AN: Just don't kill me, please? I can't finish the story if you kill me. Character death, I hope you approve of what I did, if not... well sorry?
Xander walked to the door and opened it up, there on the doorstep was Buffy and Willow, but he almost would not have recognized them if he had met them on the street. Buffy was rail thin, her eyes dark and sunken, and with a slightly crazy look that Xander had never seen, her hair was a mess, uncombed and dirty, but for him the biggest sign something was wrong, was her clothes. They didn't match, were torn, and didn't fit the body she now had. The Buffy he remembered still wouldn't get the mail without her clothes looking neat and precise. Even after the Collapse, she at least made sure they fit, and didn't have major damage at the start of the evening. This person in front of him didn't seem to realize how she looked, or even care. But she was Buffy; the power, the Slayerness radiating off of her proved it. He suddenly realized that is how he found the girls, by the part of the Slayer in him that resonated with the Slayer essence in them. The part of Buffy that made her Buffy was mostly gone, and The Slayer was the dominate presence, with all that entailed.
His gaze slowly turned to Willow, and a part of him died as he really saw the person in front of him. When Willow had gone dark, her hair and eyes had gone black, with black veins running across her body; when she had done the final spell to call the Slayers, reports had her hair going pure white, and her skin glowing. What he saw now was neither. Barbwire in dark green crisscrossed her exposed skin, the barbs actually jabbing into her skin and there was a drop of blood oozing from each thorn. Her hair was long and scraggly, black at the tips and streaked with green and a blood red that her hair had never been. Her eyes though, her eyes where what held him there. They were emerald green iris's on a black background, and the look in her eyes with that smile, made him realize the Joker had been sane in comparison.
The woman there, he could barely stand to call her Willow, tilted her head smiling, "I know you... don't I know you? You have crayons. Yellow crayons."
With sudden horror Xander realized that Willow in her obsession and pain had done memory spells on herself, to try and remove the memory of what she had chased away. In doing so she removed her foundation of stability letting her power control her more and more. Xander swallowed and stepped forward, all too aware of his girls gathered behind him watching, waiting, wanting to help. Buffy and Willow drifted backwards, never taking their eyes off him. He wanted to turn to tell his girls to run, but knew he could not take his eyes off the danger in front of him, that and he knew they wouldn't. Part of him prayed for Superman and Batman to show up, but Willow was their weakness personified... magic.
"Hey Willow, how're you, I've missed you." His voice was soft and caring, and he had missed her, just the her he once loved, not the woman standing in front of him.
"You... I couldn't find you, so I removed you, if no one knows, there is no pain, no pain no reason to remember." Her voice was sing-songy and reminded him all too much of Vamp Willow. He saw behind her and Buffy, Superman landing silently and Batman emerging from the alleyway. Buffy spun focusing on the man in black, acting more like a dog on a leash than anything else. Willow turned her head slightly, "Ah good, she was getting bored. Attack."
With an almost feral snarl Buffy leapt at Batman, Superman started to move, when Willow spoke almost idly, "Freeze" and he couldn't move, every muscle locked down. Batman on the other hand suddenly had to deal with 100lbs of insane slayer attacking him like a wild animal, and he found himself fully on the defensive for the first time in a long time. She parried every blow and pushed him back, power hitting him like he was fighting all out with Diana. Within moments he realized if he didn't end this soon, she would win, so far only the fact that he had very tough armor on prevented broken ribs. He kept moving trying to keep her from getting a fatal strike on him. Fumbling in his belt and as he rolled away from one of her attacks he grabbed a Bat pellet with knock out gas, he always had the filters on in his mask, smashed it under Buffy's nose, and then struggled to catch her as she went down.
"Ah.. you took my toy out, no matter... Freeze" and Batman found himself locked in place holding on to a currently unconscious Buffy. But his body didn't lock, just his legs frozen in place.
"Willow, this is not right, you know that. Tara would hate to see you like this."
She flinched at the name, but tilted her head, "That word... had pain, so I removed it, removed the pain." She looked at the girls behind him, "but I want you back, I need ..... you near me." She was almost struggling to say why she needed him, her heart knew, her soul knew, but her mind had too many holes to figure out why she needed him and Buffy. "But they keep you here, so I will eliminate them."
