11:15 am GMT.
Willow was sitting on the grass outside her cottage enjoying the cold but sunny morning whilst meditating. It was something she had been doing almost constantly since the moment she had arrived here at the Coven. She had been surprised that, when Giles had brought her here to recuperate after her… breakdown, she had been told she would be taught little to no magic during her stay. Instead, they put her through a rigorous training regime to garner full control over the knowledge and power she already had at her disposal.
To begin with, she had felt disappointed, her almost obsessive need to learn new things balking at the idea, until she reminded herself that it had been that exact need (well, compulsion might actually be a better description, if she were being honest with herself) to learn new things that had been part of the problem.
It had taken her a long time to fully appreciate the difference between knowledge and wisdom, and that while she could honestly say she most certainly possessed a great deal of the first, she had a long way to go before she could claim to have the second. To that end, she had thrown herself into her training, wanting - no, needing - to be in better control of herself.
It had been her decision not to remain in contact with Xander and the others, at least not in the conventional ways, as she knew any kind of communication would only strengthen the already immense levels of guilt she felt. She had tried to kill her friends and the world as a whole, all because she could not stand the grief she felt over the loss of her girlfriend Tara. She knew that had it not been magic, she would have found some sort of outlet for her emotions, although probably not with such extreme results. She needed to be happy with who she was before she could possibly begin to be around her friends and family.
But while not in contact via conventional means, Willow did keep informed as to their well being via less than conventional ones. She had been taught that her magical abilities were deeply connected with the Earth, or Gaia as the Coven would like to refer to it, and with those teachings came the knowledge that she could communicate with nature on a level few people could. She could, and often did, speak with both flora and fauna, and in doing so felt as though she had learnt more about herself in the process. Using this ability, she had been able to keep an eye on Xander and the others, never directly, but enough to know they were alright.
She tapped into that ability now and listened with increasing despair as the events of the last few hours were explained to her. With the prospect of the two people she cared for the most in the world losing their lives, Willow knew that she would have to break a vow she had made on her first day here.
When she had been told she would not be taught any new spell, she had also been told that she could not use her magic without the express permission of the Coven. To ensure that, they made her take a blood oath to that effect, with the warning that if she were to break her vow, there would be dire consequences. She hadn’t been all that curious as to what those consequences would be at the time, having no intention of using her abilities, but now they gave her pause.
Her hesitation only lasted a moment, however, as the welfare of her friends was far more important than any punishment she would be faced with. Despite that, she knew that to use an overt display of her abilities would easily notify the others that she was in breach of her oath and they would no doubt try to stop her before she could be of any help. That meant that teleportation spells were out - at least the more obvious ones, anyway.
Going into a deeper mediation, far deeper than she had tried before, she started to focus on her goal of reaching her friends. Soon, roots started to appear in a circle around her, and steadily grew until they reached above her head. They then began to intertwine with one another until they created a dome that completely covered her, which then began to sink into the ground until it completely disappeared. Soil and grass appeared to fill in the hole left by her departure, and soon she was on her way to Sunnydale.~*~Pier 3,
Buffy dearly wished that she could scream right now, but the gag that her torturer had forced into her mouth a couple of hours ago ensured that her enforced silence continued. She had never felt such intense pain for so long a time, and she had thought that almost impossible after the pain that had wracked her body when she’d swan-dived into that portal last year. She had tried to detach herself from the pain, using the mental techniques Giles had drilled into her before his departure to England, but whenever she got close to success, her captor managed to break her concentration, as though he could read her thoughts.
He had somehow managed to rotate where he hit her with the whip so that, by the time he had made a full circuit of her body, the welts he made at the beginning had almost completely healed. Where he found the stamina was beyond her, as was how she had remained conscious throughout her ordeal. The thought of what he might attempt if she were unconscious were not pleasant, but she had begun to favour them over her current situation.
Her torture had been unending and methodical ever since she had refused to answer his seemingly innocuous question. He would repeat the question every half an hour or so, and her response had been the same each time. The question itself wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things; it was the battle of wills between herself and her captor that kept her from answering. If she were to answer, it would mean giving power over to him, and that was one thing she would never do, even if it meant enduring the torture he was currently inflicting upon her.
