Part Thirteen: Enemy
She had an actual throne. Not the kind you saw in museums or not the sort of museums Spike had frequented when he was alive, this throne was made of bones. Not human he thought but demon. Yellowed thighbones and the occasional twisted horn jutting from the sides, it was gruesome. Willow had sat upon it and watched him for hours, waving away her obsequious minions to simply gaze at Spike, her eyes glittering black like the most poisonous of cobras. He saw each demon kneel at her feet. She would reach out a skeletal hand to offer an unholy blessing on each, accepting their tithes of rare and obscene things they had brought up from hell with them. Once in a while one would fail to please and Willow would use the very flames she had branded Spike with to roast them in their tracks. Spike imagined this kept the quality of the offerings quite high.
He had been almost glad when she finally moved, ordered her servants to bring her ink and brush. She had begun right below his neck, light stokes, the wet ink itching unbearably it dried. He had refused to move though, no twitching. That would be a victory for her and he wouldn’t give it easily. So he stood upright, the iron manacles digging into his wrists, the ink drying on his chest, and was silent.
“You have been gone a long time, Spike. How do you find our little town now?” Willow asked, dipping her brush once more.
Spike stared ahead stonily.
“No opinion? I’d think it would appeal to the demon in you...but that part is buried very deep now isn’t it. Have you spent the last seventy-five years learning to hide it? So sad...you were once a splendid creature, now...just a guy with a sun allergy,” Willow said in her soft little voice as she painted.
“Buffy is not what she was, is she? You found her what? A little odd. A fearful thing living in shadows. Nothing to her mind but kill, kill, kill.” Willow’s voice sounded proud.
“It took a lot of time to make her that way, to take away everything that bound her to the living world. Her people, her town. Hard work, but you know me. The little workaholic. This is much more fun than homework though. Much more...rewarding.” A happy chuckle from the witch as she worked.
A row of dots across his abdomen, a broad slash of wet ink, another series of dots. What in hell was she doing? Spike had no idea what the scope of her powers was now. She fed off the energy of the Hellmouth and its occupants, that much was clear. It kept her alive beyond her time but at a terrible price. Her sanity, her taut and stretched appearance. Spike just stood very still. He felt like he was in the presence of an unpredictable wild animal. Friendly one minute, it could turn and rend the next.
She spoke again. “Did you think to take her away? Leave me here? Foolish. She and I are bound. She can no more leave this place than I can. The Hellmouth sustains us both. She would have been ash in your embrace before you got twenty miles away.”
Willow laughed at the thought. “Maybe I should have let you both go. It might have been worth it to have that happen but no...It’s better this way. I get to feel her death countless times. Did you like seeing her die when my demon cut her down? It’s only the second time she has died for you. Don‘t worry, it gets better every time.”
Spike tried to muster a sneer but he couldn’t manage it so stunned was he at what Willow had just told him about Buffy.
Spike’s heart plunged in his chest. Buffy couldn’t leave? The witch had no reason to lie to him, trapped as he was. She had to stay here to survive? He moved...just a fraction of an inch but Willow noticed. She looked up at him, a cruel smile playing on her lips. Black eyes sparkled with delight.
“You didn’t know. You thought you could go have that happily ever after...see the Eiffel tower at midnight? Long walks along the Thames by the stars? You were going to show her the wonders of the world... you by her side. What did you think? A happy ending for Buffy? Never.”
Spike’s jaw twitched again. She was reading him so plainly. He forced his hopes deep, leaving them to shrivel in the depths of his undead mind. She couldn’t leave...
Willow slowly pushed her dark hair back, her brush still as she contemplated him. He did not look. Refused to let her drag anything else from his racing mind. Damned bitch. What could he do now?
She shrugged and returned to her task. “How did you know she lived? That is why you came back...one last shot at the girl who rejected you...no...That wasn‘t it. That wasn‘t it at all, was it?”
She waited for an answer that never came. Paused once more, trying to glean the answer from his stubborn mind.
“You didn’t know. That's not why you came...” she whispered.
Spike silently cursed to himself as she stood abruptly. Willow turned and walked to where she had thrown the book earlier.
“This book. You came for this?” she hissed.
Spike filled his mind with Buffy. Buffy smiling, laughing, moaning in pleasure as he...
“Stop!” Willow screamed. “Stop thinking of her. She cannot be happy, not for a moment!”
A crack in her reserve. Spike pressed his advantage, the thoughts of Buffy blocking out the truth of what lay inside the book. He brought to the fore of his mind the night he had so recently spent in Buffy’s arms. How they had comforted each other with touch and words. Willow threw the book aside again and advanced on him. He had done it now for sure, no more arts and crafts.
She snatched up her brush and slashed one final sigil on his chest and muttered an unintelligible phrase in Latin.
Spike screamed as the letters turned bright red and started to burn. Every stroke felt like a tiny conflagration in his flesh. Willow laughed in delight.