With a flick of her wrist she cast black bolts towards the clustered group, and Xander moved, so fast only Superman could see him move, he stepped in front of each bolt catching it with his body, staggering, but moving to catch the next one. Wincing at the pain, not realizing that it would have killed anyone it hit, he stepped towards Willow again, "I can't let you do that. They are under my protection Willow, and I won't let even you or Buffy hurt them."
Willow pouted then flashed to anger, "Fine, if I can't have you no one can, they can die with you!" Her arms went above her head and she started to chant, and Xander moved in fast to try clipping her in the head as hard as he could, hoping he could knock her out. Instead he met a shield and his hand simply sank into it. Above her a black cloud with black lightening was starting to form, Zatanna was in the back trying to cast a spell but lightening was starting to strike tripping up her speaking of the spell. Barbara had most the girls moving out of the way but the lightening was doing damage every time it hit and it was building up, almost like a major strike was coming, and this was just the aura of effect. One bolt hit Superman, knocking him back and leaving a bloody burn across his chest, meaning the bolts were pure magic, and that Willow had removed anything that might stop her.
Xander knew he was going to die, but he couldn't let Willow hurt his girls, he stepped forward into her personal space and put his arms around her, signaling to Batman, and praying he got the hint. "Enough Willow, it is time for the pain to stop." He felt the magic hitting him hard, each blow making his knees buckle, as he felt something hit his palm and he caught it. Lifting his hand up, he held his breath as he crushed the pellet in her face, but Willow held her breath until it dissipated, then started to laugh, "Fool, I could see you were holding your breath..." as he crushed the second one in his hand. She coughed once, eyes wide and then began to slump. The storm began to flicker and die as Willow passed out, releasing Superman and Batman just as Dianna and J'onn arrived.
He hurt, every part of his body hurt, as he sank to her knees holding the unconscious Willow. Batman carried Buffy over, laying her on the ground next to Xander and Willow, as Superman staggered over, the burn across his chest smoking, and cringing in the pain he so rarely experienced.
"I have mentioned I detest magic, right?" Batman asked dryly. Superman's mouth twitched in agreement, but they both went serious as Xander looked up at them, the naked pain in his eye easy to see.
"Do I kill her? She was once my best friend in the whole world, and now she is one of the most powerful magic users I have ever seen, even in your world, and she is insane. Nothing you have could keep her bound, and I don't know how to fix her or Buffy. Is this my fault, did I cause this?" Xander was almost begging, trying not cry as he looked at two had been the most important people in his life, until they chased him away, and still he loved them.
Batman looked down at the women, they were both so tiny and frail, he would have never expected to be at risk even in a fight from either of them, but Buffy would have taken him down if he hadn't cheated and he suspected if she had been a little more rational that knockout pill would never have made it out of the pouch.
Superman stood not really knowing what to say, the only options he could think of were permanent moved in softly, taking in the scene, confusion and worry clear on her face.
Zatanna walked up, looking a bit worse for wear. "Hey.... sorry she was ready for it this time, and I couldn't affect her."
Xander looked up with hope in his eyes, "Can you heal them, can you make them better?"
With a slow shake of her head Zatanna sat down next to him, "No. I wish I could. I could heal their physical bodies, but even if I said "Make them the way they were" which were, would it be? I don't know what was removed to know what to heal, what to replace. Magic works off of intent and knowledge, and I don't know what to repair or how to undo what she did. Not to mention, even unconscious she will fight me, and if anything I might make it worse. Her magic and mine are VERY different. Honestly when I blocked her from finding you, I just made it so she couldn't focus on you.... I... I never thought it would drive her to this. I am so sorry."
Slumping he cradled Willow in his arms, "Not your fault, I should have tried harder to deal with the problem rather than running away, I just didn't know how to fight the changes I saw. If I had known she was modifying memories again I would have, but it was so subtle, I didn't know." He bowed his head resting his forehead on hers, "If there was anything I could do to make this right, I would"
"Anything Alexander Lavelle Harris?" The voice was soft but somehow everyone in the area heard the voice, and most of them were on their knees even as their heads turned toward the speaker. Batman and Superman were still standing, though only a force of will on Batman's part. For Superman the voice inspired respect, but not worship.
