be confronted by some very unfriendly watcher types who want Willow pie. But on the other hand, she was beyond hungry, and her accommodations didn't look too bad. Maybe they wouldn't mind her looking for some food…
Her mind made up, Willow crossed the room and, with shaky hands, opened the door…
Peeking through, she was shocked at what she saw. 'This is most definitely not a usual prison' thought Willow. It looked like a hotel room. A nice one too. Down to the TV and couches, 'one of which has a dark haired girl sleeping on it' thought Willow with a frown. She paned her view across the room, to the kitchen area, where she saw…
She would've gasped, if everything in her lungs hadn't escaped her. She could only see their back, but she recognized them instantly. So she should. After all, she'd dreamt of them every night since. 'Tara'. Willow felt nothing. She was holding onto the door to save herself from falling to the floor. Her mind wasn't functioning on a rational level. Her only thought was 'She's come back to me'. But after a moment of wonderment, Willow had to, but very reluctantly, question…
Tara heard the squeak croak out quietly behind her. However, despite how it was delivered, she knew that voice anywhere. No matter what they may have been through, it would always be the voice she loved, the voice she cherished, and the voice that said everything was going to be okay. And she needed that right now. She'd woken up in a strange place earlier, where she'd been put through intense pain, and now she'd just woken up in what looks like a hotel room with an unfamiliar woman asleep on the couch. What's more, she'd just been through the strangest experience of her life. The last thing, before waking up in that horrible place, that she could technically remember, was being with Willow in their bedroom after over a day of love making. It had been a wonderful time, and they decided it was finally time to get of bed and do something else. At least for half an hour. 'But why do I feel like I haven't seen Willow in years?' Tara questioned herself. Although that was the last thing she could remember, she had a feeling. A feeling that she'd been somewhere, somewhere without Willow for a long time. Wherever it was, it wasn't bad, but likewise it wasn't blissful, she just felt…incomplete, like she was waiting for something…no someone to make her feel complete again, so she could move on.
Tara turned her head so slowly only one so uniquely focused on her movements-one such as Willow-would even notice the movement. Despite the pain that shot through her spine like molten magma flowing, Tara kept her movement beautifully elegant, slow but never jerky. With her dark blonde absorbing the golden light of the sunrise, and framing her perfect, pale face, she looked just like a…
'NO!' Willow demanded herself not to think of it. She had thought it every moment of every day since that night. That night they met, when, ironically, she couldn't speak of the beauty she saw before her. Now, she was in the same position, yet for different reasons. Then, she hadn't said it for fear of what it would make her, and of course she was literally unable to do so. Now, she forbids herself to say it, and for the first time think it, for fear of the truth. 'The being before me isn't a thing of beauty' She drilled in, forcing herself to believe it. 'This is a thing of pure evil. Using Tara…TARA to hurt me. Using a person of such beauty…such purity…and desecrating her wonderful spirit for it's own evil ends! It's not a being beauty…it's not my sweet Tara…it can't be…'
When Tara brought her eyes over Willow for the first time, she felt her breath catch in her throat. She looked so different from when Tara had last seen her, yet so much the same. She was slimmer than she had remembered, her hair longer, and her face paler with the unmistakable weariness that comes after pain no one should endure in their lifetime. However, underneath it all, Tara saw what she knew Willow always held in herself, the Willow she fell in love with. She saw a vulnerable and scared girl, unaware of her own beauty and encased in purity that begged to be soothed and kissed and held as she slept. Willow had told her stories of the vampire from an alternate dimension, and how she fooled everyone into believing she was the real deal. However, Tara always told herself in her heart that if she was to make a return, or the unthinkable should happen, she would always be able to tell her Willow from the vampire. Whenever Tara saw Willow, she always saw the sweet girl inside. Seeing this girl, after what seemed like both an eternity and a millisecond, made silent tears well up in her eyes, blurring their sky blue color and threatening to spill over at a simple touch.
Willow pulled the muscles in her face as well as she could to stop herself from crying. She knew that's what she…no it, the First, would want. But she didn't want to give it the satisfaction. However, her eyes…they were unmistakably Tara…so full of love, and sweetness. And were they tears she saw? Evil things don't cry…do they? Willow wanted to believe it was her, really her, and wished the rational part of her mind wasn't so demanding, that it would stop telling her there was no way. 'Why can't I just let her be real…just this once?' she asked herself, but her rational side wouldn't let up. 'Because it would be wrong' it argued. 'Tara died in your arms, you buried her, and the First spent the next year trying to trick us all. It'd make sense that it'd try again.' But Willow didn't want to listen. Tara was facing her straight on, staring her right in the eye, and she looked just like she had before…beautiful. And despite anything her rational mind may be saying it couldn't argue that away. She did, and always would look beautiful. That was one argument her heart had already won. However, she wanted to believe it was Tara. She wanted to believe she would close the gap between them, gather her in her arms and stroke her hair as she cried. The mere thought of this, while knowing it could never be brought tears into Willow's eyes, pushing against her eyelids, yet not quite spilling down her cheeks.
Peering further into her lover's soul, Tara saw the agonizing conflict inside, and winced at how much it was hurting the girl. She needed to put her at ease, she needed to hold her in her arms and let her rest, forever. Her whole body trembling, Tara took a small step, as if walking a tightrope. "Willow…" she spoke in her voice as soft as the clouds themselves.
'Her voice!' Willow thought. 'Her, beautiful, sweet, melodic voice…making my name sound like the most beautiful sound in the world the way only she can…NO!' Willow shouted herself, forcing her first silent tear to spill over her eyelid and slide gently down her cheek. 'It can't be' Even the voice in her head wavered at the emotions flying in her, continually gripping her vocal cords and escaping her body as tears down her cheeks. Noticing how the girl had taken a step towards her, Willow forced herself into action, knowing if she got any closer, she'd completely break down. Lifting her palm in front of herself, not caring that it was shaking more than it did even during her withdrawals, and forced her throat open. "No…" She croaked, her own voice allowing more tears to spill.
At Willow's rejection, Tara stopped her movements forward, but couldn't stop her voice traveling with her breath, her overwhelming need to soothe Willow overcoming everything else. "Willow…what…?"
"STOP!" Willow screamed, now clutching onto herself to try to ease her uncontrollable shaking and her tears now flowing freely down her face, with sobs not far behind. "STOP DOING THIS" She screeched, dropping her head further and contorting her face further to stop the inevitable sobs that followed. "You're not her…"
Tara too was now at the stage of twisting her face to keep the sobs at bay. Unable to think of what was upsetting her lover so, she kept trying to probe. "Willow…"
Neither had noticed that Karen was now awake and watching and Giles was standing at the doorway to the bathroom, soaking wet and wearing a bathrobe. They both watched silently and motionlessly, their own tears pouring down their faces. Karen, despite having only heard the story just hours ago, found the whole thing heartbreaking, and witnessing it before her…it was the most heart wrenching thing she'd seen.
Willow kept her face down, watching as her tears dropped straight from her eyes onto the carpet below. "It's not you…" She sobbed, her lip quivering.
"Willow…" Tara realized this was the only thing she was saying, but didn't know what else could be said. Besides, even if she did, her own emotional state was keeping her from saying anything beyond this sweet word. 'Why would she think I'm not me?' Tara thought, her mind picking up on the meaning of Willow's words, barely.
Doing nothing to fight off the physical effects of her emotions, Willow made a movement which were equal parts shaking her head and sobbing. "It can't be…" She barely whispered through the lump in her throat. However, every part of her at that moment was praying to every God in every Heaven and Hell that she was wrong.
"Willow…" Tara began, before her voice broke, having long since stored her confusion away for a later time and presently concentrating on her Willow. Realizing she had to get this sentence out, she took a deep breath-or rather a series of short ones-and tried again. "Willow…look at me?" Her emotions twisted the plea into sounding more like a question. Her body, racked with sobs, gave into her emotions. "Please?" She whispered, her voice a breath of undiluted emotion.
Evil or not, Willow could not deny Tara's plea, not when delivered how it had been. Right then, her head was the heaviest thing she had ever lifted. However, remembering Tara's tears, Tara's voice, Willow forced herself to look upon Tara's face. The moment their eyes connected, the rationalization shut up. The tears in her blue eyes, the emotion piercing Willow's soul…
"We met…" Tara began, once again finding her progress stunted by her sobs. Chastising herself, she forced herself to go on, before Willow dropped her head again. "We met in Stevenson, running away from the gentlemen. Together, we kept them away, and I wanted to tell you then how I felt, how special I knew you were." Willow squeaked in response, having thought almost the same moments before. "But I couldn't…I waited…waited until later…I told you you were special." Tara whisper, sobs escaping her once more, complementing Willow's. "But you were silly and didn't believe me." Tara giggled through her sobs. Tara's heart soared when she saw Willow do the same.
Willow was sobbing uncontrollably, but held her gaze in Tara's eyes. Her rational argument was becoming less convincing with every moment, and at Tara's last point Willow remembered her saying much the same thing during their frequent revisits to their first meeting.
"One night you spent the whole night in my room." Tara went on. "We slept in each other's arms. And it was magical." Tara stopped to sob again and allow Willow to do the same. "And when I woke up I realized…I…I" She hesitated, before breathing back in again. "I love you." She sobbed out.
Willow's eyes were pleading Tara to hold her, as she took on board what she was saying. Once they were together, Tara had often confessed that the first night that slept together (literally sleeping, that is) was the night she realized she was in love with her. But Willow's ever increasing tears were added to by the last three words. She recognized the way Tara said them, making sure Willow picked up that they were still true, and that she meant it with all her soul.
"I gave you the Doll's eye crystal." Tara smiled. "To remember the event…even though then you didn't know…I didn't think you ever would." Tara wiped her eyes, wanting to look at Willow as clearly as she possibly could. "But then, one night I told you…I told you I was yours…and you kissed me." Tara cried out softly. "Do you remember?"
Willow could only nod, her own mouth sewn shut and twisted in sharp breaths trying to escape and come through her lungs.
Tara beamed at Willow's nod, feeling her Willow return to her. "And I thought that moment would be the best one of my life. But it wasn't." Tara confessed, shaking her head. She quickly moved on, to avoid giving Willow the wrong impression. "It was weeks later. I thought I lost you. But you came to me. It was blackout, but you came to me; you were my light." Tara moved forward one step cautiously, smiling as she went on to keep her love's attention on her face rather than her movement. "My extra flamey light."
Giggling through the tears, Willow couldn't help but notice Tara's movement, but didn't move to stop her. She was well beyond wanting Tara away from her.
Stepping forward again, Tara was now only one step away from Willow. However, she was focused on her story, having revisited the memory millions of times herself. "You told me you love me." Tara sobbed, careful to keep her face a mirror of her own happiness of the memory. "And we made love." She took the final step, and was now only inches in front of the girl.
She could feel Tara's aura, her purity, she could smell Tara's sweet hair and taste her skin in the air. 'This is Tara' She realized. "Tara?" She sobbed in her own hopeful way.
Tara was on the verge of breaking down at this point, and she could see that Willow was too. She was craving contact with her beloved. She reached forward with her trembling hands and rested them on Willow's. She felt her breath catch at the familiar warm spark that coursed her veins at the mere touch of the redhead's skin. She encased the smaller girl's hands, which were violently shaking, and eased them toward her chest, resting them on her own heartbeat and holding them there. "And I always loved you. I always will." Tara cried out.
Willow watched her hands pressed against Tara's heart with wide eyes. The feel of Tara's skin was what she'd been craving for years. The withdrawals from magic were not comparable to the withdrawals from this feeling. But the heartbeat. The slightly fast, but unmistakably human heartbeat. 'She's alive' Her heart screamed at her mind, basking in it's victory. 'She's real, and she's alive!' "Tara?" She sobbed out again in the exact same way.
Tara waited for a few seconds before plunging in. "Willow…?" She asked, fearing the answer more than she would fear her own death. She licked her lips, which were quivering beyond reproach, and bit back another sob. "Do you still love me?"
Finally giving in, Willow flung her arms around the blonde and broke down, allowing Tara to do likewise. In a manner of seconds, they had slid to the floor and were clinging on to each other, crying into the other's body. Tara stroked Willow's hair soothingly, despite herself being broken down, before Willow broke away and looked at her straight in the eyes.
"Tara…" Willow forced out, needing to answer Tara's question more than she needed oxygen. "I love you." With that she pushed her lips against the blonde's running her hands through her silky hair and feeling Tara do the same. If she hadn't already believed this was her Tara, she would've now. Kissing Tara made the whole world right again; to Willow it meant evil loses and good triumphs, it meant people are happy and more importantly it meant she was where she was meant to be. Tara's lips always made her feel every positive emotion in the world, and make the negative ones non existent. It made her wonderfully calm and intensely aroused. It made her feel beautiful and powerful. It was everything she'd prayed for everyday before and after Tara, and it was more. There were only two words to describe it; just simply 'kissing Tara.'
Willow pulled her lips away reluctantly to continue. "I will always love you." She breathed out, before succumbing to a force stronger than gravity and fell back onto Tara's lips, feeling everything she had before all over again, yet somehow unique, as was always the way. Pulling away again to conclude, she cried out, "Forever", before descending once again.
