A warning: This chapter contains a character death. It’s alluded to in previous chapters but here it is. Just so you know...
Part Six: Late
*“Do something Buffy!” someone screamed.
Buffy raised her crossbow and fired as she ran, a misstep... a wet patch of grass...the bolt went wide...
“No!!!” the voice came again. “Tara!”*
No. Buffy had meant to miss this demon. At the last second, something inside her twitched, the weapon tilted the tiniest fraction of an inch so the bolt lodged in the shoulder and not the heart. Why did she do that? The vampire moaned from the floor. Buffy snapped out of her reverie and walked over to where he lay.
“Back downstairs for you, demon,” she said dispassionately.
He just groaned again.
Buffy bent and pulled him up. He slung a leather-clad arm over her shoulder much to her surprise. She wasn’t helping him home from the bar; she was taking him downstairs to peel strips from his back until he spilled about his damned book. Why did he act like he trusted her?
She glanced up into his pain-wracked face in wonder. The scar drew her attention again. A battle...over a hundred years ago...how did she know that? Buffy straightened, taking his weight onto her thin shoulders and guided him past the broken door and down the steep wooden steps into her dungeon.
Back in the tiny room below, Buffy leaned him more or less gently against the stone wall and knelt next to him. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. The residual drugs in his system and his newest wound had left him barely conscious. She slowly drew the bolt from his shoulder, eliciting only a grunt from the demon. A thin trickle of blood wended its way down his destroyed shirt front and onto his lean abdomen. She had done some real damage here and still he acted like she was anything but his enemy. She brushed the black hair back from his face, thinking it was wrong somehow...the color. What had he said about dye?
“You know me,” he whispered.
She jerked her head up and scrambled back a bit. He was awake.
“Buffy. You know me. Otherwise I’d be dead by now. Let me tell you...” Spike coughed, bright spots of carmine dotting his lips as he spoke. “Let me tell you why I’m here. The book, it can change this place...change your miserable excuse for a life.”
Buffy shook her head. “I may look young but I’m not and I didn’t live so long listening to lies from self-serving creatures like you. You’ll tell me about the book all right but you’ll be screaming the truth from your chains...that way I’ll know its true”
She stood and went to fetch stronger chains from the back of the room. Bringing them, she began fastening them on Spike’s wrists. He didn’t resist, he just kept talking.
“When did it happen luv? When did the bad guys start winning more than they lost? Why did you stay when everyone else left?” he said softly but persistently.
Buffy resolutely went about her task. One wrist done...one to go.
“Let me help you. You aren’t alone...you know me,” he pleaded.
Buffy’s hands trembled. She looked up into pale blue eyes and shook her head. He must be lying. She was alone...she had been alone for a long time...He had to be trying to pull something. Then why did some part of her yearn to trust him, to listen? To not be alone in this corner of hell anymore. Her hands stilled. Almost of their own accord, they loosened the second shackle, slipped it from the vampire’s wrist. Then she unlocked the first and took it off as well.
Still staring at him she said “If you’re lying...I will kill you...a stake would be quickest but I know other ways that take much longer.”
Spike nodded slowly, not wanting to disturb this crucial moment. He climbed to his feet, keeping his gaze trained on her doubtful face. Maybe he was getting through. He looked down on the girl he thought he had lost long ago...even in worn clothing with her hair scraped back from her too thin face, she was the most incredible thing to him. To a man who had not seen or touched or spoken to anything he loved since he left this place at her request, she was everything. He slowly raised one hand and reached out to cup her cheek. She quivered but didn’t stop him. He traced the outline of her jaw with his thumb. So warm...still like a flame to his cold touch.
With the other hand...the one Buffy wasn’t paying attention to, Spike grabbed her by the hair and slammed her head backwards into the hard surface of the wall. The crack of her skull meeting stone was the last sound Buffy heard before the world went black.
Spike looked down at the crumpled figure at his feet. “Sorry pet. We don't have time for slow and easy.”
He picked up the chains she had decided not to use on him and briskly snapped them around her wrists, making sure they were tight enough to hold her. Tearing a strip from what was left of his shirt, he held it to the wound on the back of her head. He hadn’t wanted to be so rough but Slayers were tough and he knew he would only get one chance to subdue her. Leaving for a moment, he crossed to the worktable and selected a small dart from the horrific collection of weapons. He was mightily glad she hadn’t gotten to part two of ‘carve up the vampire’. Dipping the dart in his stolen bottle of tranquilizer, Spike knelt and stuck Buffy in the neck with it.
The drugs would keep her calm when she woke up, hopefully enough that she would listen to him. He sat down next to her limp form to wait. It wasn’t going to be pretty but it had to be done...
*“When did it happen luv? When did the bad guys start winning more than they lost?”
Buffy knew the answer to that one.
