The Other Half::celeste::Chapter 7
Rolling past on the paramedic’s stretcher, Buffy watched the large black bag, filled with the shape of a body, being loaded into the back of the ambulance parked in the alleyway. Molly, conversely, wasn’t able to watch, instead studying the pavement. Giles was off to the side, speaking with the police officers that were busy scribbling away on their notepads. Buffy herself was crouched low against the brick wall, witnessing the twin doors being shut by the two paramedics.Willow
It was the one name that continued to haunt her. Buffy had no idea what this would do to Willow, or how she would react when they finally delivered the news. Perhaps it was selfish, but Buffy couldn’t add a destructive Willow to the growing list of worries.
But they had to tell her.
“The light- it wasn’t really her soul, was it? The First lied about that, right?” Molly asked, voice and body somehow smaller than before.
Buffy dipped her head low, combing her fingers through her hair. “It wasn’t lying.”
“No,” Molly stated, denial flowing through her with diamond hardness. “No. It had to be something else.”
“Didn’t you hear it?” Buffy asked, too drained to argue.
Slowly her head lifted, and she studied the other girl. There was grief plain in her red-rimmed eyes, tear tracks still drying against her cheeks. “The song?”
Molly regarded her sadly. “I didn’t hear anything other than you yelling.”
Confused, hurt, and utterly drained, Buffy only dropped her head again. She hadn’t been hearing things, the song from the soul had cried out to her, Buffy was certain of it, and she was powerless to do anything.
Now Kennedy was dead-- more than dead, and it was Buffy’s fault per usual.
When the shadows had finally released them, Giles had gone straight to Kennedy, while Molly and Buffy ran into the main floor of the club. Weapons in hand, the dancers all gave them wide berth as they searched for the creature called Darkness and The First. When the police finally showed up after twenty minutes to clear the place out, neither Slayer had found them.
The pair had already been long gone by that point.
A hand found her shoulder, and Buffy looked up to see Giles crouching beside her. “They’re letting us go now.”
He was holding up like normal, but there was a low hang to his shoulders that said it was more stiff upper lip then lack of caring. “Where do you think they’ve gone?”
“No idea,” Giles admitted before pursing his lips. “But I think I-- I know what’s going on. Or, at least, who the man was.” He drew his hand away, but stayed level with Buffy. “If I’m right, then going in with weapons blazing is utterly useless. I need to consult my books.”
“Well, feel free to let me in anytime,” Buffy snapped harshly.
Giles didn’t even flinch at her anger. Instead he stood, looking over his shoulder to watch the ambulance drive away. “I want to be certain, but I think we’re dealing with the hand of Evil.”
”The hand,” Buffy stated evenly. “That’s great. Just what I was missing on my resume.” Wiping her hands off on her jeans before standing, Buffy came to a stand beside Giles. “How do I kill it?”
Starting, Giles’ head whipped around to regard her. Understanding flashed for a moment, before it was snuffed out and replaced with a bleak emptiness. “I don’t think you can.”
It was not the answer Buffy wanted to hear.**
Faith slammed the blade of a battleaxe into the wall- the bar crossing over the door just above its handle, effectively barricading it. “They’re back!”
A stampede of feet answered her call, and soon everyone’s hands were filled with weapons. Shoving away from the door, Faith picked up her own sword and strode for the living room. “We do this in pairs! Vi, it’s us in the living room-- Ang, Yu-- go to the kitchen, rest of you upstairs!”
Scrambling to comply with her barking orders, the girls rushed into their designated areas. To Faith’s slight annoyance, a more alert Willow followed her into the now-chopped-up living room. Just one more of Buffy’s precious friends she’d have to look out for, and although Willow seemed lucid for the moment, there was no guarantee it would keep up.
With a wave of her hand in Dawn’s direction, Vi moved to her side, Xander already standing next to Dawn. Both flanked her with an axe and sword respectively, Dawn herself clutching tightly to her own crossbow. There was defiance in her stance, and she gave a slight roll of her eyes as the two positioned themselves behind her. Catching it, Faith tossed her an easy grin. “B’d never forgive me if something happened to you, kid.”