She could have easily said that the answer was her sister Dawn, of course, but knowing the way things worked on the Mouth of Hell, even if she were to answer, he may well continue, stating that she had not been truthful. It would not have been a lie, as Dawn was her number one priority, but she knew that was not the type of love he had meant.
There was another reason she didn’t answer the question; she would not tell anyone else until she had told the person in question. All she hoped now was that he would somehow find her before sunrise so she could do just that.~*~Sunnydale Docks,
When Angel and Xander finally arrived at the entrance to the docks, they had found an extremely agitated Gunn pacing back and forth, with Wesley doing his best to calm him down with little to no success.
“It’s about damn time!” Gunn snapped upon spying the two arrivals.
“Gunn, do shut up.” While Wesley’s voice had little if no volume, the flint like quality and the almost palpable command presence it did have ensured Gunn had no other option than to comply.
“So, where is she?” Angel asked, beating Xander to the punch by a millisecond, a fact that irked him no end.
“We were told she was in the docks, but nothing more specific.” Before either one could question him, Wesley continued. “We had little chance to garner further information, as our informant took that moment to stake himself.”
“Did it say anything else?” Xander asked, his calling the vampire ‘it’ earning him a weird look.
“Yes, he said that Buffy was tied up and suspended in the air, where Connor is supposedly whipping her.”
Wesley couldn’t tell who growled first but, knowing how Angel sounded, he knew it was Xander who growled the loudest.
“We need to split up,” Xander said unnecessarily, given that everyone knew the logic of his suggestion. “Gunn, you and Angel…”
“You’re splitting us up?” Angel asked, actually feeling surprised he would not see this out with the young man, despite his ability to stomp on his last nerve.
“I didn’t know you were so attached to me, Deadboy,” Xander quipped, smiling sharkishly at the souled vamp.
“Might I suggest that you stop acting like you’re in kindergarten and, instead, focus on rescuing Buffy?” Wesley asked/ordered, his tone indicating what he thought of their bickering. “Charles and myself will take the east side, you two will take the west. Come along, Charles,” he said to his comrade as he turned toward the docks.
“Wes, I’m not some dog you call to heel.”
“Come along now, there’s a good boy,” Wesley said as he started walking towards the entranceway.
Gunn shook his head and, reluctantly, followed after Wesley. “You and I will be having a long talk when this is all over.”
Xander and Angel glared at each other for a moment before they also made their way into the docks.~*~Pier 12,
Wesley and Gunn made their way into the warehouse warily, knowing that at this late stage the last thing they needed was to startle the obviously unhinged teenager and cause him to up the timetable. This was the third warehouse they had checked so far, and they were starting to think that maybe they had been led on a wild goose chase by that annoying vampire.
“You know, Wes, when I finally get my hands on that little bastard, I am so gonna tan his…”
Gunn only had time to snap his head round to Wesley before the trap he’d just triggered activated. The darkness of the warehouse made it impossible for either man to get out of the way in time as the large piece of timber came swinging down from the roof.
The weight and speed of the deadly pendulum alone had been enough to shatter several bones, but it was the wooden spikes protruding from the timber that had done the real damage. Wesley’s right shoulder and collarbone was, he was sure, irreparably damaged, but right at that moment, it was the gurgling noises he could hear coming from Gunn that had him more worried. Wesley had been on the edge of the impact, but Gunn had been hit dead centre and he was certain that his injuries were fatal.
“Gunn?” he managed to ground out, the pain becoming ever more intense with each passing second.
“Wes… tell Fred… love…”
A sigh and then stillness indicated the passing of his friend and colleague Charles Gunn. He, however, didn’t have time to mourn the loss yet, as he could feel from both the way his blood was flowing freely down his arm and his increasing light-headedness that he didn’t have all that much longer before he would be joining him.
Digging into whatever reserves he had left, he reached into his jacket and pulled out his revolver and, doing his best to keep his aim as steady as was possible, given his condition, fired until the spike holding him in place was no longer connected to the timber. Using a determination that many believed him incapable of possessing, he wrenched himself away from his would-be last resting place and began to drag himself out of the warehouse, hoping against hope that he would last long enough to reach help.
He realised upon finding himself outside, however, that hope was an extremely rare commodity when faced with three game faced vampires. He should have guessed that, with the amount of fresh blood around, the nocturnal fraternity would pick up on it and try to capitalise on the situation.