Tara was far past cloud 9 and was closer now to cloud 7,892,864. Every word and action Willow was performing made her heart grow, and warmth fill her body. Every kiss brought her to Heaven, and she had the unstoppable tears of joy as proof. When they separated again, Tara was once again reverted back to small, unstructured sentences. "Oh Willow…" She breathed out before claiming her lips, using the initiative rather than Willow this time. Everything Willow felt, Tara felt, although it had something that Tara could only describe as a 'Willow twist' to it. Nonetheless, it was perfect, and made everything right.
They separated their lips once again, but found they would not be able to fully separate for a long time. They clung to each other's bodies once again, sobbing and randomly kissing each other, be it their lips, arms, shoulders, cheeks or necks. Giles and Karen still had yet to move or talk. At this juncture, words and actions were meaningless. Heaven and Hell were meaningless. Everything was meaningless.
Except for the two girls crying in each other's arms.
CHAPTER FIVE BEING BACK
Eventually the two girls separated, although Tara kept her left hand entwined in Willow's right and the two kept caressing certain parts of their lover; a gesture of wonderment and love rather than anything sexual. For Willow, as far as she was concerned Tara was back, and she didn't care how. For Tara, for reasons she didn't know she felt like she'd been away from Willow for a lifetime, and being back with her made her feel alive again. What's more, for some reason or another, Willow's reaction to her had been quite surreal. Despite not knowing exactly what brought on her reaction, she was sure it had something to do with the separation she felt, and hence Willow's tears instigated her own.
About an hour since Willow had first set eyes on Tara, Giles felt they needed some kind of explanation, or at least the best one he could offer them. He and Karen, whom he had already given every piece of information he had in thanks to her guarding over Tara, sat on the sofa opposite the one where Tara and Willow sat. The girls, throughout the entire exchange, never let up their soft caresses and never allowed even a whisper of air come between them.
Clearing his throat to try to draw the girls' attention his way, Giles began. "I suppose I should offer you both something in the way of explanation."
Willow looked up at him briefly before returning her gaze upon Tara. "Where are we?" She asked, still watching her lover, but remembering how the streets outside suggest Britain and she was kidnapped by watchers.
Thankful that Willow wanted to get the easier questions out of the way first, Giles answered. "We're in England, Willow. A hotel in Colchester, to be precise. It's a town in Essex." Giles breathed in, hesitant to go on. "You and Tara were both kidnapped by the watchers' council." He shifted his gaze to Tara, so that he may address her. "That's the strange place you were in earlier. You were unconscious when I found you."
"Unconscious?" Willow blurted out, her heart beating at the idea of Tara in trouble. "Why?"
Giles looked into Tara's eyes for some indication of whether or not to tell Willow the truth, but the second he did Tara let her eyes drop down. "The council wished to extract her powers." Giles confessed, resolving to word it with a cushioning blow. "They no doubt used many methods, although none of them seemed to have worked. However, some of them can be quite…" Giles cleared his throat once again to get the next word out. "Painful. But with no lasting affects." He added quickly when he saw Willow's eyes widen. "But enough to allow unconsciousness befall her nonetheless." He added quietly.
Willow's lip was once again quivering, but Tara's caressing of the back of her hand and her looking into her eyes with a heart warming smile that told her she was alright relaxed Willow. At least enough to keep tears at bay, but not quite enough to ward off a touch of hysteria. "What? Why?" She asked, blindly. "How long?"
"Not long." Giles was quick to underline anything that eased Willow's state, pleased to see that Tara was doing likewise. "She was in the council's possession for less than five hours. I believe they think she has the ability to channel the power of a goddess, you too Willow." He told them. "This is why they took you from New York. I presume your unconscious state was just a precaution to keep you from fighting back."
"But, I thought the council went kaboom?" Willow asked, thinking they'd gotten rid of the council for good.
"It seems the First was not entirely successful." Giles told her, cryptically. "Unfortunately, the council has now re-emerged, although different than before. Whereas previously, while the council were indeed foolish, power hungry and brutal, their agenda was essentially the same as ours. No such comparison can be made for this new council." Giles went on, himself finding the information difficult to comprehend. "Under the reign of Benjamin Travers, Quentin's son, the council seems to have become more like the Initiative, with unseemly experiments, selfish agendas for power and complex weaponry. However, unfortunately, unlike the Initiative, they are not arrogant of the more mystical ways of this world, and so are much more powerful."
Having listened as well as she could, Tara found all this information confusing her more and more. First of all, this was the first she'd heard of anything happening to the watchers' council, or the First. She resolved to question Willow on these matters later, as well as the topic that was unnerving her most. Giles told them that the watchers incapacitated Willow to keep her from attacking them, but Tara knew that Willow couldn't fight physically, so that only left the magical. But Willow had promised her she had given up the magic. Tara hoped she was mistaken.
"You rescued us?" Willow asked, thinking that Giles wouldn't be up to rescuing them both from a seemingly all-powerful council, at least single-handed. "Alone?"
"More or less." Giles confirmed. Seeing Willow's questioning look, he went on. "Yesterday morning I received a visit from someone working for the Powers that Be. He informed me of Tara being in the council's possession and gave me a ceremonial dagger to aid me in her rescue. It allowed me to access certain magical chapters of a book I've had for…" He cleared his throat before continuing. "Well for some years. It only opens itself for certain people. The dagger gave me access to magics powerful enough to rescue Tara and transport us as far away as I could, which happens to be here." Giles glanced around before continuing. "Buffy then informed me from New York that you had also been taken into custody by the council, but I was able to intercept them at the runway and rescue you." Giles thought it best to avoid what really happened at the runway. "Curiously, they codenamed Tara the Benevolent half and you, Willow, the Power half. I've yet to fully comprehend what they mean by this. However, I do believe that Tara's resurrection is somehow linked to the council's belief that you can channel the goddess' power."
"Wait!" Tara had to speak out. She'd been alone with her confusion for long enough, she decided, and needed certain things explained. "What do you mean my resurrection?"
Giles glanced between all three women, and found that Willow was just as shocked at her girlfriend's question as he was. "Tara, what do you mean?" He asked gently.
Tara looked between the unfamiliar girl, Giles and Willow, not quite understanding why they all seemed so bewildered by her question. "In what way was I resurrected?"
Giles frowned, realizing the situation could turn dire. "Tara, before you were in the council's cell, what do you remember?"
Tara opened her mouth quickly, thinking she knew the instantly answer. However, before she could get the words out, she realized she didn't quite know the answer. She glanced at Willow, who was wearing her 'worry eyes' and thought hard, for her sake. "I don't know." She admitted with a frown. "I was somewhere. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good. I was just waiting…" She tried to voice her feelings, finding it hard.
"Waiting?" Giles probed.
"For something." Tara frowned harder, finding it was hurting her head. "Someone…someone to join me…and then…for us to move on…" Tara tried as hard as she could, her eyes darting across her and Willow's entwined hands for comfort.
Giles had heard of such phenomena, or rather had heard scholars making hypothetical guesses about Heavenly dimensions to much the same degree. The idea was that Heaven would be paradoxical for someone who was there without their soul mate. Therefore, for certain heavenly dimensions the deceased would wait in a sort of limbo, not blissful, painful or even existing at all really, until their soul mate joined them, and together they would to the heavenly place. If the mate was condemned to Hell, their lover would also pay the price for the sins committed; they would be stuck eternally in limbo. Or so it was theorized. "This is the last thing you remember?"
Tara took one last look at her and Willow's entwined hands before looking Giles in the eye. "No." She shook her head. "I didn't really remember this…I just…felt it." She surmised.
Frowning, Giles attempted to probe further without hurting the girl. "What is the last thing you remember? Clearly remember, that is?"
Finding herself nervous looking into Giles' gaze, she moved her head to make eye contact with Willow. "When we were in our bedroom. We'd just made up…and I'd noticed Buffy and Xander outside…and then…" She trailed off, finding the memory suddenly cut off.
"Oh God…" Willow breathed out, her eyes wide. 'She doesn't know' she told herself. 'She doesn't know she was dead…she doesn't know what you did!' Willow pushed away the urge to cry again. Her eyes had yet to return to their former state from crying earlier, and she didn't want to worry Tara with her tears.
"You don't remember anything else?" Giles asked, needing this point confirmed.
Tara tried not to worry about Willow's response, but was finding it hard to do so. "N-no." She responded honestly. "Not anything since then. I woke up in the cell and then…" Not wanting to relive the painful things they did to her, she just skipped it. "And then I woke up here, went into the kitchen, and Willow was behind me…" She trailed off, figuring she'd given enough information already.
"Dear Lord." Giles gasped.
"W-w-what?" Tara asked, finding herself becoming very nervous, and realizing that it was quickly manifesting itself in her stutter, which since meeting Willow was a rarity.
Despite it being understandably in this situation, Giles chastised himself for his shocked reaction. 'The last thing either of the poor girls need right now is you Dear Lording.' "Tara…" He began.
"Giles?" Willow interrupted. She could see Giles was about to explain, but wanted to do it herself. It scared her to death that Tara might leave her, but knew it had to happen. However, she wanted to at least confess it all herself, plus she knew Tara better than anyone else, and could hopefully help her as much as she could with dealing with the revelation that she were dead. "Can I?" She pleaded.
Giles looked into Willow's eyes and saw that she was very scared and silently begging for acceptance, but also that she wouldn't accept his refusal anyway. Not that he was about to anyway; in fact he was going to ask Tara if she would like to let Willow explain. "Of course." He agreed softly.
Tara watched as Willow stood up and offered her her right hand, which she immediately accepted. She was scared, and realized whatever it was it was indeed very serious. However, with Willow beside her, she knew she could take anything. Willow pulled Tara up beside her, and led them into the bedroom, closing the door behind them.
Tara was sitting on the edge of the bed, directly opposite Willow, who was shifting nervously in a chair and had her eyes fixated on the floor. The fact that they held no contact whatsoever worried Tara more than she'd ever been before. Whatever it was, it was scaring Willow beyond reproach. "Willow…?" She asked softly, pleased when Willow regained eye contact with her. "What is it?"
Willow smiled slightly when she realized how much calming influence Tara had over her. "I need to tell me some things." She confessed reluctantly.
"You can tell me anything Willow, you know that." Tara spoke softly.
Feeling tears form in her eyes already, Willow pushed forward. "On that day. When we were in our bedroom after…" Willow didn't elaborate. Not because she was embarrassed, but the memory hurt, considering the cruel twist of fate that followed it. "Something happened."
Tara frowned softly, realizing it must've been a big something to have this type of impact. "What?" She asked.
"Warren." She seethed out the name, after having continually cursed it night and day for two years. "He had a gun, in the backyard. He was aiming for Buffy, but one of the bullets…" Willow gulped down a fresh sob before it could emerge. "It went through our window…and you…" Willow's tears started pouring out at the memory.
Having thought about it briefly, Tara's face paled and her eyes widened as the realization hit her and all the pieces fit into place. 'Their reactions, the memory gap, the strange feeling…it all fit in…' "I died." Tara whispered, her eyes darting to every corner of the bedroom.
Willow lifted her head, revealing tears running relentlessly down her face. "You died in my arms." She squeaked out, before breaking down once again, crying into her hands.
Tara had just been given the biggest shock of her life-if that's what it could be called-and felt her world being turned on it's head a spun around at a million miles per hour. However, everything she was thinking about the revelation of her death went out of the window when she was given a mental picture of Willow cradling her lifeless body in her arms, and she saw the distress Willow was in at just recalling the memory. She thought of what Willow must've gone through, all she would've had to endure, and suddenly the only thing in Tara's brain was to comfort Willow. Pushing herself off the bed she rushed over to where Willow sat and pulled her onto the floor with her, cradling her and allowing her to cry into her body in homage to their position only an hour before.
Benjamin Travers leant back in his large, green leather chair at the end of the conference table, which also housed a dozen of his underlings. The conference hall was decorated much like the previous one, as was most of the new council establishment. The only differences lie in the new council's sophistication and science facilities.
Travers closed his eyes in musing, before opening them again to address the council. "What of Mr. Richmond himself?" He asked, having heard the status of the rest of the workers on the botched Power half project.
The council member further along the table on his right continued reading from his report. "His body was not found, although…" He hesitated before continuing. "We found his severed head in the runway tower, sir. It was drained of its blood."
Travers raised his eyebrows in interest. "Drained of its blood?" Travers confirmed, not expecting an answer, before musing to himself once again. "Perhaps this is all a result of Aurelius."
One of councilmen on his right cleared his throat to draw the attention of the council his way. "With all due respect, Aurelius has no interest in the Power half herself. Plus it wouldn't make sense for him to drain someone then take off his head. He is known for his sadistic qualities, but decapitation would be a quick and merciless death, and of course he would be dead prior to the decapitation itself anyway, due to the blood loss." The councilman argued, trying at all times to stay respectful to Benjamin.
Travers nodded in agreement. "You're right." He thought for a few seconds before continuing. "Aurelius has two agendas; the ritual and creating Turok-hans." Quickly coming up with a scenario of what could've happened, Travers cracked a smile. "What if the massacre was in fact the result of both?"
"Sir?" One of the councilmen asked, prodding Travers to explain.
"Over the radio on the plane, Mr. Richmond told of two slayers trying to stop the Power half from leaving New York, one of them being Buffy Summers." Travers' grin widened as he realized how watertight his theory seemed. "Buffy Summers has strong ties with one Rupert Giles, her ex-watcher. The same Rupert Giles who just hours before obtained the Benevolent half."