“Right,” Dawn answered flatly, lifting her crossbow.
Taking her cue, Faith held her own sword at the ready, waiting. From the corner of her vision she watched Willow move next to the archway, arms outstretched, and lips moving soundlessly. When the last of the girls stopped upstairs with everyone in position, an uneasy quiet fell over Slayer Headquarters. The sort of quiet that made Faith itch, thinking they should just attack already.
A crash rang out upstairs, followed by a loud warrior’s yell. Faith rolled her eyes, recognizing Julie’s Xena impersonation at once. The girl watched way too much TV.
Before she could think any further on it, three black shapes were morphing out of the shadows on the living room walls. Faith shouted a warning before turning to meet the first one with a swing meant to take off its head.
She barely got a look at it, just an impression of wrinkled black skin and sunken eye sockets before the head went flying as her blade cut through tissue and bone in one sweep. Twirling around to meet the next bent body, she made another slice into the air.
Only to realize the once highly-polished steel was completely corroded at the middle. Taking in the green-flaked end just past the handle with a gaze of surprise, she didn’t even realize Dawn had fired a shot until an arrow whizzed past her face and embedded itself into the Bogeyman’s shoulder with a splat.
Faith tossed the ruined sword aside, settling for fists, and punched the creature in the center of its twisted face. It stumbled backwards on awkwardly bent legs, before rebounding and countering with a swipe of long-as-hell black claws.
Dodging the swipe at her chest, she hopped back before dropping low to the ground and kicking out with her foot. Hooking the demon in the leg, she effectively tripped it, and sent it flying back onto the ground. Faith heard the crack of skull meeting wood before she leaped back up.
The third Bogeyman attacked before she could take a breath, and in another flurry of fists she managed to push it back into Vi’s waiting axe.
Faith soon understood the reason for the earplugs at the scream that filled the room. It was easily the most horrible sound she had ever heard, and Faith-- forgoing the earplugs-- jerked away with a flinch before stuffing her fingers as far into her ears as she could make them go.
The others winced as well, but had obviously thought ahead with the earplugs given their memories of the death cry. Faith then noticed Xander’s eye widening in horror, and he pointed directly at her and shouted something that was lost over the demon’s scream.
She learned pretty quickly what it was when a sudden fire erupted across her lower back. It didn’t take a genius to realize those long claws had just tried peeling the skin off her back. The pain was so intense she couldn’t even manage berating herself for turning her back on an enemy.
Gasping at the burning heat that threatened to consume her entire body, Faith’s spine arched. While the burning continued without relief, Xander rushed past her with his sword thrusting out like a javelin, until he jerked to a stop. His arms struggled with the handle poised before him, jaw ticking as his teeth clenched together as sure signs he was using every reserve of strength.
Struggling to turn, though the movement only intensified the raging fire, Faith saw Xander’s sword was quickly dissolving within the demon’s chest. In a sudden rush of strength, Faith reached out with both hands and managed to catch both sides of the Bogeyman’s head. It felt worse than it looked, like snake’s skin, only clammy instead of dry. Gritting her own teeth in anger, Faith gave a great heave, and jerked its head good enough to separate skull from spine.
It dropped without a sound, leaving Faith to wobble to the side as the pain in her wound slowly spread outward by millimeters, eating her alive. In what seemed an instant later, Willow’s pale arms were around her, supporting her as she guided a wounded Faith safely to the floor.
“Damn, this hurts,” Faith muttered quietly.
The burning finally ended when her world went dark.**
The proud owner of a brand-new cauldron, Severus smiled mirthlessly at the monitor, the tips of his fingers running victoriously down the side of his chin-- particularly the middle one as he stared at ijax57’s name just below his own. Foolish Muggle. What possible use could he have for a cauldron anyway? Severus had heard from Arthur Weasley, during an Order meeting when the man seemed particularly driven to somehow include the silent and brooding Potions Master in a civil conversation, that some cauldrons had been found in muggle homes-- being used as a flower pot of all things.