“Well, well, well, it’s amazing what you find just lying around these days, isn’t it boys?” the lead vampire said as it pulled Wesley onto his knees. “Pity there isn’t enough left to go around, but I’m sure we’ll find some more food around for the rest of you.”
Before Wesley knew what was happening, he could feel what little blood he had remaining being sucked out through his neck. Wesley had decided a long time ago that, if he were in a situation where he had no chance of survival, he wouldn’t give the bastards the satisfaction of killing him - or worse, turning him - so with his last ounce of strength, he brought his revolver to his head and pulled the trigger. The bullet ripped through his head, killing him instantly, and continued on into the vampire that had been feeding from him, causing it to howl in agony.
The vampire let go of Wesley’s lifeless body in disgust, kicking him a couple of times for good measure. “Goddamn it, that hurt, you bastard!” he screamed. “Dump his body over the side.”
His two childer quickly followed their master’s order and roughly picked up Wesley’s corpse and tossed it into the water, and watched as it bobbed up and down a few times before following after their quickly departing leader.~*~Pier 3,
Both Xander and Angel had heard the gunshots and their first impulse had been to rush and help their allies/friends, but the cold hard fact was that they knew they’d be of little help. The sound of gunfire had been faint, which meant that they were some distance away, and for either Gunn or Wesley to be using non-mystical means meant that they were probably too late to anything, anyway. They allowed themselves a moment to mourn the loss of two great warriors, and looked at each other in silent communication before continuing on.
They made their way into the last warehouse on their side of the docks, and despite the fate of their friends, they could both feel instinctively that they were at their final destination. They made their way inside stealthily, Angel stopping Xander inches away from triggering one of the numerous traps they had discovered since they had begun their search.
Xander had needed once again to remind Angel, physically, not to show pride in Conner’s handiwork upon discovering the traps, especially as they had found the first one by triggering it. Only Xander’s almost preternatural reflexes had saved him from serious injury, only receiving a gash on his arm instead of the puncture wound to the chest he would have gotten, had he been even a few inches further to the right.
Xander had done his best to stem the flow of blood when he had seen that Angel was struggling to keep his demonic visage from appearing. He also remembered that he’d been told that Connor seemed capable of smelling blood from some distance away, like his biological parents, which had only given him further incentive to deal with his wound, even though it had meant doing so in a way he detested.
He had reached into one of the pockets of his jacket and retrieved two small packets of different coloured powder, one red and one blue. He took the red powder and covered his wound with it, and then after placing a stake into his mouth, placed the blue powder on top. The two chemicals reacted to each other and began to burn his flesh, cauterising the wound quickly but painfully. It was a trick he’d been taught by a shaman he’d helped a while back, and he only used it when the others weren’t around, as they seemed particularly squeamish about it.
Angel couldn’t help but be impressed with the sheer grit and determination Xander possessed, not only because there seemed to be no limit to it, but also because he never seemed to let his abilities go to his head like he had seen from so many others do.
There were times when he truly believed that, under different circumstances, he and Xander could have become friends. The trouble was that those different circumstances would need to include the lack of Buffy in their lives, which would probably mean they’d never have met each other in the first place.
As they moved further inside the warehouse, they began to hear the distinct sound of leather hitting flesh, giving them all the proof they needed that they were, indeed, in the right place. The urge to just rush in was great, as neither one could bear the thought of what was happening to Buffy but, luckily, their heads overruled their hearts and they continued their quiet approach.
Xander noticed a stairwell leading to a platform above, where he might be able to get the drop on Connor, and quickly indicated his intentions to Angel before making his way up them.
Angel continued on his way, knowing that his job was as much to distract his son as it was to stop him. He was also glad of Xander’s separation from him, knowing that Connor would not see any mercy from the young man. Angel wasn’t sure whether Xander could actually take Connor in a fight, and was in no rush to find out, either.
As he moved into the room that held Buffy and Connor, the sound of whipping stopped. For a moment, he thought that he’d been discovered, only to hear his son’s voice a moment later.
“Now I’m sure that you’re tired of my asking this question, so if you simply give me the answer, we can stop this nastiness.”
There was a pause, and then Angel heard what was probably the best sound he’d heard in quite some time.
“Go… To… Hell!”
