Willow, Chapter 10
Willow turned away from Buffy and looked out over the long rows of gravestones. A quiet wind blew over the soft grass, gently ruffling her hair. This was what her best friend dreamed of—death and peace.
An open grave laid ready for Buffy. Willow had come here to save Buffy from that grave. Or at least she’d tried. She’d burrowed through time and projected herself and Dr. Doom into Buffy’s dream, all to warn her friend away from the X-Men. She’d cried and pleaded with Buffy, only to get slapped by her best friend. It wasn’t going to help.
The Pale Man had done this. He’d cursed Buffy to forget this dream and everything Willow told her. He’d come to Buffy offering to help, and she’d pissed him off. Now he was collapsing this dream and leaving her to Illyria in a fit of spite. There wasn’t even anything Willow could do about it. This wasn’t her dream.
“There remains a second option,” Doom’s said from behind her, his voice low and oddly sympathetic.
Willow glared back at where he stood, cloaked in the shadows at the edge of the dream and hidden from Buffy. She didn’t trust him and didn’t want to let his mystery spell anywhere near Buffy, but she didn’t know what else to do.
Buffy followed Willow’s gaze. “Is there someone else here?”
“Yeah, I told him to stay back there. You two wouldn’t get along.”
“You remain suspicious, but Doom is not the monster you believe him to be. This spell will not kill Buffy Summers. It will remove her from Illyria’s reach. It is the only way to save her.”
Willow glanced back at Buffy. So why did it feel like she was sentencing her friend to death? “I can’t,” she mumbled.
“Doom warned you that it would come to this.”
“Fine, you were right,” Willow said. “But I still can’t. You’ll have to do it.”
“Who are you talking to?” Buffy asked her.
Willow didn’t turn back around to look at her friend. She didn’t want to see her a final time. She didn’t want to be here anymore. She just wanted to go home and let everything go back to normal. No more Illyria or Dr. Doom or time travel. Just be back in her own bed with her wife’s arms curled around her.
Willow stepped into the hidden shadows and let Doom take her place.
“What the…” Buffy said before being cut off.
Willow didn’t look back. She didn’t want to hear Buffy as she struggled against the spell that had been released inside her mind. She didn’t want to be here.
Except that wasn’t right. She was letting Dr. Doom attack her best friend with the spell. She shouldn’t ignore this. She had to force herself to see this. Willow turned around and stepped back into the dream. The spell had taken the form of a thousand metal chains, each wrapping themselves around Buffy and dragging her back into an open sarcophagus.
Their eyes met as Buffy was dragged inside. “I’m sorry, Buffy. I love you.”
The sarcophagus slammed closed and they were left alone in the empty white space that used to be Buffy’s mind. Willow walked towards the sarcophagus, her footsteps echoing across the nothingness, and ran her fingers across the stone. This was strong. Maybe Buffy really would be safe in there.
Dr. Doom stepped behind her and a gauntleted hand rested on her shoulder in a comforting move that was very uncomfortable coming from Dr. Doom. “There is nothing left for us in this time. We should move on.”
Willow turned around, letting Doom’s hand drop away. “Why are you being so nice to me all of a sudden?”
Doom stared back down at her, silent for a long moment. He was standing uncomfortably close, and with the sarcophagus at her back she was feeling a little closed in.
“Doom is dying,” he finally said. “Here in this remnant of a dream my astral projection remains strong, but a failing body awaits me back in Castle Doom. Illyria’s infection continues. Only hours remain.”
Willow bowed her head, uncomfortable and unsure what to say.
“But the will of Doom remains strong,” he said as a steel finger lifted her chin back up. He stared intently at her face, like he was trying to memorize her features.
There were a lot of emotions roiling around in the back of her head and shouting to be heard, and creeped-out was starting to become a loud one. She slipped away from Doom and busied herself with the spell to remove them from Buffy’s dream and this time.
They came back to the present in Doom’s throne room. Doom still sat on his throne, staring down at her. Willow wanted to yell at him, tell him to stop acting so weird and say something insulting or egotistical, but he just continued to stare. And she didn’t want to yell at a dying man.