No beauty of a cauldron such as this was going to hold a large patch of petunias on Severus’ watch. He had yet to find a bronze or silver, but given the amount of mystical artifacts that were traded over this wonderful online auction block it seemed only a matter of time.
His smile widened. Perhaps Black was wrong, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time, and he’d manage procuring a wand as well. Core or no, he was simply used to working with one if nothing else.
Glancing over at his various print-outs on the papers, he leaned across the desk and began thumbing through them. The smell was wrong, and the texture was too smooth. What he wouldn’t give for the rougher grain of a crisp roll of parchment, the musky earthen aroma of a fresh sheet, blended with the poignant scent of fresh ink still drying.
Truth be told, everything in this muggle world where magic was negated as a hobby or lifestyle choice was simply wrong. Perhaps it was he who was wrong, not quite fitting, like a jagged puzzle piece being crammed into the larger picture. He was raised to detest these people, believing they were barely human and only in the most basis sense of the definition, and this way of life as something filthy, better wiped out like an infestation of cockroaches.
Trouble with cockroaches, it was nigh impossible to kill all of them, even with Wizarding pesticides, though Severus had managed to develop a rather potent poison that did the job. Trouble was, the fog-induced mixture tended to kill everything else, too, and so was a very unmarketable product-- like most of his work. Sprout had nearly strangled him when he’d killed her beloved patch of foxlights. He gave a slight chuckle as he recalled the usually matronly and gentle witch turning purple with apocalyptic rage.
Thinking of Sprout caused a pang of-- something-- to flash through him. Something any softer individual might label as homesickness. He had spent the last seventeen years-- his best years-- of his life at Hogwarts, teaching brain-addled children and aiding Albus, and now there was no way to return. When he had first awoke in that alley, his death in the Forbidden Forest had seemed years ago—indeed, it had been-- but now it seemed as if it had happened only the other night. Only the other day he had been holding classes as usual, scowling at the miscreants in the Great Hall-- seventh-year Potter, Granger, and Weasley in particular-- and spending what would become his last hours without torturous pain reading the latest edition of Potion Academia before a fire with a snifter of brandy in his hand.
Something he probably would have done if he had known they was his last hours on earth, but he definitely
wouldn’t have taught classes or forced his delicate senses anywhere near the Gryffindor Golden Trio. It was enough of a slap in the face he had died for Potter at all. At least now his life debt to the meddlesome boy’s father was gone along with his old body.
With a shake of his head for such pointless and brooding thoughts, he turned his attention to the spell written out before him. He would simply have to adapt, as he always had, and try to move on. The comfort he counted on was the fact that if a witch had brought his soul mate back, then there was an excellent chance she wasn’t a muggle.
He had no idea what he’d do if the case were otherwise. Fate could not be so cruel as that. Severus could, grudgingly, learn to live in this world, but living in it with a muggle… that he could not abide by. Even the mere idea of it was so horrid to consider that it did not bear wasting a moment of his thoughts upon it.
The natural assumption of meeting a witch firmly in his mind, the once-powerful Wizard was now setting his sights to relearning his craft. The cauldron and tools were the first step towards something familiar and comfortable. The spell work was the next stage in his acclimation.
Studying the spell carefully before setting it back down, Severus stood from his chair and crossed the room to an open space. Defensive magic took precedence over all else, so it would be the first he’d concentrate on. It seemed charms were already natural to him, for some odd reason, though Transfiguration was out of the question at the moment. He was never that good at it to begin with, in any case.
Holding a hand out before him, he closed his eyes as most online sites suggested and focused on what they called “drawing in the earth’s power”. His feet parted evenly beneath him, he set his mind to pulling at the magic around him until his body turned into a vessel to hold it.
Easier said than done, obviously.
After several minutes of standing there, making an utter ass of himself, he finally felt a hint of that awaiting power. It was charged, like the sky before a thunderstorm when the clouds only began to turn dark and ominous, and the very air smelled alive with wrath. It was that power, not the flowery stuff the online covens described, that Severus naturally latched onto. Perhaps it naturally latched onto him, or even had something to do with the mouth to Hell somewhere near him. Whatever the reason, it beckoned to Severus, and he hearkened its call.