Angel winced at the pained tone in Buffy’s voice, and could only imagine the pain she’d been enduring. Although, it might actually have been like some of the things he’d been put through during his century or so in Acathla’s dimension. Either way, he was proud that she had withstood whatever Connor had inflicted on her and was still has rebellious as ever.
“I will have you know that I was raised in a place that closely resembled what many humans believe Hell to be like, and I have to say that it was not as bad as you might think. Yes, there was the constant thought running through your mind that this moment might be your last, but it did make you appreciate the simple things in life.”
“You’re insane,” Buffy spat, her tone no longer pained and instead overflowing with venom.
“You might be right, but that does not change the situation you currently find yourself in. Just in case you have forgotten the question, I shall be kind enough to repeat it to you: whom do you love above all others? It isn’t a difficult question to answer, is it? All I ask for is a name; there is no need for you to wax lyrical over their grandeur or go into detail as to how you came to your decision. Just give me a name and this will all be over.”
Angel was now in a position to make his presence known, but for some reason, he found himself rooted to the spot. Of all the questions he thought Connor might have asked Buffy, that was not one of them. Despite everything else that was going on, Angel found himself wanting - no, needing - to hear the answer.
Even after everything that had happened to him over the last three years, he could not deny the fact that the thought of Buffy loving someone else the way she had loved him gave him a very hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach. He knew it was unfair, both to her and to Cordelia, whom he did have strong feelings for, but he could not help the way he felt. Even with the guilt of his inaction bearing down on him, Angel stayed where he was and waited with metaphorically baited breath for Buffy’s answer.
Xander had by now reached the platform and was waiting for the perfect time to strike when he had also been caught off guard by Connor’s question. He, however, had not found himself paralysed by it.
While he would have dearly liked to hear her answer, especially if, however unlikely, the answer were him, nothing was more important to him right now than to release Buffy from her bonds. His problem lay in the fact that he could see no way he could release the bonds holding her in place and get her to safety.
If her were to cut the ropes holding her hands, she would drop to the floor and be no safer from Connor’s advances, nor did he have any way to cut the ropes holding her feet from the position he was in. Neither option sat right with him and dearly hoped for a third, more promising, option to occur. His only hope was for Angel to cut the ropes on the floor so that he could pull Buffy up to the platform, effectively taking her out of the equation.
That didn’t seem to be on the cards at present, though, as he could see Angel half hiding in the darkness, making no move to get even a millimetre closer. A sudden burst of anger flooded through him as he quickly deduced that the vampire was actually waiting on Buffy’s answer before acting.
At a time when they were so close to achieving their goal, for Angel to suddenly find something more important than Buffy’s life was in Xander’s mind all the reason he needed to ensure that neither father nor son would survive the night.
His first reaction to Angel’s inactivity was to take things into his own hands, but he quickly realised that he was too high up to be able to drop down on Connor and be able to land safely, or recover quickly enough to capitalise on the situation. Normally, that wouldn’t stop him from doing it anyway, but with his back-up no longer trustworthy and Buffy’s life in the balance, he had little choice but to err on the side of caution and allow the situation below him to play out.
Buffy was doing her best to draw out the situation, not only because it gave her body more time to heal, but also because she could see the increased annoyance in her captor’s face. She was still in the dark as to just who he was or why he had captured her the way he had, but she had pretty much stopped caring soon after he had first started to torture her.
She did know one thing, which was he had a strange sense of honour and would not continue to hurt her until she had actually given her answer, nor would he try to forcibly extract the answer from her.
It was that which made her believe her captor was a sandwich short of a picnic. It hadn’t exactly been a big leap of logic, given everything that had happened, but she hadn’t exactly had much else to do the last few hours.
A flicker of motion above her caused her to instinctively glance up and found herself barely able to hold back the gasp of surprise and relief as she saw Xander hiding in the darkness. Had she been anyone else, of if he had been anyone else, she doubted that his presence would have been noticed, but she had and couldn’t feel happier if she tried.
A moment later, her happiness disappeared and was replaced with fear; if her captor had bested her, what chance would Xander have? She hadn’t meant that in a bad way, not the same manner she knew she had thought of him in the past, as she knew just how skilled Xander now was. She had actually spent the last few months training with him, using the excuse that he was helping with her training, and she had been surprised not only with the skill he possessed, but also with his strength and speed. She knew by the way her senses never reacted to his presence that there was nothing demonic or mystical that caused it, instead realising that it was due to almost six years of constant fighting against creatures that were many times faster and stronger than he was.