The councilman who was previously reading from the report spoke up. "Are you suggesting that Mr. Giles is responsible for the incident on the runway?"
Shaking his head, Travers went on. "No. I believe Aurelius was responsible. However, I do believe Mr. Giles did indeed visit the site with the intention of retrieving the Power half. While there he finds the corpse of Mr. Richmond and, fearing he will rise again, decapitates it. He finds the Power half unscathed and takes her to a safe haven with the Benevolent half." Travers hypothesized.
"Sir, why would Lucius Aurelius leave the Power half unharmed?" One of the councilmen asked.
"Aurelius has no interest in letting any harm come to neither the Power nor Benevolent half." Travers explained. "However, it is in Aurelius' interest for the two halves to be together." Travers surmised.
"Aurelius intended Mr. Giles to obtain the Power half?"
"And bring it to the Benevolent half, yes." Travers confirmed. "And by attacking the council he made Mr. Giles' job simply to walk in and get the girl. After all he even left a note for him." Travers laughed as he realized that they'd failed to even take this vehement irregularity into account during their creation of their previous theories. "As for how he went about the incident-well, we all know Aurelius to be quite sadistic." He added with a laugh and a nod to the councilman who made the same point earlier.
Clearing his throat, this same councilman ventured cautiously. "But what of Mr. Richmond?" He asked. "Why wouldn't Aurelius kill him in quite the same fashion as the others? And where is his body?"
Allowing his grin to widen more, Travers answered it with great enthusiasm. "My second point. Now that he is at full power, Aurelius has the opportunity to sire Turok-hans as regularly vampires sire other vampires. He'll be eager to create as many as he can." Travers explained. "And so an hour after the incident, after Mr. Giles has left with the Power half, Mr. Richmond awakes to find himself not even whisper of what he was, but rather a Turok-han." He finished with excitement.
"But, sir." One of the councilmen spoke out, hesitant after seeing how much his theory excited his boss. "If Mr. Giles decapitated the corpse, it wouldn't rise."
"Ah-ha!" Travers exclaimed, acting now like a child on Christmas morning. "But what's to say that decapitating the human before it arises kills a Turok-han like it kills a vampire? You see, while the vampire and the Turok-han contain the same demon within them, how that demon represents itself is quite different, as our lab results have proven. The demon in the vampire uses the human body as a vessel, controlling it and accepting it. Without the human vessel, the vampire cannot survive. However, what we know of the Turok-han suggests that the demon within them, rather than accepting the human vessel, it tries to force its way out of the vessel to be just a demon. Hence, why the Turok-han's appearance is more demonic than the vampire's and why the Turok-han doesn't bother with the human personality."
"You're suggesting that Mr. Richmond is a headless Turok-han?" The man who read the report asked.
"Not at all." Travers smiled. "I'm suggesting that Mr. Giles decapitated the human head before the demon emerged, and when it did the demon pushed against the body, the way it always does with a Turok-han. However, without a human head to bind it, the demon could push its own head through." Travers smirked at the visualization.
"A Turok-han with the head of a true demon." The councilman surmised, taking in what his superior was suggesting.
"Precisely." Travers nodded. "And if I'm correct, it would be in our best interests to study such a creature. Therefore, I am deploying a team to hunt a retrieve it."
"Sir, what about the Power and Benevolent halves?" A councilman to Travers' left asked. "Now that both Mr. Richmond and Mr. Williams are deceased, each project will need a new director."
"Now that the halves are more than likely together, the projects are now integrated into one." Travers corrected. "And I know just the man to take charge of it."
Cupping her face her in her hands, Tara locked her eyes with Willow's, which were still quite bloodshot and watery. However, the sobs had subsided over ten minutes ago. "You okay, sweetie?"
"I thought it'd be me comforting you." Willow laughed ruefully. "I'm okay. It just hurts…it hurts so much when I think." Willow screwed her eyes shut and swallowed down a fresh batch. "So I just stopped. Thinking that is. It's the first time I had since…well since your birthday." Willow explained, and then suddenly added as an afterthought. "A couple of weeks ago." Realizing that Tara wouldn't be aware of the date.
'Wait, my birthday?!' Thought Tara. 'But my birthday's not until November! Just how long have I been gone?' "H-h-how…?" Tara began, fearing the answer. When Willow first told her, she assumed she'd only been gone for a day or so, but now… "H-how long was I gone for?"
"It's December 13th." Willow started with a quivering lip. She breathed a deep breath before concluding. "2004."
Tara's breath caught in her throat. '2004?!? That's two and a half years!' Unable to stop herself, Tara buried her face in her hands and cried into them.
"Oh, baby…" Willow quickly put her arms around the blonde, resting her head on her shoulder and stroking her long hair. "It's okay. Everything's gonna be okay now." She whispered, her own emotions breaking up her voice. "You're back. You're really back."
"Am I?" Whispered Tara, feeling the doubt in her voice. "Am I really me?"
Willow frowned at Tara's question, but continued to stroke love's hair. "What do you mean?"
"What if I'm not?" Tara cried, her voice barely a whisper, as if she feared anyone hearing it. "W-what if I'm s-some h-h-horrible thing sent after you guys with Tara Maclay's thoughts and memories, but I'm not really…"
"NO!" Willow almost screamed back, and pushed herself out of the embrace to look into Tara's eyes, forcing herself to be strong for her. "You are Tara Maclay. I can see it. I can see it all around you. Some evil thing could pretend to be you, but it couldn't lie to me." Willow let her tears roll down her cheeks, but never allowed herself to break eye contact with Tara. "I see you with my heart" Willow stressed the word with an emotional whisper. She gently caressed Tara's face with her fingertips. "I see your soul, and your heart. And it's the same soul, the same heart that belonged to Tara Maclay." Willow and Tara were allowing tears to roll down their faces freely. "You are Tara Maclay. My love, my soul mate, my always. My Tara."
"Willow…" Tara exasperated softly, bringing Willow back into an embrace. "I love you Willow."
"I love you too, Tara."
After a few more minutes, Tara pulled herself away from the embrace, having too many questions buzzing around her head. "I guess I should know what's happened, huh?" She guessed with an ironic laugh. She frowned when she saw that Willow didn't do the same.
Willow stood up, realizing that it was time to tell Tara, she deserved to know, even if she left her. She turned her back to Tara and walked up to the window, gazing outside without actually noticing anything on the other side of the pane. "I'm scared." She confessed.
"W-what of?" Tara asked as she stood, resting her hand on the bed to steady herself when she found that the time on the floor and her emotional state had weighed heavily on her legs.
Willow breathed in deeply; wanting to make sure Tara felt she was free to make up her own mind once she heard the truth. "I want you to know. Once you hear what I…what I have to say, I…" Willow stopped to compose herself. "You don't have to stay with me."
Tara was about to object, but suddenly realized she really couldn't. Although she couldn't really think of anything that could've happened since her death that would make her want to leave Willow (after all, you can't play with the memories of a dead person), she had to know what had happened. "Willow…what happened…?"
Willow screwed her eyes shut and took a deep gulp. "After I felt you…go, that day, I gave in." Willow admitted. "You were why I gave up in the first place, but without you…" She trailed off.
Tara instantly realized what Willow was talking about. Dark magics. Tara felt her pulse quicken and a sense of dread creeping in. As much as she didn't want to know the story any more, she now knew she didn't have a choice.
Willow knew Tara had probably already decided to leave her, and wished that was the end of the story. Of course, in reality the story had yet to begin. "At first, I just…I needed you back. I asked Osiris…but he wouldn't let me, he said it was natural." Willow closed her eyes as she felt another tear slide down her cheek at the memory. "After that, the magics they…they took control of me."
"W-what did you do?" Tara asked, now sitting on the bed as her legs had betrayed her.
"I went after him." Willow confessed. "I drained all the dark magic books in the magic shop and went after him." Willow breathed in yet another deep breath. "One of the bullets hit Buffy. I used the magics to save her first. Pretty much the only really nice thing I did." Willow avoided using the word 'right' for a reason. "Then I found him. I had him spread out in the woods, and made him feel how you felt when he…" Willow fought back another sob. "I-I made it last for so long. He kept saying things. Like how he was going to make me pray to join my 'little girlfriend'". Willow seethed at the words. "And I lost it. Buffy and the others tried to stop me…I knew I had to be fast so…"
Tara's face was now drenched in tears, she was sobbing and her lip was quivering, but she knew she had to hear it all. "W-W-Willow?"
Willow dropped her head, letting her scalp rest on the windowpane. "His skin…it was gone. In a second…it was gone…and he was dead."
Raising her hand to her mouth, Tara couldn't help the squeak that escaped her throat at the thought of her beloved actually murdering someone.
Upon hearing Tara, Willow turned back to face her, breathing in to continue her story. "I ran out of power quite quickly, so I went to Rack and drained him…killed him." Willow added. "And then Dawn came…"
"Dawnie?" Tara breathed out. She'd only just kept it together during all this, but if Willow had done something to Dawn…
"She was okay." Willow was quick to reply. "Buffy came. We fought, and I almost killed her. But Giles arrived from England with all this magic. He and I had this fight. The magic box was completely destroyed. I almost killed him too." Willow sobbed out. "I drained him of his magic. But it turned out he'd done something to his magic-it made me connect with my emotions. I started to feel everything. It was…it was horrible." She breathed out. "I wanted to die. So I…I…" Willow stopped, her lip quivering for a few seconds before forcing the words out. "I tried to destroy the world."
Tara looked deep into Willow's blurry eyes, made even blurrier through her own tears, wanting Willow to announce that it is all a joke. Despite meaning Willow had picked up a bad sense of humor, it would also mean that Willow hadn't been like the other evils they'd fought off over the years, and the ones Willow had told her about. But she saw that what Willow was telling her was the complete truth. 'But she's not the same as them.' Tara told herself. 'She was grieving. The magics controlled her. Plus she'd obviously come back from it. She isn't evil. She's just that scared little girl, and the magics had used her as a puppet.'
"I needed the pain to stop." Willow sobbed, sniffing her tears back into her head before continuing. "But Xander got to me in time…he spoke to me and…I was myself again. I just…cried." Willow wiped the tears away.
"That's it?" Tara asked, her voice wavering.
"Giles took me to England. I spent three months learning about how to use magic properly with a coven." Willow went on, finding these parts much easier after going through the painful aspects before. "I learnt about the Earth and stuff. And then I went back to Sunnydale. I tried not to think of you much. But I didn't do very well." Willow giggled slightly, rueful, and looked back into Tara's eyes. "I thought of you every second. And it hurt so much." Willow sobbed.
More tears fell from Tara's eyes. Despite what Willow had told her, the thought of Willow hurting made it feel as if someone was wringing her heart like a wet sponge. What made it all the more worse was the thought that it was her death that caused Willow's grief. Knowing that her life would seem meaningless if Willow was dead, Tara knew she would feel much the same way.
Willow decided to confess to Tara something she hadn't confessed to anyone. Part of her was screaming 'ARE YOU CRAZY? SHE'LL NEVER, EVER FORGIVE YOU!!' But Willow knew she had to be honest. "Tara…" She whispered out. "I regret everything I did when the magics took hold of me…except…"
Tara held Willow's eye contact, predicting what she was about to say.
"I don't regret killing him." Willow blurted it out. It was why she resisted saying saving Buffy was the only right thing she did earlier. In her mind, killing Warren was always the right thing. Maybe she shouldn't have done it in that fashion, but she'd never once regretted it. For a few seconds everything seemed to be completely silent. Even her own mind, which seemed stunned that she'd actually gone through with it.
Tara broke the silence. "I know." And she did. Although she probably wouldn't have killed him, if the tables were reversed she wouldn't regret a single piece of pain he endured. Tara was actually pleased by what Willow said. It helped them build up trust again.
Willow felt the world plunge once more into overwhelming silence, and found the floor had become very interesting. Finally, she could bear it no longer. "Tara…?" She squeaked out. "Do you want me to leave?"
"No." Tara replied instantly. She knew that dealing with all this wouldn't be simple, but she also knew that having at least felt what it was like to be apart from Willow was too hard. When Willow lifted her head to meet her eyes, Tara went on. "Willow…" Tara was about to begin, when a sudden thought entered her head. "D-d-do you have a new girlfriend?" When Willow nodded slowly after a hesitation and a frown, Tara felt her head and her heart drop. "Oh…"
"But…" Willow jumped in quickly. "She's…" Meeting Tara's gaze again, she went on. "She's not special…she's not you."
Sensing what Willow was getting at, Tara jumped in, not wanting to pressurize Willow. "Willow, you don't have to…"
"I can't" Willow interrupting, seeing where Tara's sentence was going. "I was gonna split up with her anyway. I think I just needed someone." She shrugged. "But I can't be with anyone but you…at least not right now." Willow admitted.
Tara took in a few breaths. "I don't want us to get back together. Not right away." Tara added quickly when she saw the distress quell up in Willow. "I definitely don't want it to be like after the memory spells. I still want to see you, and touch you." Tara assured Willow. "And, in a way, I don't think what you did after…it wasn't as bad."
"What?" Willow gasped, not believing she'd heard right. "I killed people; I tried to destroy the world!" She reminded her.
"While under the control of grief and dark magic." Tara reminded her. "You forced yourself to get over it, despite how hard it must've been. The only thing you don't regret is killing another murderer." Tara furrowed her brow before continuing. "I probably wouldn't either."