So instead she focused on her work. She still had the time-cube control chip, which she used to create another portal. She rapidly moved it across time and inspected the new timestream they’d just created.
Willow shut it off after ten minutes. “It didn’t work,” she said. “Cyclops is Illyria’s Qwa’ha Xahn. He was ordered to protect her past, present and future. When he touched the spell it fell apart, and the timeline returned to the original path that led Buffy into Illyria’s hands.”
“The Old One protects her timeline,” Doom said.
“Rarghhh!” Willow’s pent up emotions burst out in a flash of magic. The stained-glass windows shattered as she dropped to her knees. Tears would have started flowing, but she forced them back. Not now and not here. “I’m not going to give up,” she mumbled. “I have the time machine. I don’t have to ever give up.”
“No,” Dr. Doom said. “Focusing on saving Buffy Summers has been a mistake. It is time to move on and directly confront Illyria.”
Willow glared at him. “You don’t get a say.”
“The second form of Illyria is exponentially stronger than the first. Buffy Summers made a powerful shell. Perhaps making Illyria the most powerful being on this planet—excepting one. Given the proper tools, Doom will triumph.”
“You’re dying,” Willow told him. “Your organs are melting away. Your soul is on the cusp of being swallowed by a god. You said it yourself, you have only hours to live.”
“This body may die, but there will always be Doom.”
Willow laughed at him. “So what are you going to do? Electronically transfer your mind into a Doom-bot? Clone yourself?”
“A clone would not have the necessary mystical connections. Doom needs a body well versed in magic.”
Willow momentarily froze as she stared at him, then picked up the scythe and slowly stood up. “You are not implying what I think you’re implying.”
“This is an honor for you, Willow Rosenberg.”
“And to think I was feeling sympathy for you.” Willow started pulling in energy from the scythe, readying herself for a fight.
Doom sat still, neither moving nor appearing to gather the energy he’d need for a mystical battle.
“This isn’t going to happen. You’re a dying man, not even able to stand up from that throne. Your magic can’t defend itself against mine. You’re drained and completely tapped—I can feel it.”
“Doom is well practiced in the art of body theft.”
“Not really going to work on me,” Willow said. Doom’s calm was making her nervous. She was pretty sure that there was no way he could pull this off—he couldn’t get through her mystical shields in the shape he was in. But then she’d been pretty sure her plans to save Buffy on Apocalypse’s ship and in the dream would also work. She wasn’t off to a good track record in this dimension.
“I’m going to be honest with you,” Willow said as she slowly walked backwards. “You’re tough. I’ve got to give you credit for that. But that also means that I’m not holding back if you push me into a corner. If you try anything then I’m just going to hit you with all I’ve got and I’m not going to stop until you’re extra dead. I can’t afford to do anything less. The last time you tried to stop me from leaving you turned up on the losing side. Don’t make the same mistake again.”
“Stay,” Doom said.
Willow’s entire body went numb. Her knees went loose and she fell to the ground like a ragdoll, the scythe slipping away from her useless fingers. Willow tried to scream, or to get up and run, but her body just lay there still and unmoving. She didn’t need to move to channel magic. She visualized a spell in her mind, a burst of fire that would burn Doom to a crisp, and start pushing it into reality.
“Stop,” Doom said.
Something like an electric shock hit her. Not painful, but completely disrupting her concentration. The spell fizzled. She pushed with her magic again, trying to focus on a spell through her rushed and panicked thoughts. The same thing happened.
“When you arrived in this dimension, here in this very room, you met a Doom-bot,” Doom said. “Upon its destruction it released a cloud of nano-bots that colonized themselves in your brain. There they awaited Doom’s commands. You have never been a threat to Doom.”
This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. She just wanted to save Buffy and go home. She hadn’t wanted to work with Doom in the first place. She would have done anything right then. She would have begged and bargained. She would have agreed to anything. Except she just lay there on the ground, unmoving.