Despite her faith in his abilities, she still had doubts that he could defeat the young man standing before her, at least not without getting seriously injured or worse in the process. The thought of something happening to him sent a cold feeling through her heart and knew that she couldn’t allow herself to be the cause.
She had the impression that, if she actually answered her captor’s question, any plans he had on waiting on sunrise would vanish and her captor would end her life. The big problem was that she knew he would do it. There had been times in her life when she thought her life was at risk, but few occasions had such a feeling of certainty. Even when she had made that leap off the tower last year, she hadn’t been certain that she’d die, but she knew without a shadow of a doubt that this devil with the face of an angel would snuff her out in a heartbeat.
If she said nothing, she knew that Xander’s patience would come to an end and he would swoop down to rescue her, sacrificing himself in the process. If she gave him the answer he had been looking for, she would lose her life and hopefully ensure Xander kept his. She’d made up her mind before she’d even thought of the options.
“You want me to answer your question?” she asked.
“I do believe I have said things to suggest that, yes.”
“Fine, I’ll tell you. The one person I love above all others is…”
“Hey there, son, I’ve been looking all over for you.”
While her captor had spun round to the source of the voice, Buffy had no such ability, but she knew exactly who it was. Another surge of relief went through her, but found herself surprised by how muted it felt in comparison to what she’d felt upon her first glance of Xander. It had, of course, been almost two years since she had seen her former boyfriend, the events of the day causing her to do something she didn’t think she would have done under different circumstances, but her underwhelming feelings for his arrival came as something of a revelation, or more precisely a confirmation.
She had known for some time that, while Angel would always have a soft spot for him, her feelings toward him were now more for a friend or brother than as anything more romantic. Maybe not her brother, given some of the things she had done with him, she thought with a shudder, but most definitely as a friend.
Suddenly, Angel’s words repeated themselves in her head and she suddenly felt overwhelmed. Had he just called the person who had been taking an inordinate amount of pleasure in inflicting pain on her semi-naked body his son? Surely, she must have misheard him.
“You simply gave a sperm sample as far as I am concerned, Angelus,” her captor replied, proving that she had indeed heard correctly and that somehow her vampire former boyfriend had gotten himself an almost fully grown son. “My father was a loving, human man whom you killed out of jealousy. My only regret is that I could not have met my mother, Darla, as I would have enjoyed being the one to have removed that particular blight from the Earth.”
Angel was worried, as Connor was acting far too rationally in his presence. He had hoped that his previous anger would work against him as it had back at the hotel, but it seemed that was no longer an option. He knew that Connor was as good a fighter as himself, with strength and speed equal to or greater than his, but it was his emotional state that was his greatest weakness.
As he had proven before, Connor tended to lash out when in anger and a more experienced fighter could easily take advantage of such a thing given the opportunity. With Connor acting so calmly in his presence, Angel knew he had his work cut out to defeat his son without inflicting or receiving serious or permanent injury. It didn’t help that he was still not at 100% from his stay beneath the sea, or from the night’s activities.
Angel could see Xander on the platform and knew that he had to cut the ropes holding Buffy’s feet in place for him to pull her up to him, but to do that, he would need to get past Connor and that was now a far harder prospect.
“My name is not Connor; Connor is dead and has been for a long, long time. My name is Stephen Holtz and tonight I will be your death.”
“You’re not the first person to try and kill me.”
“That I do not doubt for a second, but I will, however, be the last.”
Father and son stared at one another for a beat longer before they leaped at each other.
Connor was surprised when, instead of attacking him, Angel somersaulted over his head and quickly made his way over to Buffy. After removing a blade from a sheath concealed in his sleeve, the vampire cut the rope holding her right leg. Before he had a chance to do the same to the rope holding her other leg in place, though, Connor tackled him and they both went down in a tumble of limbs.
Xander felt helpless as he watched the scene unfold below him, Connor and Angel both made it back to their feet quickly and began to trade blows. Buffy was no closer to being rescued and now Angel would find it even more difficult to sever the bond preventing him from pulling her to safety.