Willow could hardly believe how forgiving Tara was being. A very miniscule part of her told her that she shouldn't be accepting her forgiveness, that she didn't deserve it. However, the craving of the majority of her being overruled this part.
"When you did the memory spells, you were being manipulative." Tara explained. "You weren't taking anyone's feelings into account, and you weren't being controlled to the same degree. You didn't even regret it when I gave you the chance and just did it again."
Willow dropped her head, not really having thought to compare the two instances before. To her, it was just a case of the things she did before going to England being the sort of things evil beings do. It never occurred to her that the memory spells were actually worse. But the way Tara was putting it; she had to agree they did sound worse. Tara's words made Willow feel deeply distressed, and she suddenly found herself asking, 'Why did she ever forgive? Did she ever forgive me?' This thought upset her most of all.
Noticing Willow's distress, Tara immediately regretted how judgmental that sounded. After all, she'd forgiven Willow. "But you regretted it eventually; you went through all the withdrawals and pain because you didn't want to be like that anymore." Tara made a point of reminding her. "And I forgave. Because I love you. And I know you're a good person."
Sniffing through her tears, Willow laughed, amused at Tara's wording. "Were you listening earlier?"
"Were you?" Tara smiled back. "You've been through Hell Willow; I can see that just from how weary you look. But you've still fought the temptation to make it easy, because you know it'd be wrong."
"Absolutely!" Willow assured her quickly. "I even did a spell for the forces of light last year. I turned all these potential slayers into real slayers, and now there're like thirty slayers around the world helping people." She went on, excited to tell Tara something good. "It turned my hair white and everything!"
"Really?" Tara breathed out. After what Willow had told her, the word seemed somewhat inadequate but she really didn't know what else to say. She didn't know what potential slayers were exactly, or what might call for such desperate measures, but the idea of making the world that much safer was indeed a very good thing.
"Yeah." Willow confirmed with a smile and a nod. "It felt so much better than the dark magic. Although that's the only time I've done it…the light magic, that is." Willow added. "I just pretty much do simple spells nowadays…like when we first got together."
"I remember." Tara confirmed with a smile. "I'm so proud of you." She grinned, thankful that the tears welling up in her eyes now were joyful ones.
Willow smiled back, relishing in the feeling of Tara being alive and telling her she's proud of her. Such things she'd dreamt every night, and then chastised herself in waking hours for making herself upset. However, the reason there were tears in her eyes now was not because she was upset. Not at all. However, feeling the need to know where they are, she spoke out. "Where do we go now?" She asked, wanting to make it perfectly clear to Tara that she'll allow her to move at any pace she wants. Tara being alive made her happier than she ever thought she would be again, and she knew that she'd still be happy even if Tara never wanted to be with her again and Willow was banished to a lifetime without a partner. Just so long as Tara existed…
"C-can we go slow?" Tara asked, hopefully. "I want us back together, but…I want us to start it over again, like when we first met." Tara admitted. "S-so we can build the relationship, and the trust all up."
Willow felt her tears, not believing her luck. In some ways this was even better than Tara asking her to hop back in bed with her right away. She too wanted the relationship to be as strong as it possibly can, to feel that Tara could trust her again and that she herself could be proven to be worthy of being trusted. Besides, the start of the relationship, even before they were really together were still some of the best times of her life, and the thought of reliving them felt her with joy. "I want to as well." Willow nodded emphatically. "Very much."
Tara gave her a wide, quite goofy grin at Willow's response, finding it was a typical show of Willow's adorable over eagerness. Plus, of course, it was the response Tara very much wanted. "Okay." Tara breathed out, happily.
Willow felt an overwhelming urge but, not wanting to push too hard too fast, felt she needed permission. "Tara…can I hug you?" She asked anxiously.
Tara nodded with as much eager as Willow, having had the same internal thoughts as her love. "Yes please." She breathed out. When Willow's arms closed around Tara's body, Tara felt as if she were in Heaven, and let a dam break within her.
However strong Tara's cries may have been, they could not compare to Willow's sobs. Despite trying to keep up the whole going slow thing, Willow couldn't keep herself from sobbing out her feelings. "I love you…I love you so much."
"You too." Tara sobbed back, stroking her hair as Willow mimicked her. "I love you too."
Willow drew in a series of sharp breaths before continuing. "I wanted to die!" She sobbed out, unable to contain herself. "I missed you so much and…" She drew in another series of breaths "Today was the first day I haven't wanted to die."
Tara felt her heart breaking at every one of Willow's words, and as she continued to stroke the girl's hair in an attempt to soothe her, she resolved to make herself and Willow a promise, despite knowing it may not be fair for either of them to do so. She pulled back from the embrace and cupped the redhead's face. She drew her lips to her forehead, and kissed the skin there gently, relishing the feel of the girl's skin. Closing her eyes she slowly lifted her lips from the skin, and brought her forehead to rest on Willow's, still cupping her face, stroking the redhead's cheekbones with her thumbs. She opened her eyes and peered deep into Willow's "I will never leave you again."
As her bottom lip continued to vibrate, Willow pushed Tara's statement. "Promise?" She begged, her eyes pleading.
In that moment, Tara decided 'to Hell with what I thought, we can start the going slow thing later'. She closed her eyes again, and let her lips descend onto Willow's, kissing her gently. At first neither girl moved, but soon they began moving their lips, alternately kissing each other's bottom lip and whimpering into the other's mouth like kittens. The kiss was a show of love and devotion, and hence never needed to be pushed further, and never was. Tara drew back from the kiss after about thirty seconds, and let her forehead rest back on Willow's. "I promise." She whispered.
Two hours later, Tara and Willow emerged from the bedroom hand in hand. During that time Willow had told Tara all about the First and the destruction of Sunnydale. Tara cried when she heard of Xander's injury and Anya's death, and she shocked at the entire affair. She also told her about what she learnt during her time in England, and about New York, including the van explosion. She also mentioned a fight she'd had with Kennedy over a year ago on Tara's birthday, instigated after Willow refused to talk for days. Kennedy never found out what incited it, not realizing it was Tara's birthday. The thing that upset Willow the most was the fact that Tara's body and grave had been destroyed, along with the rest of Sunnydale. To avoid any further fights, Willow had tried to bottle everything up as best as she could since.
"Everything alright?" Giles asked, hesitantly.
"Yeah." Willow nodded, taking her seat on the sofa opposite Giles.
"By the way, my name's Karen, if you're wondering." Karen laughed as she offered her hand to Tara and then to Willow. "I'm a slayer. Mr. Giles called me round yesterday for some body guarding."
"Thanks. I'm Willow, and this is Tara." Willow introduced, inciting Tara to raise her hand up quickly in greeting.
"Pleased to meet you." Karen thought better than to tell them that she already knew their names, as well as their highly irregular circumstance. Suddenly realizing she really didn't know everyone intimately enough to be involved in the conversation, she stood up, immediately thinking of a reason to excuse herself. "Does anyone want a drink?"
"Tea?" Giles asked, resulting in a nod of approval from Karen.
"Me too." Willow requested.
"Can I have water?" Tara asked, before turning to Willow. "I think I need it after all that crying." She explained, inciting a giggle from the redhead.
When Karen went into the open kitchen area, Willow turned back to Giles. "Do you have anything, Giles?"
"Not as such, I'm afraid." Giles shook his head in apology.
"What are we going to do?" Tara asked.
"Well, I have asked Buffy and the others to make their way to Los Angeles." Giles explained. "I have us some tickets booked for tomorrow."
"Giles," Willow ventured. "Do Buffy and the others know? About Tara?"
"No." Giles shook his head. "I thought it best to leave that decision up to you two."
"I'd rather not say anything, not yet." Willow explained hesitantly, before turning to Tara. "Unless you'd rather…"
"No, it's fine." Tara assured her with a smile. If truth be told, she was quite terrified at the prospect of convincing everyone that she'd been brought back from the dead and wasn't evil. After all, she only believed it herself with Willow's help, and the others couldn't look into her soul like Willow could.
"I want to break it to them one at a time rather than all at once. Maybe Buffy and Angel first…after all it's Angel's hotel; he kinda needs to know." Willow explained, glancing at Tara, who smiled and nodded in agreement. "We'll tell the others soon just…not right away."
"Of course." Giles nodded. "Well, once we get to Los Angeles I plan to contact any slayer we can. I fear we may need it."
Willow looked at Tara and saw her own shock mirrored in the blonde's eyes. "Giles, what is it? What's going on?"
Giles cleared his throat, trying to avoid the subject. "I'm not sure-"
"Please." Willow stressed, underlining her plea. She realized Giles was hiding something, but she had to know what it is. After all, this thing involved Tara. Taking her love's hand, she continued. "Giles, anything that has something to do with Tara I need to know."
Seeing the resolve in the redhead's eyes, and then seeing the same look in Tara's, Giles sighed. "Very well." He reached under the coffee table to retrieve the book he used when storming the watchers' council and placed it carefully on the coffee table. "I believe that within this book lie all the answers. Why Tara is back and…"
"W-what?" Asked Tara. She was unnerved at the look of the book, it being obviously ceremonial and very old and potent. The fact that the leather was encrusted in blood also did nothing to quell her uneasiness.
Looking between the two girls' eyes, he decided to address the inquisitor. "When I came to rescue Willow at the runway…" He sighed. "I found the councilmen dead."
"Dead?" Willow asked, her experience telling her that the councilmen were almost certainly not just dead.
"Massacred." He gulped. "Whatever did it left you unharmed, however. It put you out of harms way…and then left a note telling me where it left you."
"S-so the thing knows you have her?" Tara asked, the thought of Willow in trouble leaving her very troubled indeed.
Giles sighed as he glanced at her. "Probably both of you, yes."
Willow was panicking now. The idea that some unstoppable killing machine could be after her and Tara leaving her sick. "But you said the answers are in this book." She exclaimed motioning to the book in question. "What does it say?"
"Well." Giles began moving the away from Willow so that she doesn't try anything stupid, like to try to look inside for herself. "There is a goddess, known simply as the Goddess of the Slayer."
"The slayer?" Willow breathed out.
"What does that mean?" Tara asked, herself as shock as Willow. She'd never heard of such a goddess.
"Well, the problem is that this book is far from ordinary." Seeing Willow and Tara's questioning looks, he decided to push on. "It's been passed on through my family. You see if anyone tries to open it, they shall be killed." Despite the girls' shocked looks, he went on. "It is called the Tome of the Gods. By speaking an incantation the book shall open, and allow you to see as much as you are worthy to. With an instrument you can perform a blood letting and, depending on the instrument you used, it will let you see the pages necessary; much like the pages are doors and the instruments are keys." Reaching under the coffee table, he retrieved the ornate dagger and placed it on the table. "This is the instrument, the key, I used. When rescuing Tara I performed a blood letting with this; the man who informed me of Tara's imprisonment gave it to me and I recognized it instantly. It's called the dagger of the Goddess; it bears the Goddess' symbol." He explained, pointing to the symbol on the blade.
As she leant in to examine the symbol, Tara gasped, instantly recognizing it. She had the exact same symbol on her palm; she noticed it earlier, but thought she'd ask Mr. Giles about it alone later, not wanting to worry Willow. However, noticing their inquisitive looks, Tara decided to let them know. "I-I had the same symbol. W-when I work up." She explained, reaching her right arm out and showing them the symbol on her palm. She expected the gasp from Willow, but was surprised when Giles failed to even blink.
"I know." Giles sighed, inciting a look of confusion from Willow and Tara. "I noticed when you were asleep." Giles explained, darting his eyes across to Willow and then back to Tara. "Willow has it too."
"What?!" Willow exclaimed, immediately extricating her right hand from Tara's left and glancing at her palm. "No I don't." Willow said, her eyes fixated on her palm.
"You're left hand." Giles explained gently, gesturing to Willow's left side with his glasses.
Willow lifted her left hand and was shocked when, sure enough, she saw a symbol of a sun surrounded by three smaller ones that looked like some kind of hollow tattoo, exactly like Tara's. "Oh." She said dumbly, and allowed Tara to lean in to look at it, but never lifted her gaze from her palm. "Since when did I have that?" She asked herself, her brow furrowed.
"Not long, evidently." Giles spoke softly. "But I believe it is these symbols that made the council believe you both have the ability to channel the goddess' power."
"M-maybe we can." Tara suggested, finding the symbols rather unnerving.
"It's possible." Giles agreed, before frowning. "However, unfortunately the only spells that would be able to prove such a thing and allow you to use that power to our advantage are in the Tome." Giles reported grimly, glancing down at the book. "The thing is, the book reads your soul and, if you plan to use the power for evil, it will open at the dark spells, and visa versa." He cleared his throat and looked away. "I'm ashamed to say that in my Ripper days I used it in such ways until…well until things got carried away and I locked it up. Until now that is."
"There must be some way to open it, look at all the pages." Willow suggested, wanting to draw the conversation elsewhere, knowing how much the subject upset Giles.
Pleased at the change in subject, Giles jumped in with an answer. "Well unfortunately, the book can't be opened by anyone unless both their mother and father's blood is on the cover and are users of the occult." He explained, before sighing out. "That means that I'm the only one who can see any of it." Putting his glasses back on, Giles continued. "However, there are many pages that, regardless of who you are or what instrument you use, remain hidden. I fear these pages contain the answers we need, and we would need the book fully open to see them. Unfortunately, only a God can break the spell on the Tome and allow it to be opened."