“The flames can’t kill you like ordinary fire but I assure you they will last longer...as long as I want them to,” she told him as he writhed in his bonds.
The witch turned and walked back to her throne. Settling back on cushions of black silk, she watched her captive suffer...
Up above in the ruins of the high school, Buffy had breached Willow’s defenses and managed to find the library without any skirmishes. Inside the framework of the doors there was nothing left of the place that had once been a second home to a very young version of herself. Nothing but a gaping hole from wall to wall. A greenish glow emanated from within but any hint to what lay below was obscured by thick smoke. Buffy stood on the rim and looked down. Willow was down there.
She felt remorse constrict her heart once more. She couldn’t... A growl behind her halted her thoughts. She spun to find a pack of hounds, hellhounds, watching her from a shadowed recess nearby. All feelings of sadness and guilt fell away as the Slayer took over. She dropped her bag and sprinted forward to take on the largest of the beasts. Vile creatures. They had killed Xander. The last of her friends to stand by her. After them she had been all alone.
She broke bones and crushed throats. No weapons, just her hands and the instincts gifted her by some unknown agency. She was death in motion. One by one, the beasts fell at her feet, bodies broken and oozing blood. With every death rattle, Buffy felt more alive, her gaze sharpened, her thoughts more concise. A realization dawned in her mind. The grief and guilt. Her inability to do what was necessary due to her crippling feelings...it was another spell. Willow’s malice knew no bounds. She had crafted a puppet of Buffy. One who would lie still and allow endless torment to be inflicted upon it.
Five hounds dead, six...she beckoned the remaining two. Offered them release. Bound by the will of their dark mistress they leapt forwards unwillingly. She was there to meet them, hands moving faster than they could follow. One actually whimpered at the terrible look in its opponent’s eyes. It cowered before her, submitted to the superior strength of will she exhibited. She just laid one foot atop its neck and broke it cleanly. It felt no pain, just the ending.
The last one fell and Buffy stood amongst the piled bodies of the fallen creatures. An emotion unfelt in ages beat inside her now. She wasn’t sad or lost or bound to duty. There were no regrets of past wrongs done by her and to her. She was angry. A pure blazing anger...towards the one who had done this. Ruined the world, ruined her.
Buffy turned once more, picked up her bag, and stepped off the edge into the pit. Falling down through smoke and flame, darkness and a miasma of hatred. It grew lighter as she descended. She kept her head down the whole time, seeking a place to land. A ledge loomed out of the dark and Buffy snapped out a hand to catch it. Hanging by one hand from the rocky promontory, she hauled herself up and crouched at the edge. Surveying the scene before her, she shuddered slightly. The spell still threatened to overwhelm her even though she knew its nature now.
It was still a long way down to where she could hear and see movement. Buffy lowered herself over the edge again and descended. She dug her fingers into tiny fissures in the rock, hugged her body against the rough stone to keep from falling. Even though she was suspending her entire body weight from one hand, Buffy felt no pain. Just anger and purpose. She was washing clean the stain of Willow’s curse with every handhold. This was who she was, not the thing Willow had created. It had taken the determination of one very irritating person to make her see it but now she felt like she was fighting free from an invisible web. Every breath came easier, things looked sharper somehow. She knew whatever Willow did to her once she made her way down, she would never go back to her refuge on the hill. She was done living that way. Another ledge appeared beneath her dangling feet. Buffy let go of the wall and dropped the dozen feet to the platform and saw that she had finally found what she sought.
Demons everywhere, a figure chained across the great chasm, Spike. He was twisting as if he was in great pain. Buffy looked for a way to get to him. There was a narrow pathway cut into the rock. She started towards him, noticing that not too far from Spike an alcove held a throne. The throne held Willow. The anger surged in Buffy’s chest again. Damn her. She was watching him suffer. Light-footed, she ran along the uneven stone towards them. A demon reared up in front of her, roared in rage. Buffy just shoved him aside and he spun away into empty space. Buffy closed the distance between Spike and herself quickly. She saw the glowing symbols on his chest and pulled a bottle of water from her bag, unscrewing the top as she ran.
She sprinted the last few steps and threw the water across Spike’s chest. The ink ran, the symbols melted away, and Spike stopped screaming. Buffy grabbed one chain, yanked it from the wall with brute strength. Spike pulled the other loose. Spike grabbed Buffy up into his arms and pressed a quick but fervent kiss on her forehead. A scream of rage pierced the air behind them. Buffy stood inside the circle of Spike’s arms as she turned to confront her enemy, for that was what Willow was.
She gazed upon the rabid witch who stood in front of her macabre throne seething with rage. Buffy smoothed back her tousled hair, squared her shoulders and looked at her onetime friend. Her eyes free of the torment Willow had so carefully planted there, she gave Willow a purely happy smile. She knew it would drive the witch to madness, to see how she had failed at the last in her quest to shatter Buffy.
Continued in Part Fourteen: Forgive