Another Warning: Further unhappiness ensues, of the same ilk as previous parts. Better soon, I...hope.-Nocte
Part Eight: Last
*A wooded grove, rising above the level ground of the graveyard. This was where Willow had chosen to bury Tara. Amongst the quiet pleasures of nature that she had always loved. The sun was shining over the blanket of pine needles on the ground. A warm breeze rippled the black cloth covering the casket and the sound of birds intermingled with Dawn’s loud sniffles as she fought to keep her composure during the brief service. A venerable older witch of Tara’s acquaintance had come to deliver parting words over Tara’s grave.
Willow stood apart from her friends, one hand resting on the velvet cloth that covered her beloved’s remains. Her eyes were downcast and she appeared calm but the occasional spark of blue light that crackled from her hands belied that impression. Buffy knew if Willow looked up, her eyes would be nothing but fathomless black pools. Xander edged closer to Willow as the elderly Wicca finished her eulogy and left to give the mourners privacy.
“Will...the service is over...do you want to stay a while before they...do the interment?” he ventured, reaching out one tentative hand.
Willow turned her head to look at her oldest friend. He flinched a little at the shadowed gaze. She pushed his hand away without speaking and turned her head back to the casket.
Xander glanced back at Buffy where she stood with brokenhearted Dawn and solemn Giles. His eyes pleaded with her for backup and Buffy stepped forward reluctantly. She knew the very sight of her made the sparks shoot faster from Willow’s fingertips and Buffy could barely look at her friend, the guilt she felt over Tara’s death was so great.
Giles helped the still sobbing Dawn down the hill and back to the waiting car while Buffy came to help comfort Willow.
“Willow...I know it feels unbearable now...but soon...it will be better. I’m so sorry.” Buffy laid an arm over Willow’s trembling shoulders and tried to draw her close.
Willow flicked a finger and Buffy flew backwards to slam into a tree.
“Willow! It’s not Buffy’s fault!” Xander yelled as he rushed to help a dazed Buffy to her feet. “That demon killed Tara, Buffy did her...”
“Her best? No...I’ve seen her best; Tara...did not get her best.” Willow interrupted, finally walking away from the casket and towards Xander and Buffy where they knelt at the base of a tree.
“Willow, I know the pain you’re feeling...I’ve lost people before. The pain...it’s awful but someday you’ll be able to forget...” Buffy began in an aching voice.
Willow made a small gesture and Buffy felt her throat constrict, she could no longer speak. Willow gave her a cruel little smile.
“Funny idea...forget...you think I will forget? Forget Tara or forget that she’s dead because of you?” Willow snarled, the black of her eyes whirling faster in her rage. “Did you ever really love someone Buffy? Were you capable of that in your self absorbed little world? Why don’t you forget? Why don’t you forget him? Forget his very existence, live eternally alone with no memory of what it felt like to be part of something greater than yourself.”
A ripple of energy surrounded the three friends as Willow uttered those words. Buffy’s eyes clouded and cleared as she knelt looking up at Willow.
“Willow...” she whispered.
Xander bolted to his feet and confronted Willow. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? What would Tara have said? Using magic to hurt your friends...we love you Willow, we want to help.” he said angrily.
“I don’t know what she’d say Xander, she’s dead. And what am I left with? The Slayer who was having an off night and the loser who threw the love of his life away. You had a chance for something wonderful and you were too scared to take it. Instead you let her walk out of your life. If I had that kind of chance again with Tara...” Willow’s voice trembled and tears flowed from her eyes.
She turned and started down the hill, her final words floating through the air behind her. “Why do either of you bother? What do you have to live for?”
Xander’s face froze at Willow’s parting statement. He started as Buffy came up behind him and leaned her head on his shoulder.
“Don’t take it too seriously, Xander. She’s in pain. She just needs time.” Buffy comforted him.
“Yeah...time.” Xander replied a bleak look on his tired face.
The two friends watched Willow walk past the car and keep going into the graveyard beyond. She never looked back.*
Buffy awoke, a painful lump in her throat. Willow...how she had failed her. Her dream had been so vivid yet there were always parts of the funeral that she couldn’t recall, Willow had said something, after she threw Buffy into the tree. Why couldn’t she remember? Why couldn‘t she forget?. She reached up to rub her head and realized she was chained. Her eyes flew open and she saw him. He was crouching in front of her, ice blue eyes trained on hers. He looked sad. Why sad, shouldn’t he be happy, capturing a Slayer. It wasn’t a common occurrence for a vampire.
“Bad dream?” he asked.
Buffy glared at him. “I knew you were lying. I’m a fool.”
“Always were pet. Let me go, didn’t you? Then again, I was a fool too, to leave.” Spike replied.
Buffy waited...he didn’t move. She pulled on the chains she knew were secure; he just raised his scarred brow in slight amusement. She kicked out with one foot and nearly caught him on the chin. He rocked back on his heels and let the blow breeze past.
“Nice try pet,” he said softly.
“What do you want?” Buffy shouted.
“Answers...an’ I’m not sure you have them,” Spike replied calmly.
“I’m not telling you anything,” she retorted, sinking down and leaning into the stone wall.
Spike just laughed and held up the knife she had used on his stomach. “Got a whole table full of toys that say different, luv...where should I start?
“Go ahead.” Buffy shrugged. She was completely indifferent. Maybe this vampire could do what no other demon in nearly a century had managed...end it.