He did have a micro crossbow that he could use, but was unsure whether to use it on Connor or the rope. Either way would alert the teenaged hunter to his presence and he wasn’t sure how the new information would affect the already unbalanced young man. Looking at his choices as either helping Angel or Buffy, he was quick to make up his mind.
He could see that, now she had a leg free, Buffy was trying whatever she could to try and loosen the bonds holding her, hoping that her wild thrashing would loosen the bonds that were still holding her. Xander knew that she was tenacious enough to keep at it until she succeeded or passed out from exhaustion, but also knew that even if she were making progress, it would take too long.
Doing his best to attract her attention without attracting anyone else’s, he indicated for her to stay still and readied his crossbow. After taking a relaxing breath, he carefully took aim and once he was certain that he would hit the target, fired the crossbow and watched as the bolt did indeed make contact with the rope. His happiness was short lived, however, as he saw that the rope had not been cut clean through.
Buffy looked down as best she could and could actually feel that the rope had given a little and she used the little leverage and strength she had available to snap the rope. Xander quickly went over to the pulley device that held the ropes holding her arms and began to pull her up as quickly and quietly as possible.
As soon as she was on the platform and Xander had removed the ropes from her hands, Buffy flung her arms around him and hugged him with all her might. Although her ordeal had weakened her, she was still able to put a lot of strength into it and Xander soon began to see black spots before his eyes.
“Buff, release the grip a little, wouldya?” he asked, finding it difficult to catch his breath.
Buffy did as was asked, but had no intention as of yet to release him.
Xander tensed for a moment, as he had never heard her use that tone before, at least not when directed at him, and wasn’t sure what to make of it. Being mindful of her injuries, he gently grabbed her hands and moved them from around his neck so he could lean back a little and look her in the eyes.
The blood-curdling scream cut off any further conversation between the pair as it bounced around the walls of the warehouse. They both recognised the voice as coming from Angel, so they quickly made their way to the edge of the platform to see what was happening.
Both Connor and Angel were breathing hard, Angel, doing so more out of instinct than of necessity, but it was clear to see that the vampire was most definitely on the losing side of the fight. The biggest sign was the large, deep gash in his abdomen, so large, in fact, that his bowels were beginning to fall out from it.
Connor was standing above him, the blade Angel had used on Buffy’s rope in his hand, dripping with his father’s blood. The young man could see that the vampire was attempting to stand, so he brought his foot down with tremendous strength and speed onto his knee, and smiled in satisfaction at the loud crunch it made, not to mention its also causing his father to scream in agony once more.
“The last time I beat you,” Connor said as he began to circle his father, “I made the foolish mistake of letting you live. I thought that no one would find you there on the ocean floor, but I underestimated the devotion of those that see you as something other than the hellish creature you truly are.” During his walk, he had pulled out a stake from his belt. “I learn from my mistakes.”
Before Angel could comprehend the meaning of Connor’s words, he felt the stake penetrate his heart and only had time to gaze at his son’s hate-filled face before turning to dust.
Connor spun round at the sound of Buffy’s scream and became incensed when he saw she was no longer bound but instead on the platform above him with another man he didn’t recognise. Remembering the blade he had in his hand, he quickly flipped it over and threw it at the blonde Slayer, whose impaired reflexes due to her prolonged immobilisation only allowed her time to partially avoid the projectile, catching it in her shoulder.
Still unsteady on her feet, she lost her balance and before Xander had a chance to catch her, fell to the ground. She landed as best she could, rolling through the fall, but she still badly twisted her left ankle.
Seeing Connor stalk towards his next victim, a sudden rage enveloped Xander and before he had a chance to think about it, he unsheathed MC Hammer from his back, grabbed the ropes that had held Buffy for so long and jumped off the platform. His momentum carried him over Buffy and towards his target, who suddenly realised that he no longer had any weapons.
Connor’s face set as he realised his time was up, dying a moment later as Xander sent the head of his blessed sledgehammer through his skull like a cantaloupe, sending his blood and brain matter all over the warehouse.
Xander’s fall stopped abruptly as the rope became taut; he had been unprepared for the sudden jarring and felt his shoulder pop out of place. He quickly lost his grip and fell to the floor, landing on his back, but luckily the fall was only a foot or so.
