Part Twelve: Regrets
Now... the absence of pain woke her. It meant whatever wound the demon had dealt her was healed. New arteries formed, new blood pumped through inhuman veins. The only mercy of this bizarre immortality was the coma-like state she fell into while her body knit flesh and bone back together. Buffy sat up, peered into the dim room. Sunlight intruded through the gaping hole in the wall that had once been a door. Daylight. How much time had passed? Twelve hours, maybe more. She staggered to her feet, looked down at the pool of sticky red at her feet. Her clothes were ruined. She needed to change again. As she began the near automatic task of stripping out of the shredded clothes and rinsing the gore from her body with bottled water, a thought gnawed at the back of her brain. Something was missing, what was it?
It slammed into her suddenly. Spike! She cleared the last of the cobwebs from her brain and looked around frantically.
“Spike?” she screamed, the name echoing off the stone walls.
She was alone. Dragging on a clean pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, she ran to the basement door.
No answer, he was gone. Trembling in rage and fear, Buffy examined the floor for telltale signs of dust. None, just a million splinters. She wrapped her arms about herself; mind racing as she tried to think, knowing what had happened...Willow had him.
She had to go find him. Her mind instantly rejected that idea. To go there...she had stayed away for seventy years, never wanting to face the wolves of memory that haunted that place. No, she had to. She couldn’t let this go on. Since Spike had told her what was happening to the world, Buffy had known the truth. All the demons, the Hellmouth...this was all Buffy’s fault too...and now she had to fix it. Squaring her shoulders, Buffy went to collect her weapons.
“Wakey, wakey, Spike...” a soft voice whispered into Spike’s ear.
He groaned in pain. Chains again. He could feel the bite of steel into his wrists. What was it with this town? The battle at the manor had been over in seconds. Buffy, paralyzed with some unknown emotion, had fallen beneath the blade of one demon’s axe and the other demons all took on Spike at once. He killed two with his bare hands but the remaining ones overwhelmed him, subdued him. He remembered hearing a soft voice...calling him Spike, telling the demons to bring him along.... and then....nothing.
A feathery touch across his cheek made him open an eye. He knew there was nothing out there he wanted to see but he wasn’t one to shy away from things. A flame, that was the first thing he saw, flames everywhere. Then he looked down.
The mouth of hell gaped wide beneath him. Suddenly he was glad for the chains that held him secure against the wall of the dizzyingly deep cavern. He pressed his back against the rough stone, edged his feet backwards. What had happened to this place? Last time he saw it, the Hellmouth was just a jagged hole in the floor of a ruined library, now it yawned fifty feet from one steep wall to the other. It was deep too; staring down he couldn’t see the bottom, just gouts of sickly green flame and an oily cloud of black smoke. Narrow pathways ran along the walls and they were choked with demons traveling to and fro. No wonder the influx of demons was so great, this was a bloody highway. He heard the faint clank of tools hitting rock and realized they weren’t finished either, they were still widening the hole.
“Isn’t it pretty?” the voice came again.
Spike turned his head to see who was talking, not that he didn’t already know. It was Willow...or what was left of her. The bright little redhead he had once assured was eminently bitable had changed. The years that didn’t show in Buffy were all too evident in her. Not that she was old and wrinkled...she wasn’t but she was...terribly different.
Her eyes were like black holes, no light reflected outward. Spike felt if he looked too deep he would be unable to climb back out. The once vibrant red hair was now the color of old blood falling across pale skin like a raven’s wing. Her skin, it was whiter than his own was, sunlight had not touched it in a very long time. It looked stretched... a little too tight across brittle bone. Her hands...every sinew and tendon visible under papery flesh, nails long and sharp. She wore black silk, a plunging neckline, breathlessly tight, a dress that flowed to the rocky ground and trailed out behind her.
She stretched her lips in a grotesque caricature of a smile. “Spike...never thought I’d see you again,” she said in a strange hissing voice.
“Same here.” Spike snapped.
She glided forward, traced an idle finger down his bare chest. His coat was gone, shoes too. She had left his pants thankfully. Her nail sliced his skin like a razor and he felt a sluggish trickle down his chest. He wasn’t sure how much blood he had left to lose between her and her goons and of course Buffy. He was an elder vampire, needing less blood than when he was younger, but still there was a limit to how long he could go without replenishment. His captor cocked her head curiously and he saw blue sparks crackle in a halo around her head. She and her magic were one entity now, inseparable.
“You haven’t fed recently...vampire...” she commented.
He shrugged indifferently but didn’t speak. Willow sighed and backed up to look at him with a chiding expression on her ghostly face.