Spike saw that she truly didn’t care and threw the knife down. He stood and looked down at the stubborn set of her jaw, she was just as hard headed as ever. He needed a different approach. Spike thought. There was more than one kind of pain...
“Tell me what happened to all of them. Dawn lived...happy...kids...what about th’ rest? I know about Giles, probably have more recent news on him than you do but the Scoobies...how’d it go for them?”
Buffy turned her head to the wall to shut him out. Spike watched her begin to saw her wrists against the metal of her shackles. It was working, she felt something.
“Tell me...about the carpenter.” He gave Buffy a rueful grin at the shocked look on her face. “Remember him do you, I’m th’ only one who slipped through th’ cracks in your bloody mind? Tell me about Xander...did his demon girl ever come back? What happened to him?”
Buffy shook her head, eyes clamped shut again. How did he know all this? She didn’t understand.
*“Xander, wait for me. You can’t get ahead of me like that.” Buffy hissed to her friend.
Xander had insisted on coming with her to look for Willow. Neither of them had seen her since the funeral, she didn’t go to work, her family was mystified, and Buffy had decided a month was long enough and it was time to find her. Some rumors from the Wicca community had placed her in this abandoned part of town. Supposedly, she was delving deeper into the black arts, lost in the power she had fought so long to resist. Without Tara, the dam had burst and Willow was deeper than ever.
“I’m fine Buffy. Keeping an eye out and everything,” Xander replied to Buffy’s demand. He knew why she was worried, since Tara, Buffy had refused any help on patrol and had kept Xander at arm length on all matters of the supernatural. He wouldn’t even be here tonight if he hadn’t over heard Buffy on the phone with one of her contact. She had a possible location on Willow.
The two walked slowly up the steps into the burnt out wreck of the high school, Buffy hovering protectively near her friend.
“Buffy, let a guy walk here. I’m okay,” Xander said as he tripped over her small foot.
Buffy gave him an anxious glace. He wasn’t okay. He was anything but. Willow’s cruel words had scarred him, broken some barrier inside. All his pain and loss over Anya was there for anybody to see now and Buffy could feel his despair. She wished desperately that he had stayed home tonight.
“Why would she come here? This place is nothing but a shell,” Xander wondered aloud.
Buffy shrugged, her eyes roving the darkened hallway for any sign of Willow. “She’s not thinking straight anymore.”
A movement caught her eye and she nudged Xander. He looked up and saw it too. Buffy waved him behind her and adopted a fighting stance. Whatever was out there, it wasn’t Willow. The guttural growls and red eyes attested to that. Three hunched creatures moved out into the open hallway and Buffy recognized them for what they were. Hellhounds. How had they gotten here? They weren’t exactly Sunnydale fare. Someone had to summon these things.
The hounds spread out, eyes never leaving their quarry. The leader bared his yellowed fangs and snarled.
Buffy cursed softly and drew a knife from her boot. This was not a good thing. Was Willow trapped here with these creatures?
“Xander...when I yell, I want you to run.” she said under her breath.
Xander didn’t reply, he just stepped up next to her and raised the baseball bat he had brought with him. Buffy sighed. He had to be stubborn about this. She didn’t have time to debate it so she just moved over to give him elbowroom.
The hounds rushed and the hallway dissolved into flying fur and bared teeth. Buffy fought blindly, slashing out with foot and knife. She felt one hound fall beneath her and she buried her blade in its thick throat. It gave a wet gurgle as it choked on its own blood and Buffy turned to the next hound. She couldn’t see Xander but she heard the occasional thump as a bat hit something, he was holding his own. She caught her second hound by the neck and locked her arms to cut off its air supply. The beast struggled and clawed at her but she ignored the deep gouges it was carving in her forearm. Eventually its struggles grew more jerky and finally stopped.
Buffy let the hound drop to the ground, arms burning from the strain of holding it. There were no sounds of struggle. Xander must have bested his hound. Flipping stray strands of hair out of her face, Buffy looked up to find him. He was lying a few feet away, the hound dead next to him.
“Xander...Xander, get up...we still have to find Willow.” Buffy panted.
Xander just lay there. Buffy stumbled over to him. He looked up at her, still alert, blood soaking through his plaid shirt.
“Always thought I’d die in high school. Though I’d cheated death when you killed the mayor...” Xander said, still sardonic even now. “Turns out I just delayed it.”
Buffy’s breath came in hysterical gasps. “Xan..Xander, be still, I’ll...”
“Nah...no point, Buff. It doesn’t matter.” Xander shook his head slightly, reaching up to grasp Buffy’s nerveless hand. “Went out fighting anyways. Doing good. Willow...Willow was right, I shouldn’t bother...I let Anya go and it’s been all wrong ever since.”
Buffy laid her head against his reddened shirt, sobs welling up in her throat.
“Buffy...don’t...it doesn’t hurt. I’m not like you...you have a calling, a reason to stay, to fight this. Me...It’s just a relief.” Xander stroked her hair, his breathing slowing.
“No. Xander please.” Buffy begged. She held him tight as his eyes glazed, held him long after the blood stopped flowing. Two still figures surrounded by the dead creatures of hell. The only sound that of Buffy’s broken hearted sobs.
She looked up only once, and thinking back, maybe she imagined it...the glimpse of red hair, a flash of green eyes. Willow hadn’t seen, hadn’t watched him die...and done nothing?*
Buffy answered the persistent question, eyes still firmly closed. “He’s dead. Long dead.”
Continued in Part Nine: Recall