He grimaced as he managed to get to his feet, feeling the white hot pain in his shoulder, and made his way over to Buffy as quickly as he could.
“You alright?” he asked as he got to her.
“Oh I’m just peachy with a double side of keen. Didn’t you know that knives were the latest fashion statement?”
“I must say it looks quite fetching on you, but I think it might be wise to remove it.”
“Do you have any of that powder stuff?” she asked, grimacing in pain.
“A little. I had to use some myself a little earlier.” He went to grab the knife with his damaged arm and yelped, although in a very manly way, he thought. “Damn it!”
“Xander, let me help with your shoulder, and then we’ll deal with mine.”
She barely waited for Xander’s reply before grabbing his hand, placing her foot into his armpit and giving a sharp tug. She winced in sympathy at the bark of pain Xander let loose, but she had heard the ‘pop’ as the joint went back into place, so she didn’t dwell on it.
“Thanks,” Xander gritted out.
“No problem. Right, my turn.”
“You’re lucky I’m not a vindictive person, otherwise I might…” without warning, Xander pulled the blade out of her shoulder, knowing that he didn’t want to leave it in there one moment longer than necessary.
“You could have warned me.”
“You’re right. I could have, but I didn’t.” He smirked at her for a moment before pulling out the two bags of powder. “Do you want me to do it?”
“No, I think you had too much fun pulling that knife out.”
He pinned her with a look that froze her to the spot. “I would never consider seeing you in pain as fun, ever.”
He handed over the bags, knowing that she wanted to do it herself, and watched as she administered the two powders to her wound. Once he could see that the pain had subsided, he thought now would be the best time to broach the subject of what just happened.
“I’m sorry about Angel.”
Buffy’s breath hitched at the reminder of her former beau’s demise, but she surprised Xander by not crying. “I know you didn’t like him,” she said instead, managing a small smile at her extreme understatement.
“You’re right, I didn’t, but you loved him. I’m sorry for the pain his passing has caused.”
“It’s not quite sunk in yet. Anyway, this is neither the time nor the place to grieve. I want to go and watch the sunrise.”
The sunrise made Xander remember the wound he received earlier in the night, and a slight melancholy expression appeared on his face. It looked like he wouldn’t get a second chance to ask her out after all.
“Yeah, I hear this sunrise is going to be pretty memorable.”~*~Sunnydale Beach,
Xander and Buffy had been sitting on the sand for the last hour, waiting to watch the first rays of sun to appear on the horizon. On the way there, they had contacted Dawn and let her know they were okay, as well as the fate of Angel. Xander made no mention of Gunn or Wesley, partly because he had nothing concrete to tell them, and knowing how Fred felt for Gunn felt that it wasn’t something she should hear over the phone. He had, however, mentioned his belief to Buffy, who he felt deserved to know what became of those who had helped to find her.
During their wait, he had noticed Buffy’s shoulders begin to shake and knew that the events of the night had finally gotten too much, so he gently put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him, feeling decidedly happy that she made no move to resist.
He had been exceptionally pleased that she had allowed herself to release her emotions like that, since a big part of her problems the last few years had been her unwillingness to show weakness in front of others. He knew that she had been making progress in that area, Dawn having told him of several heart to heart talks she and her sister had had, while making sure not to give details but simply give the broad strokes of the conversation, but she had yet felt comfortable enough to do the same in front of him.
Yes, they had talked out a lot of the issues that had been between them over the years, but they had done so in a civil, almost reserved manner, which given how quick to anger they both were, was an advantage. For her to allow herself to actually cry in his presence showed that she trusted him implicitly, something he only just realised had been missing in their relationship.
It was just a shame that he was going to be dead in about half an hour, he reflected, as this would have probably been the best time to broach the subject of furthering their relationship. Knowing that his time was short, he had considered confessing his feelings for her, but knew that to do so would be selfish in the extreme. To profess his love only to die minutes later would put undue emotional stress on her, and the last thing he would ever want to do is hurt her needlessly.
Suddenly, the moment they had been waiting for happened and they caught the first glimpse of the rising sun. That first glimpse was all the poison running through Xander’s system needed to activate, and it took mere moments for the first burst of pain to rip through his body, causing his muscles to spasm.
Buffy could not have missed his body jerk the way it had if she’d tried, and quickly became concerned. “Xander, what’s wrong?”