"Where's Glory when you need her?" Tara asked in a whisper, then shivered at her own words, thinking back to what the Hell God did to her.
"What did it let you see?" Willow asked, not wanting to address why she was more than glad that Glory actually wasn't around anymore.
"The Goddess of the Slayer encompasses the power of all of the deceased slayers, and is linked to something called 'The Pure'." Giles reported, pleased to be reporting facts rather than speculation.
"The Pure?" Tara scrunched her nose up in confusion.
Willow smiled at the girl's mannerisms, resisting the urge to kiss that nose. 'She's so adorable!' She thought. Her heart soared at how happy she was to be witnessing such things. "Well that sounds happy enough." Willow forced her mind to stay on topic.
Sighing, Giles went on. "Sadly, that's not the case. The Pure seems to be something of true malice, and is bound by the power of the Goddess of the Slayer. It then goes on to say," He paused to pick up a nearby notebook a read from it. "The Goddess will awaken when the first of the second dies."
"What does it mean?" Tara asked, finding the whole thing quite fascinating.
"The Goddess will awaken at midnight on the second of February?" Willow asked, thinking about how the words sounded, and surprised when Tara giggled lightly.
"I doubt it." Giles breathed. "However, I really do not know exactly what it means. I'm hoping that Wesley will have some texts that may shed some light on it in LA."
"Do we know anything else?" Tara, despite her soft voice, was finding the lack of information quite frustration.
"I'm afraid not." Giles shook his head, also finding the whole situation quite frustrating. "For now, I plan to contact some people for information."
"Oh no you don't." Karen refused as she came into the living room area with two teas for Willow and Giles, having given Tara her water a while ago. "You've been playing the last action hero for 24 hours non stop. You need a kip."
Sighing, Giles tried to brush off Karen's suggestion. "Karen-"
"No!" Karen interrupted. "You get some sleep now; I'll protect the girls 'til you wake up. Nothing will happen to them."
"So what do you say?" Travers asked as he sat in his large, bookcase filled office, the large windows behind him lighting up the face of the man that sat on the other side of his large, antique desk.
"I just have one question." The man replied. "Why me? Given my track record."
Cracking a grin, Travers explained. "It is your track record that convinced me to assign you. You have a history with the infidel, you know him better than any of our staff. And you are a powerful man; I believe you will do great things with the power we will equip you with for this assignment, least of all retrieve the subjects. Maybe kill a few people on the way." He added as an afterthought.
"Is that a fact?" The man asked, a proud grin filling his face. "Lucky me."
"Indeed, you are." Travers went on. "Remember, we are offering you freedom and power, prisoner 89324. We transferred you to our facility from the States because I had an interest in your potential. If you are unable to accept, or should you fail, I will not hesitate to have you shipped back, and you know better than me that we treated you better than them." He reminded him.
The man didn't need to hesitate; he'd made up his mind. "Very well I accept, on one condition."
"Name it." Travers nodded.
"I wish for you to stop addressing me as prisoner 89324."
"What would you rather?" Travers asked, curiously.
"Very well." Travers sighed, and stood before leaning across the desk, meeting the man halfway across to shake his hand. "Welcome aboard, Ethan."
"I think I prefer Mr. Rayne." He grinned back.
"Fine." Travers sighed again. "Just don't fail."
"I won't." Ethan shook his head. "I won't."
CHAPTER SIX BACK IN THE SWING
Stepping through the door, Ripper was instantaneously hit by a wall of different essences, each one attacking all five senses. Smoke bellowed up the steps Ripper was now descended. It was light and wispy, carrying a distinct aroma of marijuana mixed with tobacco. It immediately had an intoxicating effect on the youngest, clearing his mind of the doubts that nibbled his subconscious on the way here; a sensation that only increased with each step he took into the dark cellar. Flaring his nostrils again, Ripper picked up a hint of alcohol, and immediately found the source of it. In the right corner of the lavishly decorated, subterranean room laid Fisher, half conscious and drooling on the large display of purple cushions he was draped across, clutching an empty bottle of whisky. To the left of Ripper, slightly hidden by the purple, majestic curtains that flow around the basement were Jess, Thompson and Harry. Jess had her head thrown back and her eyes half closed. From what he could see of them, Jess' eyes were cobwebbed in red veins filling the white and reaching out to color of the iris, which itself was barely visible against the highly dilated pupil that filled both eyes. Ripper could smell the sweat that drenched her face and turned her usually light blonde hair into a light brunette, although it was hidden under the stenches that already existed which, among everything else, included the unmistakably pleasant aroma of Jess' arousal, something Ripper himself had both smelt and tasted more than once. Her pants and moans brought Ripper's eyes to her crotch, where Thompson's hand could be seen moving about down the front of her jeans, thrusting in and out of her entrance, still hidden from the world. However, it did nothing to hide her arousal, as the denim of her jeans was soaked through with her essence. Thompson's eyes were not on what his right hand, however. Rather, they were watching the Bunsen burner in his left hand that was boiling the water in the ornate, Indian bong that lie on the ground and brought intoxicating smoke through the top and into Thompson's waiting mouth. Though Thompson wasn't watching, Harry certainly was. He had his trousers and boxers down his ankles and rested himself on some pillows, leaning on the wall as he rigorously wrestled with his manhood. Casting his eye across to his right, Ripper saw a sight which, in many ways, was just a twist of what he'd just seen. Bent over the only stool in the room was Katie, her mouth constantly stuck in the position of an 'o', her eyes scrunched shut and her hair flinging back and forth from her face; an effect caused by what was going on behind the girl. Naked from the waist down stood Barry. His hands gripped Katie's naked hips firmly, causing the girl to undoubtedly find bruises the next morning. However, Barry showed little concern, or mercy, for that matter, as he pounded the girl furiously, making the stool she was draped across topple back and forth, threatening to fall. Behind Barry sat David. He was apparently oblivious to the proceedings around him. His right forearm was bare, with an extension cord wrapped tightly around it, its tension held by David himself, whom held the end of the cord in his mouth and had his face pushing to the left to keep the pressure on as he forced the syringe into his forearm. While all these goings on were fun enough, it was not why he was here. Ripper gazed on the figure right in front of him, the only one who seemed to have noticed his arrival. Ethan Rayne. Staring right at his friend, who sat cross-legged on the floor, Ripper stepped forward.
"Is that it?" He asked, nodding to the thick, leather bound book Ripper held under his arm.
Ripper scowled at the man for a moment, angry that he may dare question his reliability. "Of course this is it." He snapped, gripping the book in both hands and waving it in front of him. "Don't you think I know to remember the most important thing? This was my idea, after all."
Raising his hands in mock defense, Ethan smirked his reply. "Bloody hell, calm down. Just wanted to make sure is all. You know how much we're looking forward to this."
"Well let's stop fucking about and get on with it then." Ripper returned, glancing around and the rest of the group, making it clear what he was talking about.
"Alright, everyone." Ethan shouted, clapping his hands to get attention. "Ripper's here. We're doing this now."
"Wait a sec!" Screamed Barry as he drove himself harder and faster into the poor girl, eliciting grunts of pain out of her, replacing the moans that connoted pleasure earlier on. Evidently, Barry's speeding up only diminished any trace of pleasure he was offering. With a few grunts and moans, his eyes shot up to the ceiling as pleasure overtook him. He fell forward onto Katie's back, bringing his fist down on her shoulder blade.
"Ow! Fuck!" Screamed Katie, apparently furious at Barry's violent behavior, and swung her elbow across his face, knocking him out of her and onto the ground. As Barry tumbled backwards, Katie pulled her trousers back up, glaring at the man on the floor, his penis still spurting sperm, which fell back on his naked thighs and shirt. Condoms were just an annoying distraction to Barry.
"You stupid bitch!" Shouted Barry, clutching his bloody nose in one hand and his appendage in the other. He was furious that his moment of pleasure was so quickly interrupted, but was angrier that everyone else was in hysterics over what'd happened. Snapping, he shot up and snatched at Katie's shirt, lifting his hand up to back-hand her across her face. "You…"
"Oi, calm down you twat!" Ethan shouted, holding his hands out to calm the man, but not able to stop the grin that still threatened to spill back out into laughter. "You go kill the bitch for all I care, but right now we do the curse, you got that."
Barry soon relented, and within a minute everyone sat cross-legged in the center of the room, more or less dressed. Ethan sat opposite Ripper, whom was cutting deep into the palm of his hand with a pocket knife. When the deep was done, he held the hand over the Tome of the Gods, which sat in front of him, and gripped his hand, forcing the blood to flow out in a gentle stream onto the cover.
"Pado, Pseudamani! Kadamando, Pseudamani! Bashicondimni, Pseudamani!"
The book erupted immediately, the pages flicking by themselves until resting open on the page the Tome knew Ripper wanted. "Now." Ripper whispered harshly. At this, everyone pulled out an identical picture; a man with white hair, balding, and with milk bottle glasses. Everyone pulled out a lighter a held the picture above the flame, allowing it to quickly overcome the picture before resting it on the ground. At Ripper's nod, they all held their hands over the flames of their pictures, letting the flames lick at the palm of their hands. Ripper scowled at the winces of pain around him. "Stop being such poofs!" He barked out under his breath. Glancing straight ahead, he wasn't surprised to see Ethan's face perfectly still, as if unaware of his hand being burnt. Turning his attention back to the book ahead of him, Ripper incanted.
"Gods of Hate. Gods of Pain. Hades of the Underworld. Tyrogra of Pain and Torture. Hear us. Hear the circle of Herrakuba. Hear the hate that burns in our souls, and grant us our domain, so that we may damn their own. Allow snakes to devour. Allow his kin to shun. Feed on the tears of this mortal."
At his nod, the rest of the circle chanted, "Geoffrey Goodwin."
"Take he who has blackened our souls, and allowed hate into our hearts. Smite him down. And lead his immortal soul into the darkness."
Karen didn't know what to do. She knew by her own voice that she was worried. For one point, she hardly ever called Mr. Giles just Giles, but she had no time for politeness. Nothing was waking the ex-watcher, who now lay in what must be a harsh dreamscape to have this full-grown man tossing and turning to this degree.
Willow rushed in, followed by Tara, brandishing a plastic cup full of water. "Try this." She demanded, thrusting the cup into Karen's grasp. Karen glanced back at forth between the cup and Giles' face a couple of times before tossing the water onto Giles' face. When it didn't have quite the effect she was looking for, she threw the cup itself at Giles' face, allowing it to bounce off his wet forehead and onto the pillow. Though controversial, the ploy worked, as Giles awoke with a start, gasping as he looked around at the girls in the room.
"Wha…what is it?" Giles asked through his gasps, fighting to keep up with his pounding heart.
"Y-you were having a b-bad dream." Tara explained, gripping Willow's hand gently.
"Oh." It was all Giles could muster, as he coursed his hand through his hair. "Thank you." He stopped when he realized how soaking wet his head was. "Why am I wet?"
"Um…" Karen's eyes darted across the room nervously, before finally resting on the redhead. "Willow?" She asked, silently begging her to come up with an explanation.
Willow's eyes widened as she was put on the spot. "Um…" She repeated Karen's earlier actions, but finding nothing helpful, searched her mind for the first explanation to come to mind. "You wet yourself?" She offered lamely, somewhat hopeful that her mentor would buy it.
"I realize it's been a long time since you studied the male anatomy, Willow." Giles sighed as he left the bed. "But, believe me; urinating will never leave my face wet and my legs immaculate." He pointed out.
Willow glanced at Tara to find her trying as hard as she could to stifle a giggle. Try as she might to be annoyed at her love giggling at her, Willow could only beam widely at the heart warming sight of her Tara's adorable lop-sided grin.
"I think I should call Buffy." Giles breathed out.
Buffy stared straight at Angel, feeling quite like a school girl in the principal's office being across from her ex's desk. 'Granted, a dark, brooding, handsome, sexy and occasionally scary principal.' Buffy thought as she watched Angel shift nervously. 'Okay, so not really much like a principal at all, except Snyder.' Buffy frowned at this last thought, quickly jumping in with a counter thought. 'In the way that Snyder was kinda scary in a creepy, wormy kinda way. Not sexy 'cause…well, ew!' Buffy got a disgusted look on her face to accompany her thoughts, which didn't go unnoticed by Angel.
"What's wrong?" Angel asked, concerned but pleased to find a way into a conversation.
"Huh?" Angel's question jerked Buffy out of some very unwelcome mental images of Snyder. "Oh, I was just thinking about how much you're like Principal Snyder." She responded, not being able to keep the highly offensive words from reaching her mouth.
"Oh." Angel replied, finding that he didn't at all like where this conversation had gone. "Uh…thanks?" He guessed with a frown, not knowing how to react.
With a laugh, Buffy accepted, shaking her head. "You're welcome."
Angel let out a small laugh, caught on by Buffy's own giggles, pleased to know she was only kidding. Once it had died down, Angel tried to steer the conversation somewhere that he'd enjoy more. "So…how have you been?"
"Haven't been dead for like a whole four years." Buffy shrugged, perky. "Must be like a world record or something."
Angel smirked at Buffy's morbid humor. "You look good." He smiled, nodding at Buffy.
"So do you." Buffy smiled back. "What about you? How's the LA life?"