She walked through the cemetery in the company of two of her dearest friends. A new demon in town was attacking women and leaving them badly mauled, sometimes killing them. Buffy didn’t know why or really care. It was her job to dispatch it and with that thought in mind, she was out here in the middle of the night with her volunteer bait.
“So, what’s Dawnie’s new guy like? Willow asked, munching on an apple.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “A god come down to earth to live among us mortals...if you ask Dawn. You’d think a girl headed for law school would be more sensible about men. She’s really fallen for him.”
Tara laughed. “Our little Dawn. Hard to believe it was only five years ago when she had that disastrous date with that vampire kid on Halloween. Now she’s thinking wedding bells with Mr. Preppy Law School guy.”
Buffy winced at the word wedding. “Excuse me but I’m still in denial about that part. She’s just a baby...no weddings. Not to mention, my dead end job is still paying off her student loans, I can’t even fathom the cost of flowers and frilly dresses.”
Willow patted Buffy on the back comfortingly. “Maybe his rich family will spring for it.”
“Here’s to that.” Buffy replied, brightening at the thought.
The three strolled through the dark night, a ritual they were all perfectly comfortable with. Willow would bring snacks, they would catch up on their lives. Comment on the latest news from Giles and worry about Xander who was still having a hard time with Anya’s sudden and final departure from his life. What they didn’t talk about was Buffy. Buffy’s life or lack thereof. She had made it abundantly clear that there was nothing to discuss. She patrolled, kept Sunnydale mostly demon free, worked constantly to put Dawn through school, paid the rent, purchased the occasional overpriced pair of shoes...and that was it. No men and no apparent desire for any.
Willow now agreed with Tara’s opinion that they had made a mistake to encourage her to go for Simon instead of Spike but it was too late. Spike had left and he had not returned. On the surface Buffy dealt with her heartache better than Xander did but Willow knew...it still hurt. The lighter Buffy constantly played with spoke to that.
A soft rustle in a stand of trees to their left broke the girls from their cheerful conversation. Buffy looked alert and waved her friends to go ahead of her to draw the demon out. She busied herself with loading a bolt into her crossbow. This demon was about to make his last assault on the women of her town.
Willow and Tara continued on as if they had heard nothing, but they were primed to dive out of the way when the demon appeared. Soon enough, a surprisingly small demon, maybe five foot if that, burst from the tree line and headed straight for the two. Willow ran one way and Tara the other. It was a well-practiced maneuver designed to confuse an attacker. It would gain Buffy a few extra seconds to line up a shot and take the opponent down.
This time it failed. The demon was blindingly fast. He pursued Tara without a moment’s hesitation and bore her to the ground. Tara screamed loudly, too surprised to bring her magic to bear on the demon.
“Tara! Oh God Buffy, quick do something! Tara! Hang on baby, we’re coming!” Willow screamed.
Willow turned back towards her beloved, panic in her green eyes. Was that a knife he held?
Buffy raised her crossbow and fired as she ran, a misstep... a wet patch of grass...the bolt went wide...
“Tara, keep your head down, I’m almost there!” Buffy called as she ran.
Her breath was coming faster but everything else seemed to slow down. She heard the splash of her footfalls in the wet grass bringing her ever closer to the demon where he crouched over his pinned victim. She heard Tara call to Willow, beg her not to use magic, that Buffy would stop it. Heard Willow’s frantic gasp as the demon yanked Tara’s head back by her long blonde hair. Saw the gleam of the small blade in the scaled creature's hand.
And then time stopped...just as the blade tore across her friend’s exposed throat. Just as the blood sprayed out into Willow’s outstretched hands.
“No!!! Tara!” Willow sobbed as Tara’s life poured into her hands.
Then in a rush, time raced forward. Buffy ran full tilt into the demon’s side, knocking him off the bleeding witch and onto the ground. Buffy pounded her fists into the struggling demon’s face over and over. His features disappeared into a mass of gore in a matter of seconds. Buffy could hear Willow’s sobs slow and stop as she beat the demon methodically. She heard the sound of chanting and suddenly she was hurled backward by an unseen force into the grass. She landed flat on her back, the breath knocked from her body.
Buffy raised herself up on her elbows, stunned by her fall. Someone was screaming. Willow? No, Willow was chanting. The red haired witch stood over Tara’s unmoving body. Her hands were outstretched, eyes filled with black fog, sparks shooting from extended fingers. It was the demon who was screaming. Buffy focused on the creature and blanched in horror.
It was being torn apart...alive...by Willow’s spell. It’s skin stretched and split, dark blood running from the seams. A high pitched squeal sounded from it’s open mouth as it exploded into a thousand small, dripping pieces. Buffy crawled forward to get to Tara. Her eyes were open but the warmth and love that she had greeted life with was gone. Tara was gone.
Buffy looked up at Willow.
“Will...oh God...Will. I’m sorry. I was...” Buffy choked out.
“Late.” Willow returned Buffy’s agonized gaze, eyes still empty and black. “You were too late.” *
Continued in Part Seven: Why