“Damn it,” Phoebe said once they were done with the minions. “Where did he go?”
Paige pointed in the direction of the no-longer rapidly-retreating Willow and Dawn. Willow was lying on the ground, while Doc was clutching Dawn tightly. “Malvolio!” He shouted. “Malvolio!”
The Charmed Ones caught up. Paige knelt down to check on Willow – unconscious, not dead – and Phoebe said, “He seems to be unavailable at the moment. Will we do?”
Smiling pleasantly, Doc said, “I think now. Unless you’d planned in joining me in worship of the mighty Glorificus?”
“Not our god of choice,” Phoebe said.
Doc shrugged. “Pity. Glorificus is so much more accessible.” Dawn was apparently attempting to break free, but wasn’t having any luck.
“And insane,” Piper said.
“We prefer to think of her as whimsical,” Doc said. “In any event –“
“In any event,” Piper said, “If you let Dawn go we won’t kill you.”
“Speak for yourself,” Paige said, walking up. “I plan on gutting him with a rusty butter knife.”
“Paige –“ Phoebe said.
Paige walked forward. She said. “Look. The bastard killed Eve. We know he’s going to kill Dawn. We’re not even going to come close to getting him to believe that he’s going to live out the night. So why pretend? He’s not stupid.”
Doc nodded. “Indeed not. Incidentally, if any of you tries chanting, I WILL kill her. It would be a pity to do it before it’s time, but we need her blood, not her life.”
“On the other hand,” Paige said, now directly addressing the sorcerer, “Gutting you with a rusty knife is the NICEST thing I can think of doing to you right now. I also might orb out your internal organs. Or . . . I might miss.”
“It’s so nice to get these things out into the open,” Doc said. “Still . . . it does seem to leave us at an impasse, doesn’t it?”
* * * * *
The Source (and finally, you can call him that) and Malvolio materialized about three miles straight up. Still clinging to each other, they began to fall.
For the first time that night, Malvolio showed fear. He always had difficulty speaking . . . but finally, he spoke. “Who are you?” he gasped out as they fell. “No one can teleport me against my will.”
The Source said not a single thing in answer, instead changing his form back to Cole and letting his eyes speak for him.
“You . . .” Malvolio rasped.
“Me,” The Source said.
Then he cut loose.
Later on, he couldn’t say if it was the hellfire or the two-mile fall that had actually killed Malvolio.
But since the largest piece they found was about the size of a pea, it was fairly safe to assume he was dead.
* * * * *
Buffy rolled out of the way and the hammer missed her knee by inches.
And FINALLY Spike roared in and tackled Glory.
“The hammer!” Buffy said as she got up. “Get the hammer!”
“Little busy – right now!” Spike said as he grappled with the hellgod. Finally – Glory being, after all, a lot stronger than Spike – she threw the vampire off, though the hammer also fell clear. Before Glory could recover Buffy ran over, picked it up, and helped Spike to his feet.
“Where the hell were you?” she asked.
“Trying to recruit some help,” Spike said. “Saw a few local vampires hanging about, thought I’d offer ‘em up a taste of God’s blood if they gave us a hand.”
Glory irritably said, “My blood would kill you.”
Spike raised his eyebrows. “Well then. Good thing I didn’t volunteer to have a taste myself.”
As the two sides circled, Buffy muttered to Spike, “I appreciate the thought, but next time tell me when you’re going to try something like this. Glory almost turned my knee into kindling.”
Spike was forestalled an answer when Glory charged.
As they struggled back and forth, Buffy reflected that this was different from every other time she’d fought the hellgod. Those other times Glory was fighting with a clear goal in mind. This time, she was just fighting until someone managed to recapture Dawn (over her dead body, of course).
This affected Glory’s fighting style a bit. Not that she’d ever been one for technique. Being as strong as she was, she’d never really needed to learn how to fight. And being dead for about a year hadn’t taught her a damn thing. As Glory focused on Buffy, Spike took the god’s momentary distraction and grabbed her around the neck.
Buffy didn’t need to be told twice. With Glory held in place for a few seconds, she swung the hammer once again at the knee she’d been targeting all along. She felt something give. But as she drew back for a second blow, Glory turned, grabbed Spike, and threw him into Buffy, knocking them both down.
This time, unfortunately, she couldn’t dodge Glory.
* * * * *
Phoebe snuck a quick look around the park. There were almost no minions left at all, and those that WERE still fighting Piper froze with a distracted wave of her hand.
Leo immediately orbed over once he saw the freeze. Xander ran to do what he could to help Buffy, while Tara joined the Halliwells a few seconds later.
“Look around you,” Piper said. “You’re losing. It’s only you and your boss left.”
“That’s all we need,” Doc said placidly. God, did ANYTHING faze this demon? “And I may point out that I still have the Key in my grasp.”