Diana inhaled sharply as Xander looked up at the two women walking towards him, both in flowing
Grecian robes, one with hair dark as night, a remote but sad look on her face, the other blonde with a bow in one hand, and a look of pure purpose on her face.
Xander looked at them a long moment his face a mask revealing nothing. Then he slowly nodded, "As long as the cost was to myself only, and it did not forswear my other oaths, then yes. I would do anything."
"Would you leave this reality never to return if we restored them to their glory?" A sharp inhale from the slayers standing behind him, and a muted sob from Kassie.
"No." His voice was flat, "I love Willow and Buffy with all my heart, but they made their choices, I will not raise the risk of my girls dying because I was not here. What other price can I pay to help Buffy and Willow?"
A hint of a satisfied smile crossed the blondes face, but she simply turned nodding to the dark haired woman. The woman walked towards him, and sat in the chair that had materialized next to where he cradled Willow, her grey eyes made most quake as they passed over them, feeling as if they had stared into a void, "I am Hecate, and Willow has called on me for power before. I was the source of all magic on this plane and others at one time. When the doors were shut in your dimension I could only come in by invitation. Willow invited multiple times. Because of this I have an option, and you have a choice. She is insane, the power in her will drive her crazy no matter what. Few can handle the power she has access to and not go insane, she is not one of the few." Her voice was matter of fact, no sympathy, simply someone saying what was.
"Here be thy choice, " suddenly formal her voice and tone changed slightly, causing Xander to sit up straighter still holding Willow. "I can remove her powers, and wipe her mind, creating a Tabula Rasa, that will have to be filled, but she will be whole and have her life ahead of her. Or I can make her one of my handmaidens, repairing her power, but leaving her in my temple for the rest of her existence, able only to watch the lives of those she once loved but never interfere." There was a long pause as this sunk into everyone when she spoke again, "Or you can kill her now and she can move on." A wry smile on her mouth she sat back, a perfect statue of Greek beauty.
His voice rough, "And I must make this choice?"
"You are the closest to family she has had since Jesse died." Hecate's voice caused Xander to flinch, but it was true, by the time she was in high school she saw her parents once a month if lucky, and even before the collapse of Sunnydale it had been a year since she had heard from her parents, as far as he knew she still hadn't.
"When must I decide?"
"Now." The voice was still uninflected and distant, as if discussing something as unimportant as folding laundry, not the life of his best friend.
"And what is the price?" There was only the abstract aspect in his voice as if calculating the tax on an item, but everyone there caught the smile that crossed her face.
"You will owe me a favor. I promise the favor I ask of you will not put at risk any of your slayers, or require you to break your vows."
Xander shuddered a bit, favor's were the most dangerous price to ever have but the conditions she placed eased his mind a tiny bit. Everyone watched, the slayers feeling the pull of the goddess that had a hand in their making, and Diana amazed that the Amazon patron would step in, and bring Hecate with her for this man, for these women.
Xander looked down at the frail form of Willow, wanting to weep at the fragileness of her body, and how her choices had ravaged her. The gentle girl he knew was gone, and now he knew he would never get her back, he only got to choose how she would live going forward, or even if she would live. "I choose..." the air itself was frozen as everyone waited for his answer, "Tabula Rasa, give her back a life without power, but the ability to live." Tears leaked from his eye as he looked down at the woman in his arms.
"Done." Everyone watched as Willow slipped into a natural sleep, the barbed thorns disappearing, sunken flesh filling in, and hair changing back to a natural red. A glowing stream of energy, full of every color streamed out of her body into a ball in the hand of Hecate. "She will sleep for a day or so, while her mind and body heals."