"I'm doing good." Angel assured her. "Wolfram and Hart have been pestering us since leaving, but it's nothing compared to an annoying bleached blonde vampire we both know."
Buffy smirked at the mention of Spike, knowing better than anyone how annoying the vampire could be when he wanted to be, but likewise how his heart is always in the right place. Since he got his soul back, at least. "He bugging you, huh?"
"Nothing I can't handled." Angel shrugged. "He's helped us out a couple of times. Plus he's had his own stuff to deal with. Wolfram and Hart have been after him big time."
"You're looking out for him, right?" Buffy asked. She knew she didn't love Spike, but she still cared about him deeply, just as she did Angel.
"Of course." Angel nodded. He couldn't control the slight spark of jealousy that shot through him when seeing how much Buffy cared for Spike, but he knew she didn't love him. And it was a lot easier to handle these days. Since coming to LA, while Spike hadn't completely shaken off his annoying, sarcastic characteristics, Angel still liked him a lot more than he remembered, and he'd been lying if he said Spike hadn't come through for them on more than one occasion. "It's good to see you." He told Buffy, holding her gaze with compassion in his eyes.
"You too." She nodded, smiling warmly at the tingly sensation Angel was still, and she presumed would always be, able to course through her veins. They held their gaze silently for a few minutes, merely enjoying the other's company, until Fred came through the door.
"Oh…hi." She corrected herself, hesitant after having interrupted what was obviously an intimate moment between these two ex-lovers. "Buffy, there's a Mr. Giles on the phone." she informed.
"Thanks." Buffy replied, glancing one last time at Angel before getting up and leaving Angel's office, both Fred's and Angel's eyes following her out.
"So that's Buffy." Fred smirked slightly at Angel's dreamy expression, something she'd rarely seen, not even with Cordelia.
"Uh-huh." Angel nodded, watching the door where Buffy had just vacated.
"She's pretty." Fred commented, before frowning. "I-I mean for a person who was dead and all."
With a grin, Angel nodded. "Yeah. She always does."
"But I still prefer her friend." Fred muttered, watching her feet shuffle on the floor.
"Yeah." Angel replied, still watching the door and not paying attention. When the words finally registered in his brain, his head shot up to look at Fred. "What?"
"What's wrong?" Buffy demanded. It may not be nice, but her experience told her that when Giles instigated a phone call, or even worse, a visit, something nasty was happening. And given how much nastiness was already going around, she wasn't sure how much more she could take.
"Buffy!" He mocked hurt. "Isn't it much more plausible that I would call you to put my mind at ease that you reached LA safely?"
"Oh." Buffy's eyes widened, realizing how harsh it must've sounded, when it seems all he'd really been was concerned. "Oh…sorry Giles…I'm just extra…y'know." She tried to explain, not wanting to hurt his feelings, but still unable to quell her suspicions. Noble or not, Giles had never been one for social calls. And she could more than survive a plane ride. "But, yeah. All's good. What about up your end?"
"Oh, yes." Giles glanced at the sofa, where Willow was curled up like a baby in Tara's lap. He couldn't tell whether she was asleep or not, but quickly realized it was academic. After all, if she was asleep, it was more than likely her dreams would just be an exact replica of the scene before him. This was all Willow had dreamt of for years, of that Giles was sure, just as he was sure that right now, with Tara looking down on her, stroking her hair, and her own eyes shut, Willow had never looked so content, so happy in her life…except perhaps the first nine or so months the two got together, before things started to go oh-so terrible wrong.
"Willow is," Giles cleared his throat as he brought his attention back to his phone call, and searched for a word fitting. "Good." 'It isn't really a lie.' Giles told himself. 'Not of machiavellian proportions.' Glancing back at the two girls at the girls, Giles felt his argument crumbled. 'Okay, so I may have understated a little. Perhaps in pure bliss would be a better adjective?'
"Well its good to know that you're all fine." Giles inwardly chastised himself for letting his thoughts run awry. However, he could do little to stop it. Although he tried to control everything he did in life with his rational mind, and the fact that everyone was in grave danger, they had absolutely no idea about the resurrection of one of their dearest friends and Willow would be obliterated and quite possibly unsalvageable this time should Tara go again, this part of his mind was overshadowed. The only fact he wanted to comprehend at the moment was the fact that the girl that was virtually his daughter and what was quite clearly her soul mate, her everything, her entire reason for existence were together again, a mere few feet away, after years apart. If it is his job to keep them back together, he'd kill to do it; not caring if it'd tip the scales against his favor and he ended up in Hell. It was a risk worth taking.
"And that's all you phoned for?" Buffy's own skepticism getting in the way of her strained optimism.
Buffy's words forced Giles once again out of his thoughts and back to the task at hand. After all, what he had to say to Buffy was for the girls' benefit anyway. "Absolutely," He began, breathing in before continuing, "However…"
"Oh no!" Buffy's hands-well hand, as one was still clutching the phone-flew up in annoyance. 'And after all that feeling bad he made me do over my assuming, he does the very something I assumed and adds more assuming ammo to my assumptions!' Buffy frowned at her own thoughts before shaking them off. "I don't want to know! If some emperor of Japan or something is gonna transform into a winged monkey or something, tell him to wait until after all this!" She barked down the phone. "I mean, jeez, I thought I was done with all this apocalypse stuff!"
"Buffy!" Giles forced her out of her angry ramble. "Everything's fine Buffy. I just wanted to tell you we should get to LA at about 6 am your time. Early flight." He added as explanation.
"Oh." Buffy found for the second time in this phone call that she'd assumed. 'Oh, don't even start with that again!' "Good." She confirmed, genuinely pleased to have Giles with her and Willow safe…er.
"But Buffy, I must ask you." Giles started hesitantly. "Willow has asked that only you know when we arrive, and that you are the only one at the airport."
Buffy frowned, once again concluding internally that it must be something bad. "What? Why?" She whispered, crouching away from the others in the lobby, none of whom seemed interested in her anyway. "What about Kennedy? Or Xander?"
"No." Giles continued. "Willow has something she wants to tell you all, but she only wants you and Angel to know at this juncture."
"Me and Angel?" Buffy asked, the idea of whatever it is becoming more and more abstract. "Why? Is it bad?" Her own guess was that it would take fighting.
"Not at all." Giles shook his head, more out of habit than as a visible sign of negativity. After all, it couldn't be seen by Buffy. "She just does. She'd allow him to come to the airport too but…well, I trust he's not up to being on the streets at 6 am in daylight."
"Right." Buffy sighed in relief at Giles' genuine sounding assurance that whatever it was, it was good. Or at least not bad. "What do I do, then?"
"Well I was thinking you might lie." Giles suggested. "Tell the others we arrive later, sneak out and meet us."
"At six in the morning?!" Buffy gasped at being awake so early. Quickly realizing she'd be chastised by Giles for her laziness, she quickly got back on topic. "I mean, what about Angel?"
Giles chose to ignore Buffy's sign of laziness. After all, who didn't like to sleep in on Sundays? Certainly, 2 pm was something Giles was often more accustomed to when it came to Sundays. "We'll tell him at the hotel. But just keep it quiet from everyone else. Willow will tell them in her own time." Giles explained. "And don't tell anyone that there is even a secret in the first place."
"Oh great." Buffy pouted. "First I'm not in on the big secret. Now you take away my gossiping privileges."
She didn't notice as Kennedy jumped the last couple of steps into the lobby and headed straight towards Gunn, who was busy talking to Rona in stereotypical, black, ghetto speak. "Hey!" She drew Gunn's attention to her before pointing to Buffy. "Who she talking to?"
"England, I think." Gunn replied, quite miffed that this girl didn't seem polite enough not to interrupt someone's conversation, and turned back to Rona.
"Oh!" Kennedy jumped excitedly, and ran over to the counter where Buffy stood. With only one thing in her mind, she snatched the handset from Buffy's hand.
"Hey!" Buffy objected, seriously pissed off at someone intruding so rudely in a private conversation.
"Hey, baby." Kennedy smirked into the mouthpiece, ignoring Buffy's objections. She felt playful, and more than a little frustrated at not having seen or spoken to her girlfriend for a day.
"Sorry?" Came Giles' perplexed reply.
"Giles?!" Kennedy was wide-eyed at having called a middle-aged Englishman 'baby', and tried to ignore the sniggering coming from Buffy. "Where's Willow?" She demanded, frustrated.
"Oh." Giles breathed out, realizing who it was on the other side. "Kennedy." He furrowed his brow, not quite figuring out the best course of action. Glancing at the two girls on the sofa, he thought it best to tell the truth, or at least the truth in part. "She's sleeping at the moment."
Kennedy scowled into the phone, angry at the man trying to keep her from speaking to her girl. "Then wake her up."
"I-I think it'd be best to let her sleep. She's quite drowsy. It's been an exciting couple of days for her." Giles stammered, realizing that the girl on the other end doesn't know quite how exciting the past days have been.
"She wont mind if you tell her I'm on the phone." She rolled her eyes impatiently. "I'll soon get her perky again." She added, regaining her playfulness.
"I'll tell her to call you when she wakes up." Giles sighed, wanting to get as far away from this topic as possible. "Now could you please pass the phone back to Buffy?"
"But-" Fortunately for Giles, Buffy cut Kennedy's argument short by snatching the phone back and shooing the slayer away with her hand. After her glare proved ineffective, Kennedy gave up and stormed away grudgingly.
"Sorry about that, Giles." Buffy returned her attentions back to the ex-watcher. "Kennedy just has a kinda want, take, have attitude to things, y'know?" Buffy smirked as she went on. "Baby."
"Yes, very funny Buffy." Giles sighed. "Now, you are very clear on what to do?"
"Keep my mouth zipped 'cept from telling everyone you're arriving later than you really are and get to the airport on my lonesome by six." Buffy confirmed. "And understand that I'm only doing all this 'cause I wanna find out what Willow's big secret is."
Giles cleared his throat. "I wouldn't expect anything less." He allowed a small smile to reach his lips before he continued. "Well, I really must go…"
"Oh no you don't!" Buffy jumped in. "You cant just ring up, be all ominous and then expect to be allowed to just hang up!"
"No!" Buffy objected, feeling strongly. "You're not allowed to go before we have a chat. Y'know, how are you, how's the weather, and…such." Buffy continued. "So right here, right now, we're going to have a talk, and absolutely no hanging up until we've had it…" Buffy was about to go on, when her tone of voice suddenly turned frantic. "Oh my God, I gotta go."
"Buffy?" Giles frowned, but heard only the dial tone in reply.
Willow stirred as Giles hung up, entwining her hand with Tara's, but didn't actually move from her position. She just moved her eyes up to gaze upon the beauty looking down at her. "Hey." She smiled dreamily, thinking for the first time in years just how magical life could be.
"Hey." Tara smiled at the girl looking up at her who, despite being in the first moments of being awake, still looked nothing less than an angel. "Who was on the phone?" She asked as she noticed Giles making his way towards them, but found she couldn't tear her eyes away from Willow's for more than a split second, physically paining from the lack of contact.
"It was Buffy." Giles informed as Karen entered the room, peering into the conversation. "I asked her to be the only one at the airport. And not to tell the others we're coming so soon-it'll make it easier to get Tara to a room at the hotel without anyone seeing. We can inform Angel once there."
"Thanks." Willow tried to get her eyes to find Giles to show her appreciation, but like Tara's they were glued on the other girl's. She raised one of her hands-the one that wasn't intertwined with Tara's-and ran her fingers through the silky, long hair. 'Oh Goddess!'
Clearing his throat, Giles pushed on hesitantly, not wanting to breaking this adorable loving show of affection between the two girls with a potentially touchy subject, but realizing it was inevitable. "Also…Kennedy wishes for you to call her."
That got Willow's attention, and her content expression turned to one of apprehension and concern. She did care about Kennedy, after all, and she didn't want her to get hurt. "Oh." She thought about it, not having to travel far to reach her decision. "I don't feel up to telling her yet. Besides, it should wait until I actually see her."
"Who's Kennedy?" Tara frowned, realizing the girl, whoever it is, must have some importance.
Giles' eyes widened at the prospect of Tara not knowing Willow already had a girlfriend. "Willow?" He began, not wanting to believe that she'd keep something really quite crucial from Tara.
"She knows." Willow answered Giles' silent question, peering further into the eternity of sea blue that is Tara's eyes, as if silently communicating who Kennedy was (though not actually silently communicating it.)
"Oh." Came Tara's realization when it hit her. "Kennedy's your…" She frowned. She knew it shouldn't bother her that a girl thought as Willow as her girlfriend, but it did. 'But she is still her girlfriend.' Her mind tried to remind her. 'It is Willow's choice…you can't expect her to just come back to you. No matter how much you want it.' "Willow." She tried to voice her nobility, but found her heart was giving her voice difficulty. "Y-y-you know you don't h-h-have…"
"I know." Willow smiled fondly, knowing instantaneously that Tara's stammer meant that what she was trying to say and what her heart wanted to say were two very different things. The thought made Willow's heart soar…it meant she may have a second-no a third chance with Tara, something she thought she'd never have ago. Resuming her stroking of Tara's long hair and gripping the girl's hand tighter, Willow tried to spare Tara's trepidation. "But I want to." She reported sincerely, very pleased to see that she'd gotten a smile out of Tara.