“Which,” Tara said. “Is, is all you have. And harm her –“
Doc smiled. “I know. And my life is worth nothing. But Ms. Matthews there has already pointed out that I likely have not long to live in either event. And a choice between a slow death and a fast death is no choice at all.”
“I assume you’ve tried freezing him?” Leo asked.
“He’s immune, remember?” Piper responded.
Tara whispered into Phoebe’s ear, “Keep him distracted for a minute and duck when I say duck.” She seemed rather angry herself. Then she quietly began making casting a spell.
Phoebe told Paige to start cussing Doc out. Paige didn’t need much prompting, and revealed a vocabulary of cusswords a merchant marine would have been proud of.
And there was plenty of real pain behind her words. Phoebe had made it through the night by continually reminding herself that Eve wasn’t real, had never been real, had only existed for a few hours. It hadn’t been easy, still (in the revised history) she’d only known Eve for less than a year. Paige, though, hadn’t had that luxury; she’d known her younger sister for ten years. God. What she had to be going through . . .
Once again, Tara whispered in Phoebe’s ear. “Duck.” Phoebe threw herself to the ground and Tara cut loose with a blast of dust and pebbles that knocked Doc off his feet – and Dawn from his grasp. “Now!” Phoebe yelled to her sisters. “The vanquishing spell!”
As one, they chanted, “Let death be a finality, let that be your reality. Let the magic hear our call and VANQUISH you for once and all!”
As flames began to encircle Doc, he simply gazed on calmly . . . until he was gone.
“THAT was weird,” Phoebe said.
“He’s gone, I don’t care,” Paige said, then said. “Dammit, I wanted him to suffer.” She looked at Leo. “And don’t give me any lectures on how that’s evil.”
“I wasn’t even thinking about it,” was Leo’s response.
Piper asked, “Is everyone okay?” Nods all around. Even Willow, her head wound healed by Leo, was getting to her feet. She looked over at Glorificus, suddenly the only combatant on the field, beating up on Spike, Buffy and Xander. “Anyone not up for this, go kill some minions.”
Everyone was up for it. Even Dawn. To her annoyance Leo took her and Willow and orbed them back to the manor.
The rest of them went over to face the hellgod.
* * * * *
The Source (and you can once again call him Taarnhelm) teleported back to the ground a bit away from the main battle.
To his surprise, it seemed to be more or less over. The only being left fighting was Glorificus herself.
And she was surrounded by pretty much everyone. Buffy was a little slow on her feet, and Xander was standing off to one side being healed by Leo, but otherwise no one had really been injured. He wasn’t sure whether that was good. He was sure that the Seer would give him a hard time about that, but he didn’t care. The important thing was that the battle was over.
Unfortunately, no one had bothered to inform Glorificus. Even though she wasn’t the brightest of alleged gods, The Source thought she would have figured out she’d lost by now. But either she hadn’t, or she was determined to take as many of the good guys with her when she went.
All he needed to do to further his own cause was hang back a little. it wasn’t like The Source actually cared whether Buffy Summers or Paige Matthews lived or died.
But before he could finish his cold analysis, he found himself running towards the scene of the battle.
“Surprised to see you again,” Piper said.
“Not half as surprised as I am,” the Source answered.
Glorificus looked around. “So this is how it’s going to be?” Buffy nodded. “Well, then, fine. I quit.”
Spike said, “You what?”
“Are you frigging DEAF, vampire? I said, I quit. Yeah, I could probably kick all your asses –“
“Don’t bet on it,” Piper murmured.
“But then I still wouldn’t have my Key –“
“Not YOUR Key,” Buffy and Paige said simultaneously.
“Yeah, fine, whatever,” Glorificus said. “Your key, your sister, big whoop. Anyway, I know the way you people work. You’ve got this morality thing about killing opponents after they surrender. Don’t ask ME why – it seems like the best time to kill them – but I’m surrendering. So you can’t hurt me.” She looked at them. “Well, that IS the way it works, isn’t it?”
“You’re forgetting something,” Spike said. “I don’t have morals.”
To the Source’s surprise, he didn’t have to answer next. Buffy said, “I do.” And then she swung the hammer at Glorificus’ head, knocking her down. “The moral thing to do is kill you.”
“Sure, make it hard on me,” Spike said as the rest of them attacked.
“Spike,” Buffy said, “Shut up.”
It was just before daybreak when they killed her.
Leo orbed Spike back to Halliwell Manor, but the rest of them had to make it there shanks’ mare. The Whitelighter was absolutely exhausted from the massive amount of orbing he’d done over the previous seven-plus hours, and was in serious need of food and rest.