"Now for Buffy." The blonde spoke standing next to the body of the slayer, no one had seen her move, and Batman had to resist jumping back a step as she knelt next to the woman, sorrow and sympathy clear on her face as she knelt next to Buffy, and brushed her hair back. "I am Artemis, and I helped create Slayers so many eons ago on this reality." She looked at Xander, "In your reality we had already been pushed away so man created your slayer, but still they are mine, I accepted them moments after the first was created, huntresses, warriors, and usually virgins, if only because they died before they had the chance to be anything else." The smile was both wry and bitter at the same time. "In memory of the service of those before her, and the price she has paid multiple times, I offer you a choice. I can remove the slayer from her, and restore her to health, full memory of all that has been done to her, or I can simply remove the last year from her mind leaving her a slayer." A bitter smile, "Or you can kill her and let her go back to where she once was happy again."
The statement was cryptic to most, but all the Sunnydaler's flinched, knowing where Willow had ripped her from, but this time Xander shook his head. "No, this is not my choice to make, not when her sister stands nearby," and he turned his head nodding towards Dawn.
The goddesses both frowned and turned to look at who he nodded at as Dawn stepped forward, and both of them actually blanched and froze as they processed what they saw. "I knew the Key had been made manifest, but the Key has always been hidden from our view, and she was made from the slayer." Hecate's voice was shocked as she spoke. The look on the goddesses faces was a mixture between being impressed and horrified as they stared at myth made reality on a cosmic scale.
Artemis spoke in a hoarse whisper, "Child do you know what you are?"
Dawn stepped forward shifting uncomfortably a little looking back and forth between Xander and Buffy's unconscious form, unaware she was holding Faith's hand as tight as she could, "I think so, I'm the Key."
Of all the JL'ers there, only Zatanna and Diana reacted, everyone else was completely confused. Zatanna choked hard, and Diana just paled looking at Xander with a strange mixture of respect and awe, something few men had achieved.
Xander growled softly, "We know who she is, what she was is immaterial, she is Buffy's sister and my friend named Dawn Summers, everything else... it doesn't matter." There was warning there, warning that even the two goddesses took seriously, which Batman noted and remembered the comment Xander had made at the scene of Jokers death - “I am someone who would walk through hell and back to save one of my girls, and if you hurt them Death himself will not stand in my way to destroy you. I am theirs and not even the forces of heaven and hell will prevent me from protecting them.” Batman realized now with a force that caused him to stagger, Xander had meant every word. He had tried to convince himself it was just bravado, but it wasn't and never would be, Xander would die willingly for those he loved.
Artemis and Hecate both turned and looked at him, and he didn't flinch, and Artemis nodded slowly, "So noted." Turning her attention to Dawn, "You have heard the choices, what do you choose for your sister/mother?"
Having heard the interaction with Xander, Dawn asked, "And the price?" Trying to keep her voice steady, and almost succeeding.
A soft smile, "None. Buffy has paid that price multiple times over."
Dawn bit her lip looking first at Xander, then Faith for an answer, but both just looked at her with a soft smile, letting her know they would back her up, but not giving her an answer. Finally Dawn took a deep breath, closing her eyes, then opened them, brilliant green eyes meeting the goddess and answered, "Remove the slayer but leave her memories, but I ask one last thing, guarantee her a life with children and that she dies at an old age in her bed."
Artemis started to snap out an answer, then paused, looking away at a distance for a long moment, seeing something that was not there, then slowly, "So be it, the Moirae have measured and cut her thread across all realities, she will die surrounded by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren in her bed of old age." Anger at being dictated to was clear on her face, but softened as she brushed a hand across Buffy's face, and the pallor disappeared and the skin smoothed out and a reddish orange essence appeared in her hand matching the one in Hecate's hand. "She too will sleep for a day or two, the Slayer did much damage, and the witch more."
With a satisfied smile, she stood walking over to Hecate, both of them looking at the spheres of power in their hands, "So what shall we do with these?" they asked each other simultaneously, their voices meshing oddly.
"We have the power of a magic user who fought for the side of good," Hecate's voice was soft but intense.
"And also the primal slayer essence from a slayer who lived longer than any I have heard of." Artemis answered her voice full of the same intensity.
Suddenly they smiled and turned and threw the orbs, both of them impacting into the same person.