Pleased at how things had gone, Giles went on to a much safer, casual line of conversation. "I'm going to Woolies to pick up a few things for the flight." He addressed Karen more than the girls on the sofa, aware that they would almost definitely not know what 'Woolies' is, even though Willow spent three months in England.
"What's Woolies?" Willow asked with a bemused frown, finally breaking her gaze from Tara, but only for a second before checking back with her to check to see if Tara knew, but saw only her own expression mirrored in the blonde's face.
Giles laughed inwardly at Willow's confirmation at having learnt nothing about English culture during her three month stay. Not that he blamed her, of course, she had much more important things on her mind. "Woolworths." He answered both of them. "It's a shop."
Tara's ears perked up. "W-would you mind if I came to?" She asked attentively. She silently begged they'd allow her to leave the hotel, preferably with Willow for support, for two reasons. Firstly, though it isn't how she imagined it'd happen, she was in England, a place she'd always wanted to visit, and she was curious to see how the culture differed, even if it was just between British and American stores. Secondly, though, she was curious how much had changed since she was…killed. Though she was aware that very little was likely to have changed, and even less likely that she'd notice these changes in a foreign country, where things would be different anyway, she was still eager to see the outside world nonetheless.
"I'm coming too!" Willow jumped in, not at all prepared to allow Tara to be away from her, in an unfamiliar location while people are hunting them.
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea." Giles tried to explain, hesitantly. Although he could see, and understand, Tara's desire to go outside, the fact still remained that the council were after them.
"Please." Tara begged, peering deep into Giles' eyes. "I…I really want to see…" That was all she had to say, and she knew Giles understood what she was saying. In fact, everyone in the room understood what she was saying.
"Come on, Mr. Giles." Karen felt sympathetic to the girl, who must be undoubtedly confused beyond reproach. "We can all go." She felt he may waver with the prospect of a slayer by their side.
Realizing he was outnumbered, and as he himself wanted the girl to see the outside world, even if it is only Colchester, he conceded with a sigh. "Very well." He just prayed it wasn't a mistake.
'I knew we'd be fighting soon enough…but I didn't think it'd be this soon! I just got here!' Buffy thought as she slammed the phone down, eyes fixated at the large demon that just crashed through the door, brandishing two very unfriendly looking knives.
"Angel!" She called as she ran over to the weapons cabinet, with Gunn and Rona, the only other two in the lobby, close behind her.
Angel gulped as he set eyes upon the demon. "Oh…you're back." The demon roared, lunging at the vampire.
"Angel!" Buffy screamed as she threw a sword his way, which he caught just in time to fend off one of the demon's own. Within seconds, Rona joined the fight, but was soon punched away by the demon so it could focus it's energies on Angel.
Buffy had been watching this, but frowned when she realized it was only after Angel. "Why's it only want to kill Angel?" She asked Gunn.
"It doesn't." He reported. "It also wants to kill Spike." At Buffy's confused look, he embellished his answer. "He came round wanting to kick their asses yesterday." Having had enough of watching Angel struggling with the large demon, Buffy decided to join the fray, grabbing a double-edged axe and running towards the demon to help Angel out. She found the demon to be much tougher than your average monster. The demon was quick to react to her axe, blocking it with his sword, while simultaneously engaging with Angel. However, the demon wasn't that good, and with the greatest slayer and vampire in existence against him, he was inevitably being pushed back against the lounge area. Gunn and Rona stood away, seeing that the ex-lover's seemed to have it covered-in fact, they seemed to have a certain synchronicity to it, and they expected this must've been what dates between them were like. Eventually, the demon caught the shaft of Buffy's axe with one of his swords, and tossed it above him on the stairs, and then turned his aggression back onto Angel, turning his back to Buffy.
'Bad move' Thought Buffy. She spun her leg to deliver a roundhouse kick to the back of the demon's head, knocking it several feet away on it's back. Satisfied Angel could hold his own for a few seconds, she rushed away to retrieve the axe. Meanwhile, Angel lunged at the demon, brandishing his sword. However, his position left him unprepared when the demon kicked his legs into Angel's torso and carried him over himself behind the demon. This action allowed the demon to back roll back onto it's legs. In one fluid movement it turned back to Angel, who was now slumped against the counter, grabbed the vampire's throat and held a sword high up, ready to strike. However, before the demon could act, it's eyes widened, and Angel heard flesh being torn. Taking advantage of whatever it was, Angel punched the demon across the face, releasing him and allowing him to retrieve his own sword. As he ducked down to reach it, he realized what was causing the demon distress-the demon had an axe embedded in it's back, thrown by the figure standing at the door-Faith! Not having time for pleasantries, though, Angel hastily picked up the sword and plunged it straight through the demon's back to it's front, right beside the axe that still lie there. It didn't take Angel long to realize that a sword through the torso doesn't kill this demon. Glancing at Buffy, who now had her axe back and was running towards them, Angel drove forward toward the advancing blonde, forcing the demon along with him.
"Angel, DUCK!" Buffy called out as he held the axe out to meet with the demon's neck. Angel complied, and Buffy ran straight past them, allowing the blade to cut straight through the blue demon's thick neck-and it's long hair-and just miss Angel's head on the other side. When she looked back after her forward momentum, she saw the demon's corpse on the floor, with Angel standing over it, holding the demon's head by it's hair, staring intently at it. Buffy allowed her eyes to carry on panning until it rested on Faith, who still stood at the front door.
"Hey." Faith smirked, giving a small wave before glancing quickly at the demon. "When you said that some nastiness was going down, I didn't expect it to be this easy." Faith continued. "Your standards are falling, B."
Buffy glared at the dark slayer before going on. "It's good to see you, Faith." She conceded, genuinely pleased that she was here to help. Even though she hadn't heard much from the girl since Sunnydale, by all reports she was still doing good. "And sorry to say, that is not the nastiness." She frowned slightly as she thought about it. "At least, I think it's not."
"There's a symbol here." Angel commentated, not listening to the conversation, being too engrossed in the severed head he still held.
"A symbol?" Buffy frowned once again. Symbols were almost always not good. "Where?"
"On his forehead." Angel motioned slightly with his head to what he was looking at, inviting Buffy to take a closer look.
Buffy glanced back at Faith to find that she was far from interested in symbols, and was already having a conversation to Rona and Gunn. Moving back to Angel, Buffy studied the head; the symbol was just above his eyes. She didn't like the fact that it looked suspiciously like the symbol of Aurelius one bit. "What is it?"
"A sun." Angel furrowed his brow to concentrate on what the three other things around the sun were, but soon realized they were exact replicas of the sun in the middle, only smaller. "A sun in the middle, with three smaller ones around it."
"What does it mean?" Buffy asked.
"I don't know."
Willow laughed at what she saw. Darting her eyes quickly to find Tara only a few feet away looking some children's toys. Willow tapped her on the shoulder eagerly. "Tara, look what I found!"
Tara smiled at Willow's behavior, acting like an excited child. It was particularly nice after having just thought about having children; she knew Willow would be a wonderful mother. 'Stop thinking like that' She chastised herself. 'You're supposed to be taking it slow, and you're already thinking about going to the fertility clinic to get knocked up!' But she couldn't help herself. The thought of children with Willow just filled her with happiness. However, what she'd truly love would be a child that was really hers and Willow's. She only wish it was possible…
"What is it?" Tara giggled, still entranced at the girl's behavior.
Willow eagerly took Tara's hand and lead her to the shop refrigerator, which contained an array of drinks. Willow tapped the glass with one finger, pointing at an orange carton. "Look at the name of that one!"
Tara leaned in to observe the name of the drink, and smiled at what she thought. 'Only Willow would be so excited at finding a drink called Sunny-D.' "Sunny-D" She giggled.
"We should buy it!" Willow suggested, excitedly. She found the concept of a drink existing that was called the same name as what they affectionately called her hometown very nifty indeed.
"Okay." Tara giggled as she watched Willow's grin widen at her acceptance. She felt like a mother allowing her kid to buy a toy that she knew was only a novelty. 'Stop thinking about kids!' Her mind screamed.
Once Willow had the drink in her hand, she looked between the drink and the girl she loved with a frown. "Do you think I'm crazy?"
"You're quirky." Tara corrected, locking her fingers around Willow's.
Willow's grin couldn't be wider if she tried. Only Tara could make her feel like she was the most special person in the world, and that her wackiness only made her more special. "What were you looking at?"
Tara led Willow over to the toys as she spoke. "I was looking at the toys."
Willow giggled at Tara. "Sweetie, you do realize you're in your twenties, yes." Willow forgot to censor her affectionate talk, but was happy to note that Tara didn't notice.
She was wrong. Tara did notice, and it made her heart swell with love. Deciding not to make anything of it though, she quickly thought of a retort. "This coming from the girl who cuddles up to her stuffed puppy dog every night?" She gave her sideways smirk, having always found the fact simply adorable.
Willow giggled, but soon found herself hit by a wave of pain. She gulped down the tears that threatened to spill as she voiced what as on her mind. "I never used to…not when I slept with you." She held eye contact with Tara, who'd stopped when she realized Willow was in pain.
"What about now?" Tara asked softly. She knew it wasn't exactly appropriate to ask whether Willow's new girlfriend covered her snuggle-wise, but didn't like the idea of Willow feeling lonely.
"I used to." Willow admitted, trying her hardest not to cry in a public place. "But Kennedy…she got rid of it…I cuddled it instead of her." She admitted with a rueful laugh. She had quite a large argument with Kennedy when the slayer threw out her puppy dog behind her back, but soon conceded, not having the strength to argue. Kennedy's argument did hold merit, after all. She hardly ever snuggled up to Kennedy at night, only her puppy dog. She just didn't feel right snuggling to her. Her puppy dog was comforting, but at the same time it wasn't a person, so she didn't feel wrong about it. Plus, of course, Tara always adored puppy dog, and it made her feel better. But Kennedy's disposal of the soft toy took that feeling away and didn't solve anything. After that, Willow just wrapped her arms around herself or the blanket instead, and was left feeling very alone.
Tara could see the pain in Willow's eyes. Not wanting to pry into her relationship, but wanting desperately to levirate the redhead's pain, she tried to steer the conversation into a lighter mood. "Maybe we could buy you another one." She suggested with a hopeful smile. "Just like puppy dog number 1, except this one will be puppy dog number 2"
Willow smiled fondly at Tara's attempts to make her feel better. It wasn't Tara's words, but the fact that she cared so much that succeeded in making Willow's feelings of pain dissipate completely. "Yeah." She nodded. However, she knew that snuggling with Tara would diminish the need for puppy dog, but wanted to play along anyway. "Extra fluffy." She added.
Giggling at Willow's word play, and remembering with fondness the words they had such a likeness to-extra flamey-Tara decided to get back to the toys. "Anyway, I wasn't thinking about buying the toys." Tara rolled her eyes playfully. "Not yet, anyway." She added as an afterthought.
Willow's ears perked up, suddenly finding the direction things were going very interesting. "Not yet?" She asked hopefully.
Tara gulped, realizing her slip up. She didn't want to seem like over-eager gal, after all. "I-I j-just meant that it w-would be nice. I-if I had kids…" Tara looked up into Willow's eyes, hoping she'd understand what she was implying. "With someone."
Willow found her mouth dry and her heart beating. 'Does this mean…was Tara thinking…about kids? With me? Me and Tara kiddies?' Willow broke into an all absorbing grin as she processed the idea of her and Tara having a child. "Someone?" She asked, pointedly.
"Mmm-hmmm." Tara nodded, grinning in the same way as Willow, and pleased that the girl had deciphered her ingenious code. They stood there for a few moments, lost in each other's eyes, until the sounds of screams and smashing from the other side of the shop brought them back into the real world.
"What the heck is that?" Willow jumped, wrapping her arms around Tara, feeling extremely protective over her.
The girls quickly found out when they arrived at the main aisle running down the center of the store. As customers ran around them in a bid to escape the store, Karen was fighting a demon wearing a black suit. It's green head looked positively vicious with razor hard teeth and bone jutting out the top of it's head and following it's skull down the back of it's head like hair. As Willow peered closer, all the while keeping her arms wrapped around Tara, she noticed the skin on it's large claws was quite different than it's head; white colored and leathery, with long fingers, topped off with dagger-like nails. As Willow took these attributes in, she couldn't shake the feeling that she'd seen hands like these before…in fact, they looked just like the ones on the…
This hadn't gone unnoticed by Giles, who was crouched nearby, observing the fight, and racking his brain trying to figure out what kind of demon this was. He'd just spotted Willow and Tara, and were pleased to notice that they were staying out of the way. However, this demon was very strong, and Karen, who hadn't much experience outside of mere vampires, was having trouble just containing it. Scanning the shelves he was beside for some kind of weapon, Giles was pleased to find a camera. While it wouldn't help in slaying the demon, it would help identify it later. After all, it was likely it's presence had something to do with the Goddess of the Slayer, and he'd prefer to have any clue as to what's going on that he could get.