“You broke the rules...twice actually...” Willow raised a hand and beckoned a small cowering demon over. He crawled forward and reached out with trembling claws to hand her a coiled black bullwhip. He skittered away quickly, obviously fearful.
Spike wondered what she had become that demons groveled before her. His musings were interrupted by the sharp crack of the whip she now held.
“The rules...firstly, all demons who come to Sunnydale must come and pay me homage, that is if they don’t get killed trying to get here...getting killed...that happens a lot...” Willow looked annoyed.
Buffy’s efforts had not gone unnoticed by her apparently.
Willow’s gaze sharpened. “You...didn’t come...or get killed. You failed to bring me any nice gifts either...like this interesting little book.” She held up the Adoperis manuscript and Spike’s heart sank.
“Such a fascinating volume. You know how much I like to read...” She tossed it aside carelessly and it landed out of Spike’s reach. Far too close to one of the geysers of green flame for Spike’s comfort.
“Do you want to hear the second rule?” The whip cracked again, raising a welt on Spike’s shoulder.
He jerked against his shackles and glared at her menacingly. She just laughed. She didn’t fear him anymore...not even a little.
“Rule two...and very important...no one interferes with one of my spells,” Willow snarled, the whip unfurled again and laid open Spike’s cheek. His head snapped back at the impact and a growl of rage rumbled from his vampiric face, brought to the fore by anger and pain.
“What bloody spell? Th’ one you laid on Buffy? Your friend? Remember her?” Spike finally spoke.
A bitter laugh. “Remember? Oh yes I do recall the mad creature who lives up on the hill. I should. I made her that way. Until you came along...annoying as ever and insisting she come back to you. I felt...the spell dissolve. You had no right...” Willow hissed, arm going back to deal her captive another blow.
Spike’s arm moved quicker than sight and grabbed the leather cord before it connected with his body. Jerking hard, he tore it from Willow’s grip and hurled it into the smoky depths below the ledge where they stood.
“I had no right? What right did you have to do that to her. She didn’t save your hide often enough?” Spike shouted. He glared into her frightening eyes, unbowed by her malevolent look.
“She didn’t save someone else...Tara!” Blue fire poured from Willow’s hands; the physical manifestation of her anger and she walked forward to lay them on Spike’s chest. He screamed as the flame ate into his skin, the pain blinding.
Then it stopped. Willow stepped back, that death's-head grin back on her face. Spike looked down to see her handprints branded into his skin, red and blistered. She was mad, truly mad. Something had happened to Tara and it had warped Willow’s mind. Spike recalled Buffy’s reaction when he mentioned Tara back in the dungeon. Something bad had happened, set in motion this transformation in Willow, turned Buffy into the solitary vigilante she had become, and it was Willow who was destroying the world. Spike understood now.
Willow laughed again...he could hear how unhinged she had become.
“This is fun...I haven’t had a new toy in an age...I think I’ll keep you for a while. As soon as I erase you from Buffy’s mind, we can play...” Willow walked away from him.
“Why?” he called after her.
She paused, answered softly without turning around. “She has to suffer...eternally. That’s why she can’t leave...can’t love...she has to die over and over again to wake up and do it all once more...she has to suffer the way I do.”
The witch walked away, leaving Spike to hang bleeding in his chains.
Buffy crept through the crumbled remains of Sunnydale Highs corridors; silent and alert she avoided small groups of demons that Willow had set to guard the way. She didn’t need a battle just yet. Better to get in unnoticed, save her strength. It was taking everything she had just to get there. Every step felt like knives in the soles of her feet. The guilt and the memories were so vivid here. This was the hardest thing she had ever done in a lifetime of hard things.
Echoes of the past were around every corner. Giles polishing his spectacles, talking to the pretty teacher he had loved until she died a gruesome death, another thing Buffy reckoned as one of her failures. She could hear Faith whispering “Hey B...”, see Willow running past a row of gray lockers, a welcoming grin for her best friend. She saw Xander struggling with the soda machine, cracking a joke, bleeding to death with his gut torn open by one of Willow’s hounds.
Buffy collapsed to her knees, her body shaking with silent sobs. She couldn’t do this...
*“It’s over for you here...all your people...gone...but I’m here and the world is still here. Don’t you think its time to go? They’re dead, Buffy. But you’re not. Don’t you want to live, truly live?”*
That beloved voice whispered in her mind. Did she? Buffy squeezed her eyes shut and brought that sharp-featured face into focus. He was still there in her mind. Yes, she wanted to live. Buffy climbed back to her feet, shouldered her pack, and pressed on. She had to do this. End it...for Willow and herself ...and get Spike free... She had to save the world one more time.
Continued in Part Thirteen: Enemy