The feeling that flooded through him-- it was remarkable. Empowering. He greedily lapped it up, allowing it to fill his being and pool within his chest. For the moment, he felt as if he single-handedly controlled the entire universe with the magic he was tapping into. A roaring louder than a violently churning ocean filled his ears as he struggled to transform the erratic power into something he could control, could give form. Maybe it was the other way around, and it controlled him. Whichever was the case, it hardly seemed important, but the war for dominance was on-- and Severus’ willpower could be the only victor.
What was going on outside of his body, he could not focus on: only the internal. He opened his eyes, vaguely seeing blotted lumps of shapes. His hand outstretched before him, however, was as clear to him as day. Though he intended to speak the words from the spell, the familiar flowing cadence of Latin escaped from his tongue. “FLAMINIS
Black fire engulfed his arm, speedily rushing towards his outstretched hand: a fire much bigger than intended, and it shot forth with all the subtlety of a flame-thrower. The wave of black flames shot right through the glass patio door of the suite, erupting out into the air between the buildings.
The force knocked Severus back and onto his ass. As soon as the impact jostled through him, the remaining magic was knocked out of him as well, sent back to wherever he had called it from. The wizard lay outstretched on his back, gazing up at a charred ceiling, and blinking rather dazedly.
“Well,” a familiar voice drawled with ill-concealed mirth from somewhere behind him and just out of his line of sight, “that was interesting. Tell me, Snivellus, have you ever been able to work any magic that wasn’t completely dark, or is it just a natural instinct from birth?”
“Actually, Mother said my first spell was to jinx the ears off a house elf,” Severus panted from the floor. He managed to roll over to his side and push himself to his knees.
Sirius Black shook his head, as if expecting that answer, before crossing the length of the room and flopping down Indian-style before Severus. “I thought we agreed nothing too big?”
“It was supposed to be a defensive spell,” Severus replied, going over the incident.
Black gazed pointedly up at the ceiling, and then to the charred wall surrounding the blown-out glass door. “I’d say you killed the room, so I suppose it worked. But, really, what did it do to deserve it? Attack you with little bars of complimentary soap?”
“Sod off,” Severus snapped.
Throwing a sparkling-white grin at him before standing up with phenomenal grace, Black walked around the panting wizard and began picking up the scattered paper that made the room look as if a tornado had passed through. “Hope your restoration charms are just as good as your ‘defensive’ spell work, otherwise we’re going to be paying for the damage.” Black sighed. “I suppose I’ll have to transfer more money to your account for the accidental mishaps—that, or get a roaming insurance van to follow you everywhere.”
“Bastard,” Severus said in return.
“Mum and Dad were already unhappily married by the time they had me, thank you very much,” Black easily replied before stacking the papers all together.
“Wench that she was, I’m surprised,” Severus dug in return.
Instead of becoming rightfully angry over the callous insult to the woman who gave him life, Black only smiled over at Severus. “Not if you consider Mum’s sparkling personality. Isn’t as if suitors lined the block for her after all. Don’t know what Dad was thinking when he proposed a handfasting, but he certainly regretted it later.” He returned to righting the lamps in the room.
“If you’re looking for sympathy, Black, you can forget it,” Severus said.
A snort greeted that. “Sympathy and Snape? An oxymoron if ever there was one. No, Sev, I’m not looking for any compassion from you. Just informing.” He shrugged nonchalantly. “Besides, it’s not like your parents were any better off than mine. I suppose that’s probably the only thing we really have in common.”
Severus did not want to rehash his childhood with anyone, especially Sirius Black. “Did you find Miss Emerson?” he asked by way of diverting the subject before his temper could flare in all its glory.
“No such luck,” Black replied. “Sunnydale is, ah, officially off the map, you could say.” He stopped in moving the chair back on its legs in favor of giving Severus his attention. “I did manage to find a certificate of death, however, in the county registry, meaning Anya Emerson is officially off the list of potential witnesses.”