“You were honest with Doom, and now he will gracefully return the favor and be honest with you. You are a failure, Willow Rosenberg. Like Richards you have the power and intelligence to achieve greatness, but you fail to wield it. You are either unable or unwilling to see the truth—all worlds need a leader brave enough to step forward and lead it from the dark caves into the light. Instead of being that person, you let yourself be consumed by concepts like friendship and love. You have committed many unforgivable sins against Doom, but this has been the worst. You squandered the power you were given. Soon that power will be Doom’s, and he will not let it go to waste. Sleep now, Willow Rosenberg. Sleep and let your last thoughts ponder this lesson.”
This should have been a task for the servants, but Doom had ordered the castle emptied. In the end, however, he did not mind the physical labor as he dragged the logs through the courtyard. It would not be right for anyone to build Doom’s funeral pyre save Doom.
This new body was not as strong as his previous, but the armor and mystical enhancements made physical strength irrelevant. His first act in Willow Rosenberg’s body had been a shape-shifting spell that precisely recreated the original form of Dr. Victor Von Doom down to each scar. Safety protocols in the armor had needed to be reconfigured, and then Dr. Doom had walked from the throne room on his two new feet.
The magic of Rosenberg felt different. It felt cleaner and purer with a sweet aftertaste almost like summer fruit. She came from a dimension more closely aligned with the mystical arts. Those forces had shaped her body, like a river carving a deep and mighty canyon. It would now be Rosenberg’s magic that Doom would channel through this body. The scythe recognized this and responded to him as an old friend. He wore it at his side.
The last log was placed, and Doom went back to retrieve his body. He gently carried it from the throne room into the courtyard, solemnly walking in silence. Illyria’s virus continued to work its way through the body, hardening the skin and burning away at its organs. The process was still incomplete, and he’d built the pyre thick with logs. The fire would be enough to prevent the sacrilege of this body rising.
He laid it across the pyre and then stepped back. Scars crisscrossed the face and muscled chest. When he’d first received those scars, in the fires of Mephisto’s hell, it had been his greatest shame. He had hidden them behind the armor, unwilling to show anyone the extent of his failure. They’d never truly healed—hellfire never did—and they’d reminded him of that failure with constant pain. Except now, for the first time in decades, he no longer felt the pain. He’d recreated the appearance of the scars with an illusion, but that hadn’t made them real. He would miss the pain. That pain had turned a young man named Victor into Dr. Doom, the greatest hero in the world.
He lit the fire with a burst from his gauntlet and stood back. It started slow, with a low heat at the bottom as the kindling burned, then grew as the first logs started to catch. Doom watched as it grew into an inferno, large enough that the flames leapt higher than the courtyard walls.
“How are you handling this?” Willow asked as she stepped up beside him. “Any sense of loss? Perhaps feelings of injustice? Feel like something close and personal has been stolen?“
“Be gone from this place, shade. Move on to your afterlife. Do not waste Doom’s time with a banishment.”
“I’m not a shade,” Willow said. “I’m not a ghost and I’m not a poltergeist. I know how those things work, and that’s not this.”
“Then be gone, whatever you are. Leave Doom to this moment.”
“I can’t go anywhere else. That’s my body right there, under all that armor and illusions. Where it goes, I go.”
“There is nothing left of Willow Rosenberg in here.”
“Then I guess I’m just a hallucination. Just a little echo of a noise bouncing around in that brain you stole. And this echo is going to make your life miserable. Did you know I’m a lesbian? That means no boys allowed inside. I’m going to be here next to you, every second of every day and I’m going to wait. The second you slip up, the moment you let your guard down, I’m going to be there. I’m going to step up and I’m going to reclaim that body and serve you an eviction notice. And then there’s going to be no place left for the soul of Dr. Doom, except back down into the pits of hell.”
Doom didn’t respond, instead watching the blackened body silhouetted by the flames. Rosenberg was just background noise, like the pain from his scars. Other tasks lay ahead of him. Traipsing through the timestream had turned into a waste of time and energy. It was time to take the fight to Illyria. He would show her that he was Dr. Victor Von Doom, and her crimes against him would not be forgiven.