Not the rest of them were fresh as new produce by any stretch; no one’d gotten any sleep that night, and they’d spent a couple of hours killing a god who very much had not wanted to die; apart from Taarnhelm (whose state of exhaustion the rest of them couldn’t judge, and didn’t care much about in any event), they looked like they’d gotten into an all-night slugfest with the roster of the WWF.
It was not a triumphant march home. Yeah, the bad guys were dead, but this hadn’t been a win. No night on which somebody innocent died could be counted a win.
Poor Eve. Born just to be killed.
No one spoke, except a few mumbled words checking on each other’s injuries. Once they got back to the mansion, Taarnhelm saluted them all and vanished, to be replaced a few seconds later by a very annoyed Cole.
Phoebe said they’d fill him in later; he didn’t complain.
Everyone called in sick after that, even Leo, though his method of calling in was different from everyone else’s. Then everybody sacked out.
Even though there was an empty bed, no one took Eve’s room.
* * * * *
The Source (but you can call him Cole) waited until everyone else was asleep and quietly made a trip down to the underworld. His assistant had long since gone home, with his blessing.
“I assume you know what happened,” The Source said. “You always seem to.”
“Approximately,” she said. “Though I do wonder why you rushed to help kill Glorificus. If you’d held off a few minutes, who knows who might have been killed?”
“Phoebe,” The Source said, though it wasn’t his full answer. “I couldn’t take that risk.”
She said, “There were still ways to protect her and not everyone else.”
The Source sighed. “I’m not in the mood for this right now. Glorificus is dead and so’s pretty much everyone who’d want to try resurrecting her again. That should leave the road ahead smooth and clear.”
Unexpectedly, the Seer laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”
* * * * *
Whistler stood on the top of a tall building that would never be used for its intended purpose and looked into the sunrise.
Eventually, someone in the San Francisco city government would figure out that there was a half-finished forty-story building sitting in South San Francisco that no one was working on. The construction company would plead nonpayment, and say that the people who had arranged the whole thing had mysteriously disappeared. Someone would take over – or the lot would be bought and the structure would be torn down. Maybe if someone examined the blueprints, they’d see half a hundred things wrong with the internal structure and wonder how the hell it had ever gotten approved.
But this morning, it was just another building under construction.
Standing there, he thought about what had occurred that night. For millennia, he’d been a servant of neutrality – and even when he’d questioned the methods of the Lords of Balance, he’d never questioned their overall aims.
Tonight . . . there was something different about tonight. He’d always given advice before, tried to arrange the right people at the right time. He’d never been directly responsible for any deaths before . . . on either side. But HE’D had to set up that shield against teleportation tonight . . . and Eve Matthews had had to die.
He didn’t know what to do now.
All of a sudden, he smiled for a second. If Angel could see him now, brooding like this –
And then he had his answer. He had helped Angel; maybe Angel could help him.
He walked away from the edge.
Hundreds of feet below, the city woke up and began to move on its way.
* * * * *
People began waking up again around noon. Buffy came downstairs and found Leo sitting on the couch, eating from a bag of potato chips and watching CNN.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
Leo looked behind him. “Hey, Buffy. Somebody did something to someone somewhere – or maybe it’s the other way around. I haven’t really been paying attention.”
“Why aren’t you –“
“Up with my wife?” Leo finished her question. She nodded. “Paige is in there with her. Phoebe, too. Four would definitely have been a crowd. Besides, I needed to carb up.”
“Yeah,” Buffy said sheepishly. “Piper mentioned that taxi service thing. Sorry about that.”
“You didn’t know,” Leo said. “It’s not a big deal.” After a second. “So, how’s Dawn?”
“Very upset,” Buffy said. “She liked Eve. But she and everyone else are asleep.”
“Why aren’t you?”
“That goshdarn Slayer metabolism,” she said, flexing her right shoulder. “Give me a day this should be back to normal.”
“I could shorten that timespan,” Leo said, starting to stand up.
Buffy held out a hand. “No, no, you’ve done enough. Thanks for the offer.”
A voice came from the stairs. “What’s going on?”
They both turned to see Paige, her eyes red, walking down. “Did we make too much noise?” Buffy asked.
“No, no,” Paige said. “I couldn’t sleep anyway.”
“Eve?” Leo asked.
“Obviously,” Paige answered. “It’s just – I know she wasn’t real. I know this. And yet –“
“It doesn’t help, does it?” Buffy asked.
“Not in the least. How do – how do you deal with it?”
“Dawn’s my sister,” Buffy said simply. “Doesn’t matter if it’s for 16 years or 16 seconds. The memories are real.”
“They don’t have to be,” Leo said. “I could help you forget, if you wanted.”
Paige paused a second. “Part of me wants that. Part of me wants that so bad. But – but – I think it’ll be better for me, in the long run, if I don’t forget that – even if only for a few hours – I had a sister named Eve. And I loved her.”