“If she’s dead can’t you just...” Severus waved a hand through the air over his head.
“Contact with anyone associated directly with your other half is officially denied, so that avenue isn’t an option for us,” Black replied with an air of bitterness. It disappeared when he spoke again, replaced with the same light tone as before. “But we’re not without hope yet. Seems the credit card she used to purchase the urn wasn’t in her name. A Xander Harris ended up paying the five hundred dollars and sixty-two cents for it, along with a Backstreet Boys lunchbox.”
Severus’ brows drew together in confusion. “What is that? Some sort of demon summoning artifact?”
“Ah-- you could say that,” Sirius cleared his throat and returned to straightening the furniture. “Anyway, I checked the IRS database and found Mr. Harris is, coincidentally, living right here in Cleveland at apartment number 4, 1722 Fourteenth street. Employed with Interm’s Construction and Remodeling Co.” Black came to a stand. “What do you want to do?”
“I suppose,” he began in a sarcastic drawl, “we could always stop by and ask if he’s raised anyone from the dead lately.”
“Actually, the urn was purchased over three years ago. Not exactly ‘lately’.”
“Is it simply because you’re dead that you miss the slightest hint of sarcasm, or am I just loosing my touch?” Severus questioned acidly.
Sirius smirked in a very good imitation of Severus. “Actually I’m being cheeky, to keep you on your toes.” He folded his arms. “It’s the best thing we’ve got right now to go on.”
“Very well,” Severus replied before directing his gaze to the porch. “We can pay Mr. Harris a visit after I figure out a way to repair this.”
“Good idea,” Sirius approved with a nod. “I’ll even treat you to another frappuccino if you do a really good job fixing it.”
Giles’ car was filled only with the easy listening music from the radio as he navigated the way back to the house. There were no words to share, only the same grief. In Buffy’s mind, she continued to search for the right thing to say, but how could there be a good way to tell anyone their lover was dead? Not just murdered, but utterly and completely destroyed? The smallest bit of comfort usually offered, that one day you’ll be together again, was denied.
In her hand the cold silver links of Kennedy’s necklace, a birthday gift from Willow, was held in Buffy’s hand as the damning proof. She would give it to Willow and watch the denial turn into either absolute emptiness or the black glare of vengeance. Perhaps Willow would turn on Buffy herself, since it had been her idea to visit the club in the first place. Buffy, as leader, could not refute the responsibility of Kennedy’s death.
She’d seen many people die over the years, people she knew and called friend, or lover. The responsibility was, in some way or another, always hers. It was her sacred duty to prevent the taking of lives at the hands of the forces of evil. She had given her own for that end, so that everyone else could continue on. Every slayer came to the same end-- usually sooner rather than later.
Kennedy was no different, and had lasted longer than many of their predecessors. Kendra had lasted barely a year. Giles had journals of Watchers who only had one page written, their charges having been killed the same day they’d been called. The average life expectancy of a Slayer was no better than a fruit fly, less than a year on average. The longest-surviving one had Buffy beat only by two years. It was a hard fact they all had to face, and the younger the Slayer, the more inconceivable.
Kennedy was barely nineteen, and had never even received a bad injury in a fight. She was a natural. A flare for fighting like Faith’s, a sense of duty matching Kendra’s, and a strong sense of leadership shared with Buffy. If Buffy had to pick a newly-called Slayer that would last the longest and survive the most battles, it would have been Kennedy.
It just showed that none of them were invincible, much as the Slayer strength and youth often fooled them into believing. Probably purposefully, otherwise they would all run and try to escape their destiny. A destiny that decreed they would all die a violent death at the hands of an evil monster, and there was no true glory in that, only tragedy and ruin.
Buffy understood that, too-- intimately. She was met with adoring gazes as a hero, and maybe she was, but there wasn’t anything other than loneliness and constant danger in it. There was no pay off. No recognition. No one would honor Kennedy with a memorial, just a page in a diary that would eventually be covered in dust years from now. Another name, of a girl cut down before she could even reach her prime.
