Buffy had apparently fallen into what Asher called a magical coma. He said the last thing he had registered from her was overload from whatever she
had done when she had touched the tiny slayer. Combined with the shock of getting the whole Church of Eternal Life dumped on her, it had put her into a coma to help her assimilate everything. He told us the same thing had happened when she had first become the slayer.
Slayer. I had spent the past weeks wondering why she put so much stock in being the slayer. Why it seemed so important to her. Now I knew. It was so important to her because somehow, the slayer line was connected to the Darkness. I had asked Asher about it because if Buffy knew, so did he, but he had refused to answer while his sister was not awake. So until she woke, I wouldn’t get my answers.
Instead of bitching I decided to be productive and pay a visit to the other parties that had been influenced by the shift of power I had caused. Namely, Malcolm and Richard. And because I was a coward like that, I went to Malcolm first.
My conversation with Malcolm was short. A human with two bite marks on his neck led me to his office where he sat me down and offered my coffee. Instead of accepting, I apologized for what I’d done the night before. I had thrown him and his people around like a party favor, making Buffy their master without so much as a by your leave. Sure, as his master it was my right to do with him as I pleased but that wasn’t what I was about. I hated ruling over anyone. So I apologized.
I think it stumped him. He hadn’t expected me to admit a mistake. Shows how well he knew me. I did apologize when I messed up. Thankfully, I didn’t mess up very often.
I told him about Buffy’s coma, assured him that there was nothing to be worried about as it had, apparently, been expected, and offered to reverse the switch when she woke up. It was amazing how quickly he managed to shoot my offer down without ever being insulting. The fact remained that he preferred being bound to Buffy – whom he hadn’t seen in centuries – over being bound to me. Mind you, he wasn’t calling me names anymore and I had definitely earned some sort of respect from him when I had freed his people from the Harlequin, but he still didn’t like
The feeling was and probably always will be mutual so I didn’t complain too much. In the end I left after barely thirty minutes with assurances that he was not pleased with what had happened but accepted it. In return I promised to find out from the Master of the City if he accepted Malcolm’s being bound to Buffy as being bound to him.
I only said that I thought Jean-Claude would agree to it although I already knew the answer. He would accept it because Buffy was Asher’s twin and Asher was Buffy’s twin. She might have used her new vampire army to oppose us. It was possible. Buffy was in no way bound or obligated to obey Jean-Claude as the Master of the City. But neither of the twins would ever hurt the other and to hurt us would be to hurt Asher. Buffy would die before she did that.
So Buffy was bound to us because Asher was and that was all I needed to know. It was the only reason I didn’t hate her for bringing me face to face with my worst nightmare. I knew that she hadn’t done it to cause us harm.
Richard didn’t look surprised when I stood in front of his door later that night. Actually, he looked like he had been expecting me. Which wasn’t really a surprise. With a wry grin he stepped aside and invited me in. I smiled politely back.
“Coffee?” He asked and I nodded, following him into the kitchen.
“So,” I started, leaning against the counter and watching him prepare coffee. “About last night.”
God, this was awkward. He turned to me, smiling like a school boy and nodding. Was he happy
? I hadn’t seen him like this in years. He looked… young. Relaxed. Like he didn’t hate himself anymore. It was nice to see and just as painful.
“The triumvirate is broken,” he supplied and if possible, his grin grew wider.
“Yes. I cut it up.”
He nodded again, setting the water to boil. In Richard’s house, there was only ever instant coffee. He preferred tea. There had been a time when he had kept real coffee just for me, but that time was long gone. “I thought it was you. It felt....”
I shrugged and couldn’t help but ask, “So you’re happy with this?”
I’d told myself a hundred times that what Richard thought and wanted didn’t matter anymore. He had pushed us away. He had refused us and what we would have given him freely, eagerly. But promising oneself is an easy thing to do. Sticking to those promises is something else entirely.
He snorted and ran a hand through his hair. “Happy? Anita, I haven’t been his happy in ages. We’re free! We’re finally free!”We?
Hold on. “We?”
Some of my confusion must have shown on my face because he stopped smiling and his hand dropped. “Yeah. You and me. You dissolved the triumvirate. We’re rid of Jean-Claude.”
Jesus, he’d gotten this all backwards. He thought I was here to make up with him and finally have that picket fence. He thought I was here to say hello again, not goodbye. Part of me wanted to curl up and cry. Why couldn’t things ever be easy?
“There’s no we, Richard. I didn’t dissolve the triumvirate. I just… I just cut you out.”
His expression fell like a stone. “What?”
“Breaking the triumvirate would have killed us, you know that. Buffy said before that the only reason cutting you out might be – was – possible –“
“Who’s Buffy?” If I had ever needed any proof that Richard wasn’t part of my life anymore, this was it.
“A friend. Anyway, she says it’s because all three of us wanted it and magic doesn’t like swimming against the stream. Magic played along last night, that’s the only reason we’re all alive, still. I…“ This was too hard. It was simply too hard. But I bit my lip and kept going because if I faltered now…, “I couldn’t have cut my connection to Jean-Claude because I don’t want to be free of him.”
There was a long silence. The kettle shrieked behind him suddenly and kept shrieking until he pushed it off the stove with one hand. Hs eyes never left mine. “So you made your choice.”
Whatever happiness he’d found since the night before, I had ruined it all. “Yes.”
“And you chose him. You chose a corpse over me. Because you love him but you don’t love me.”
No. I loved him. I always would. But I wasn’t going to say that out loud. We needed an end. Richard, me, Jean-Claude, we all needed an end. I was making us one. Cauterize the wound and let it heal. Confessions of love would not let it heal.
So all I said was, “Yes.” I didn’t even apologize.
He kept staring at me as one arm slowly rose. He pointed at the door. “Get out.”
I nodded and grabbed my car keys, walking out of the room. In the door I stopped and said without turning, “I did it so you’d be free, Richard. This is what you wanted. I… be happy.”
“Just get the hell out of my house.”
Nathaniel was waiting by the front door when I came home, feeling my distress. With deft fingers he took my keys from me and my gun and then he wrapped me into his long arms and waited until I started to cry.
After a few minutes Micah’s arms joined the tangle and they manage to maneuver me upstairs ad into bed. They even put my gun into the gun safe so I didn’t have any excuse to flee the bed. And then they wrapped me up tight and refused to let me go.
It was done. Richard was free of us and he hated me for it. Malcolm was okay with belonging to Buffy. And Buffy – who had all the answers – was in a magical coma.
There were so many questions to ask. Why did she
call me Death? Why did she call Buffy Daughter? How had she been summoned? Why had she ordered the slayer to protect me? Why was she waking? What had she meant when she said her time had come?
I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything anymore. I was stronger than I had been in years. My magic belonged to me again. The ardeur was gone and my boys were still with me. I was loved. I was happy. And still the world was tilting at its axis and I didn’t know how to stop it.
There was a war coming.
And all I knew was that I was scared. I was scared because somehow, everyone I loved was going to be right in the middle of it.
And now one big, fat, shiny, last review. Come on.