When the demon knocked Karen aside, Giles took his position. Having torn the camera from it's packaging (after checking it came pre-loaded with film), he shot up and took the picture. When the flash went off, Giles realized he hadn't thought his plan all the way through, and now the demon was charging toward him, claws raised, ready to slice. Thinking as fast as he could, Giles pocketed the camera and grabbed hold of the nearby, half-full shopping trolley, discarded by the one of the patrons. With a grip of the handle and a silent prayer, Giles barreled down on the demon, pushing it backwards and pinning it between one of the shelves and the trolley. As books from the shops literary came down on the demon, having been knocked from their shelves, Giles kept up the pressure on the demon, trying to get a better look at their attacker. His eyes went over it's face, typically demon-esque but nothing he instinctively recognized, and in blaring contrast to it's Turok-han hands. Holding the pressure as best as he could against the demon, which was quickly regaining its composure, Giles ran his gaze over the suit, over the breast pocket, and over the name tag…
Giles' momentary confusion was taken advantaged of by the demon, who grabbed the bars of the trolley and forced it back in Giles' direction, forcing the ex-watcher to stumble backwards and fall, and allowing the trolley and it's contents to tumble over onto the man. Having floored him, the demon advanced on Giles' fallen form, only to be once again distracted when the girl he fought earlier came back, armed with a wooden deck chair, and shattered it over his head.
With the demon dazed, Karen jumped back into action with the demon, kicking it in the face and forcing it to stumble backwards. She kept up the kicks and the punches, seemingly having the demon bested. Unfortunately, Karen had no idea what this demon was, and even less of what kills it. Once she'd forced it backwards into the shelves Giles had earlier, the demon had enough, and tore the metal shelf from the wall, swing it into Karen's face and knocking her sideways. He followed this up with an uppercut, knocking the slayer several feet up into the air before she landed on her back a few meters away.
Giles was now back up, and with a better idea of what kind of demon this may be. Grabbing a broken leg from the destroyed leg chair, he took another silent prayer before ploughing down upon the demon, which was now facing towards him. Expelling an angry battle cry from his lungs, Giles aimed the leg at the demon's chest and barreled into the abomination, knocking them both to the floor. Rising from the floor, Giles looked down at the demon as it made a screech before exploding into dust.
After taking a few minutes to compose himself, Giles walked over to Karen, offering his hand to help her up. He was pleased when, upon turning around, he found Willow and Tara by his side, unscathed.
"You alright?" He asked them all, gaining a round of nods and 'yeahs' from them all.
"What the frilling heck was that?" Willow asked between gasps, keeping one hand firmly in Tara's.
"I'm not sure." Giles replied, glancing at the scattered dust and rubbing his eyes to escape the blur in his vision. "I believe it may be some kind of Turok-han."
"A what?" Tara and Karen asked simultaneously, neither recognizing the word.
"It's kinda like a super vamp." Willow replied, addressing Tara more than Karen, but occasionally glancing at the slayer to be sure she understood as well. "They're super strong and deadly. The First had a whole army of them, but we killed them." Tara and Karen nodded, vaguely understanding through what they'd both already been told about The First Evil's plot and the destruction of Sunnydale. "But Giles," Willow turned to the older man, her doubt creeping in. "that thing's head…that wasn't Turok-hanny."
"Well, I plan to do some research tonight." Giles assured. "But I'm hoping Wesley may have his own insights, which is why I took the photograph." Giles raised the camera to illustrate his point.
"Oh, I thought you just wanted a souvenir." Karen quipped as they started walking out of the shop.
"Do you think the demon has something to do with what's going on?" Tara asked.
"It may have." Giles responded honestly. "Which is why I hope to have some kind of answer as soon as possible."
"Excuse me." The small, nervous, high-pitched voice brought the group to a stand-still and drew their attentions over to a pre-pubescent teenager, barely visible from his position; cowering behind the shop counter. "You have to pay for that." He nodded toward the camera in Giles' hand.
Giles looked between the boy, the camera and the girls, and was pleased to note that he wasn't the only one who wore a look of confusion and bemusement.
"I'll just say they only had two jellies left…" Xander told himself, jamming the jelly donut in his mouth and closing the lid of the donut box before walking down the dark streets of Los Angeles.
Descending the dark alleyway, Xander suddenly started getting nervous. "Oh yeah…great idea Xan-man." Xander chastised himself. "Go out for donuts…in the middle of the night…on your own…and choose the darkest, deadliest route back." He barely finished his self-assault before he stumbled into some dustbins and fell face first into the floor, crushing the donuts under his weight. Rising up, he was not too surprised when he felt himself being dragged up and held in place by two figures, each one holding one of his arms. Based on their strength alone, he guessed they were of the fangy variety, and he knew without doubt when another figure came up into the light before him, in full vampire visage.
"Oh great!" Xander exclaimed. "First you ruin my donuts, and now you're gonna kill me!" Xander sighed, shaking his head. "LA Sucks."
The vampire he could see merely smirked. "We're not going to kill you." He shook his head.
Xander allowed his grin to encompass his face. "Really? Well thanks. You guys just want my donuts…right?"
"He's cute." The vamp addressed one of his friends, who still held Xander hostage. The vampire looked Xander up and down, rubbing his hands together. "I can't wait to take him for a go."
Xander's grin had now completely disappeared, and his eyes widened in horror as he realized what their plans were. "Take me?" He gulped nervously.
"Hold him, boys." The vampire instructed as he took another step towards his prey.
"Oh, God…" Xander pleaded, his face contorted in horror. "Just kill me."
The vampire grabbed Xander throat and squeezed gently, letting the fingertips of his other hand run lightly up and down his chest. "Oh we will…eventually." He laughed with a predatorily glint to his demeanor.
Xander screwed his eyes shut, whimpering and praying to every God that may hear him. When he heard the screech of a vampire dusting, and felt his right arm freed, his eyes shot open. 'Thank you, Gods' Out of instinct, he delivered a right hook to the vampire's face, and then swung the vampire still holding his left arm into the one he just hit, freeing himself completely in the process. He saw a feminine figure with shoulder length blonde hair tackle the one that'd been holding his arm, and figured it was her who killed the one holding his right. He had no time to try to identify the girl, however, as the vampire who was in front of him earlier charged at him, bowling Xander onto his back.
"I'm gonna split you open!" The vampire roared as he bared his fangs down on Xander's neck. However, the vampire didn't seem too tough, and a strong head butt forced him off Xander, allowing him to get up. Xander was queasy and could feel something trickling down his head, but forced himself to focus. Upon hearing the screeching of a dying vampire once again from behind the would-be-undead rapist, Xander flung himself at his attacker, putting all his anger into an uppercut. While it wasn't exactly devastating, it knocked the vampire backwards, into the blonde behind him, and more importantly her stake. She allowed the vampire to fall to the ground and explode into dust before shifting her gaze up to Xander.
Xander did the same, and felt his throat catch when he saw who the blonde girl is. Not a slayer. Not a vampire. Not a demon…not really. Although, Xander knew she was actually completely a demon, given the fact she had her demon face on. Xander may have only seen that face a few times, and knew her human face a lot better, but he still recognized her instantly.
"Anya?" He asked. 'No, it can't be…she's…she's gone' his mind screamed. 'Besides, it'd be Anyanka, not Anya…but either way it can't be!' He felt himself waver slightly and lifted a hand up to his forehead. When he felt a sticky substance there, he brought his hand back down to observe what it is. 'Blood?' He quickly came to the conclusion that he was hallucinating due to some kind of brain-thing when he head butted the vampire. However, he really didn't want that to be true. He loved Anya, still did, and he missed her all the time. Not one day went by when he still didn't cry for her. He couldn't help but be hopeful. "Anya?" He croaked out again, his vision blurred and his head spinning. Anya…or whoever this was seemed just as shocked as him, and wasn't saying anything. After a few minutes, though, Xander felt his head pounding, and clutched his wound, closing his eyes at the pain, despite his fear that if he did Anya would disappear. His fears were proved justified. Just as soon as he closed his eyes, he heard a strange sound-the same one Anya would make when she was a demon, when she would teleport-and he opened his eyes to find that the alleyway was empty.
'See…there was nothing there.' Xander's mind told him before the overwhelming need to vomit overtook him.
It was night. The university was dark and all but deserted. Except for Professor Goodwin. After all, it was Tuesday, and he always stayed until half nine grading papers on Tuesdays. They'd planned it all. It'd be at a time when he would be all alone, save for himself, themselves-the spectators-and the curse itself. Yes, they'd planned everything, except for the one thing they couldn't. The curse itself. They had no idea what it would be. The Tome of the Gods decides that one. They are just to call upon its power to curse who they want. And this is who they wanted to suffer. Professor Goodwin. Especially Ripper. He hated him with a vengeance. The professor had some kind of vendetta against all of them, but especially Ripper. Every chance he got he came down on him. He cost Ripper so much, had messed with so much of his fun. And now he was going to be the fun. The fact that he didn't know how he would suffer only made the curse all the more exciting and anticipating, in Ripper's opinion. Ethan, himself and the rest of the gang who'd cursed him at the exact time the night before were gathered a hundred yards from the car park, watching from behind the corner of one of the nearby university buildings as Professor Goodwin made his way to his car. Ripper checked his watch. It was time.
When he looked up, he saw that Professor Goodwin was surrounded-but not in the way he'd hoped. He was surrounded by a young boy and two young girls, none of whom looked any older than twelve, and a woman who looked to be the professor's age, who went straight to the man and kissed him deeply, before he lent down and picked up one of the girls. It was a heart-warming scene. But it only sickened Ripper. "What the bloody hell is this?" He turned, snapping at Ethan.
"Don't ask me!" Ethan snapped back. "You're the one who said that sodding book would curse him. Some curse-a family gathering!"
"It was supposed to be horrifying and violent!" Ripper argued. He opened his mouth to make another point, when he heard a blood curdling scream. Whipping his head back around, Ripper's eyes were widened to the size of dinner plates at what he saw.
Professor Goodwin's wife and kids were biting him-really biting him, and tearing off skin. They're eating him alive! His own family! Soon, Professor Goodwin was on the ground trying unsuccessfully to shake his kids off, who were laughing maniacally, along with their mother as they sunk their teeth into their father's back. One of the girls-the one he was just carrying-was gnawing on his face. When she pulled away, Ripper saw Professor Goodwin's face was drenched was blood, and his eye was missing; it was being eaten by the girl. His wife, meanwhile, was eating his fingers, shedding one of its fleshes before moving onto the next, leaving only bone. However, they had yet to do anything fatal, and the professor was still alive.
As Ripper watched the proceedings, he couldn't help but feel…horrified. 'What have I done?' He could hear many of his fellow gang members running away, and others vomiting. He wanted to do both. All the blood had washed out of his face. What made it worse was Ethan's maniacal laughing behind his shoulder-he seemed to be the only one enjoying the show. Ripper, meanwhile, wanted to turn away, but he wouldn't allow himself to. 'You did this!' His mind shouted at him in anger. 'You watch it! YOU WATCH IT ALL!'
His kids had turned Professor Goodwin over. His pain was making him pass out, but it was the pain that brought him back to reality again a few seconds later. His wife and kids seemed to have the strength of ten men, and he was powerless against them. He shrieked again when he felt his beloved son tear at his nipples. However, all words escaped him when his wife and daughter dived into his crouch, tearing at it with their blunt teeth. Finally, his other daughter put him out of his misery, and chewed her way through her father's neck to tear through his trachea. His horror was finally over. However his family's wasn't they continued to devour their devoted, beloved husband and father until he was nothing but a skeleton.
Soon into the proceedings, Ripper and Ethan were the only ones left. Ethan smiled gleefully while Professor Goodwin's family cannibalized him. It was even better than he imagined. However, Rupert's face held an expression of pure sickness and horror throughout, although he never allowed himself to look away. When Professor Goodwin was mercifully killed by his own daughter, Rupert knew that his family would endure more horror than he ever did. Once the curse was gone, they would retain their own minds-with the memory of eating their husband and father. They had killed a good man and ruined the life of a harmless woman and three completely innocent children.
'What have we done?'
Rupert forced the chest open, before grasping the book that lie by his side. He knew that he should destroy it, that after what he'd witnessed it was obvious that only evil can come of this book, something he wanted nothing to do with anymore. However, his heart told him otherwise, told him that one day he'd need this book. And on that day it'd be for a far greater purpose. He carefully laid the book down inside the large chest, and then slammed the lid down. With the key that was left in one of the locks, Rupert locked each of the six locks once in a specific order before pushing it into the safe he'd opened in the wall. Once it was in, he slammed the safe door shut, as well as the hatch hiding the safe from the rest of the world. Putting the key in his pocket, Rupert then pushed some of the wine barrels in front of the offending hatch and left the wine cellar, thinking of a safe place to hide the key. After the horror he'd witnessed tonight, he didn't want the Tome of the Gods falling into the wrong hands…not like when it fell into his own…
Giles was saved once again from his dream of the past by Karen. When he got over the shock of being awake, he realized that numerous books were on the desk before him. 'I fell asleep researching the Turok-han.' Giles remembered. "What is it, Karen?" Giles answered grouchily. Although, if truth be told, he was very pleased to be rescued from the dream.
"We've got to go." Karen reminded him impatiently.
"What?" Giles asked in his still semi-conscious state, not quite realizing the situation.
"Oh. Right." Giles' memory started clearing up as he straightened himself out and stood up, stretching and cracking his bones. "Just let me get dressed, and I'll join you in a minute." Giles yawned.
"'kay." Karen turned out, closing the door behind her. "Be quick." She called from the behind the door.
Giles nodded, only vaguely aware that she couldn't see his reply. He was lost in his own thoughts. 'We're going to Los Angeles' He thought to himself. 'I'm going to atone. This time, the Tome of the Gods will be used for good. I'll make sure of it.'
'Even if I die.'
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