Buffy hated the Calling. It just wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right to ask these girls to fight. She had said they had a choice, but none of them truly did. She had simply offered them a larger chance at survival, used them as weapons to win.
The thing she hated about what years of fighting had turned her into, was that she would do the same thing all over again. Make the same choices. She would condemn them all in a heartbeat, simply because they had to win at any cost- and that was their lives.
No one, not even Giles, understood that. One day the Slayerettes would, and they would hate her for it. Buffy knew she deserved it, being no different from the Shaman all those years ago, the ones who made the first Slayer. She was the end of the line, the girl who decided who lived and who died. It was a hard thing to bear at twenty-three.
She exhaled and leaned back in her seat as the car turned onto their street. Her hand still curled around the necklace, desperately seeking a way to soften the blow to Willow. She just couldn’t lose her best friend, too. The Scoobies were the only things that kept her from turning completely into a cold weapon of demon destruction.
All too soon, the car pulled into the driveway, all the lights on in the house. Giles threw the car into park, and shut off the engine. What should have been four, but was now only three, all sat together in the still night. Buffy gazed at her front door with trepidation, dreading leaving the car, wishing she could just sit in it until an apocalypse forced her out.
“I can tell her,” Giles offered from beside Buffy.
Her face conveying every bit of gratitude from such an offer as she looked at him, Buffy shook her head. “I have to do this.”
Giles agreed with a nod of understanding, and more than just a bit of pride. “She can handle this, Buffy. Willow is stronger than she seems at times. She’s come a long way.”
There was a hint that, perhaps, he meant another person along with Willow, but Buffy decided not to think on it. “No one can handle this, Giles.”
“Poor choice of words,” he apologized.
“I got the message,” Buffy said softly. She drew in a deep breath, straightening her shoulders and spine, and got out of the car.
The walk to the door seemed to be set in a world far from the one she had been in when she’d left. Everything was darker, and there was a distinct lack in homeliness about the house. As if it too knew the next few minutes would decide whether or not Buffy would have to watch her Best Friend lose herself again.
Her hand rested on the doorknob, and she gave it the push to open it up. At the resistance that met her, the door opening a crack before coming to a jarring stop as if jammed, caused her to frown. “Now what?” she wondered.
Taking a firmer grasp, she threw all her weight into the door, and it came open with a resounding crash and the clanging of metal hitting the ground. Looking down, she found the clang had come from an axe. “Oh no,” she said, eyes growing wide as she realized she’d completely forgotten about the Bogeymen.
“DAWN!” she yelled, rushing past the entry hall and turning to come into the living room, her heart threatening to break her ribcage as fear drove it into a pounding rate.
When she spotted Dawn sitting on the couch, suddenly alert and focusing in return on Buffy, she let out a great breath of relief. Before she could regain her bearings, her sister was up and then hugging Buffy with a frantic sort of strength that would probably be painful for anyone else. “Faith,” she said softly into Buffy’s ear.Oh god
, Buffy thought- eyes pinching shut as the worst possible scenario came to mind. “Anyone else?” she managed to ask.
“No. Just Faith. She’s upstairs. Willow’s trying to slow the poison down, something about Slayer strength and warding off her heart will keep her alive for a while, but it doesn’t look good, Buffy.” Dawn grasped her tighter. “She wanted to protect me, and forgot her earplugs, and there were three-”
Buffy, relieved that Faith was at least alive, opened her eyes. “Everyone else is okay?”
“Yeah. Five Bogeymen down and melted,” Dawn drew back and let go, hugging herself a moment later. Suddenly she seemed to notice they were one short. “Where’s Kennedy?”
Turning away without answering, Buffy headed for the stairs. She spotted Xander and the rest of the Slayers in the kitchen, and called out his name before climbing up to the second floor.
Giles and Xander were behind her, her other best friend asking if they found out anything useful. Giles softly saying they’d discuss it later. Xander asking what was wrong… it all seemed miles away from where Buffy was.