“The Kirsch brothers decided to pay a little visit to the theatre last night.”
He wanted to explain further, but another painful spasm wracked his body, preventing him from doing so. His explanation wasn’t necessary, though, as Buffy could quite plainly work out what had happened.
Tears formed in her eyes as the realisation set in. “Why didn’t you say anything?” she asked, her voice trembling.
“I wanted to watch the sunrise with you,” he managed to bite out, finding the pain less and less tolerable.
“Oh, Xander,” she wept, knowing that there was nothing she nor anyone else could do for him right now. The moment his body relaxed, she gathered him into her arms, hot tears falling onto his shirt, as she found herself no longer able to hold them back. She then picked him up and began to make her way further onto shore as fast as her legs could carry them, leaving the beach and finding herself in a small wooded area she had not seen before.
“I’m sorry,” she heard Xander mumble before another spasm began, causing her to stop and lay him down.
“What the hell do you have to be sorry for?” she cried.
“I’m sorry for leaving you. This might not be the first promise I’ve broken, but it is the one I most regret.”
Buffy knew what he was talking about; he had once promised her that he would always be there for her, and while she knew it was a promise he couldn’t hope to keep forever, it had still warmed her in a way nothing had before. She had to tell him how she felt before it was too late, as she could not bear for him to leave this mortal coil ignorant of her feelings for him. He deserved nothing less, and so, so much more.
“There’s something I need to tell you Xander, something you have to know.”
A sudden rumbling sound forced her to postpone her revelation, as the ground around them began to tremble and shake. Moments later, she shifted to high alert as a large ‘ping’ appeared on her Slaydar. It felt strangely familiar, but she couldn’t quite recollect just when she had felt it before.
She could see the earth begin to shift around fifty feet away from their position, and was then shocked to see a large vine dome appear. Her focus shifted from the dome to Xander as yet another spasm rocked his body, and she held him tight to her in a vain attempt to lessen the effects. She felt his pain as keenly as though she were experiencing it herself, something she would gladly do to spare him from such a torment. She knew that he had gone through something similar before during her second ‘sabbatical’ from Sunnydale, and while he had survived due to the magical assistance of Willow, they had no such assistance now.
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”
Buffy’s eyes snapped up to the source of the new voice, which sounded familiar and yet not, to see Willow standing -no, floating - before her. The last time she had seen her, Willow had looked sickly pale, and the time before that, dark and malevolent. Now, however, her eyes and hair were a forest green, and her expression was one of serenity.
Buffy watched as Willow approached them, and she had to fight down the impulse to pick Xander up and run. Her Slayer essence was going crazy, but if there was even the slightest chance that she could save Xander, then she would allow her to try. Once she was before them, Willow placed a hand on Xander’s forehead.
“Be still, Xander; all will be well shortly.”
That might not be as true as she made it sound, as Willow could already feel her powers fading. It seemed that by breaking her vow and using her powers without permission, she had forfeited her right to have them at all. Knowing she had little time, she began to pour her power, her very life energy, into her oldest and dearest friend instead of incanting the spell to remove the poison.
She could immediately feel her efforts working, the sheer purity of her essence purging Xander’s system of the toxin, along with some other, less welcome changes. Xander may never forgive her for the changes she had wrought in his system, but given that she would not be around to find out, she did not give it much thought.
Once she could feel the last vestiges of the poison leave Xander’s body, Willow used what little energy she had left to leave her mark on the world, transforming her very body into a large willow tree, whose branches may bend from time to time, but which will never, ever break.
Buffy helped the now healthy Xander to his feet and they gazed at what was left of their friend, tears falling down both of their faces. Their hands found their way towards one another, both seeking the security that they only seemed to feel in the other’s presence.
After standing there for an unknown space of time, Xander turned and faced her. “We should make our way home. Dawn will be getting worried.”
Buffy looked up at the man that meant so much to her, and found the same depth of emotion in his eyes that she was certain was in hers. She knew that what she had to say to him would not only be well received, but also returned in kind.
“Yeah, let’s go home.”
Both knew that the connotations of the last few hours would be with them for weeks and months to come, but as long as they had each other, there wasn’t anything they could not overcome.
And of course, if they ever felt themselves waver, all they had to do was return to this spot.