It wasn’t hard to find where Willow was, the room she’d shared with Kennedy-- now hers alone. The light peach walls that served to sooth, Kennedy’s expensive tastes in designer collectibles and porcelain dolls on display beside Wiccan artifacts and books. The furniture was all high-quality, and in the center of the bed-- large enough for five people-- a pale and sweat-covered Faith laid on her stomach, shirt off and asleep.
Buffy took a moment to examine the wound on Faith’s lower back, just above where a slightly blood-stained sheet stopped to cover her. Buffy was assaulted by the smell of melting flesh, took in the skin turning black and tinged green around four deep lacerations. It looked exactly like the pictures of gangrene she’d seen on TLC while Xander watched his Emergency Room shows with the real doctors. Even to Buffy’s inexperienced eyes, she could see the poison was not only designed to kill, but also changed the person along with it.
Willow sat on the edge of the bed, eyes shut as her hands hovered above Faith. Buffy watched as she silently recited the words of a spell, her own brow covered in sweat as she worked. Buffy waited.
It took five minutes, and finally Willow drew her hands back. She lifted her arm and wiped at the sweat on her face with the back over her sleeved arm, before gazing up at Buffy with tired green eyes. “Hey.”
“Hi,” Buffy replied awkwardly.
Willow nodded towards Faith. “It’s not spreading, I- I think I’ve got it pretty much contained.” She sighed and rubbed at her forehead. “Right now at least, but I’m having to pull the stuff back into the wound every few hours. For some reason, it won’t extract.”
“Will Faith wake up?”
Willow shook her head, strands of red hair sticking to the side of her still damp face. “Not while this stuff is still eating at her. I hope not, anyway. She was in some serious pain while she was still conscious.”
“Still saved our butts,” Xander put in from beside Giles just inside the closed door.
Willow nodded in agreement, falling back in her chair. “I saw it reach for her, she was facing Dawn, Vi, and Xander-- didn’t see. I tried to stop it, but it managed to rip through the shield. I couldn’t get off my light spell in time, but I don’t know how much good it would’ve done.” She rolled her shoulders to work out some tension. “So, find anything useful? I haven’t had much time to do more research after the Bogeymen attacked.”
Wishing she could stall more, ask the exact spells Willow was using and how exactly did that magic work anyway… but she couldn’t do that. Buffy forced herself to make eye contact, and then took another deep breath. “Something-- I’m so-“ she stopped, pressing her lips together in frustration. Willow simply watched with a confused crease in her forehead, waiting. “I’m so sorry, Willow. God, I’m sorry,” Buffy finally whispered, holding out the necklace for Willow to see, hoping it would explain what she couldn’t say.
The necklace only seemed to baffle her more. “Did the latch break? I can fix it. No biggie.”
“No,” Buffy forced through her suddenly tightening throat. “It’s Kennedy, Will.”
The confusion turned into pure horror. “What?”
“I couldn’t stop it,” Buffy went on, focusing on Willow’s knees, unable to meet the eyes that begged for it not to be true. “I tried, Will. I did. It was too strong. It had us all restrained, I pissed off The First, and then it told the guy to-“ Buffy took a breath, pushing the rest out. “Kennedy’s gone, Willow. I’m sorry.” Once didn’t seem enough, so she said it again, softer-- pleading. “I’m sorry.” Her next words were barely audible to anyone, meant for Willow alone. “It should have been me.”
“No no no no nonono
,” Willow chanted, shaking her head with every quickly uttered word. It started out quiet at first, until it became a scream that felt as if it would rip out Buffy’s heart.
Xander pushed past Buffy, who was frozen, and knelt at Willow’s side. He pulled her into his arms, wrapping one tightly around her waist, and using his other hand to press her head into his shoulder, as if he alone could keep her from shaking her head off. He was whispering something, something lost to the screams muffled in his chest, hand both holding in place and soothingly running down her hair over and over again.
Buffy’s fingers closed around the necklace, squeezing down into her hand so hard her nails dug into her palm and she felt the pain and saw the blood well around them.
Willow’s grief a palpable force in the room, Faith lying mangled and on death’s door, one of their numbers gone forever- Buffy Anne Summers vowed to be the sword that would extract their justice… their vengeance.
Even if it killed her.**