Part Fourteen: Forgive
Willow vibrated with uncontrollable rage. “Guards!” she screamed. “Take them!”
“We’re done for, pet...” Spike muttered as he took up a fighting stance at Buffy’s side.
As glad as he was to see Buffy come for him, the cold realist in him saw that the odds were so very against them. The most they could aspire to was to die together...not what he had hoped for but...
His train of thought was interrupted by the appearance of a small army of demons ready to do the bidding of their frightening queen. Snarls and growls came from the demons as they approached en masse. Buffy handed Spike a club studded with nails and pulled out a wicked looking sword with jagged edges for herself. More of her impressive weapons. Spike hefted his club in one hand, liking the weight of it. Very manly. Then the demons were upon them and thought was impossible.
Spike warranted he had done a respectable job by the time the battle ended. A good dozen had fallen beneath his club. It was slick with blood and matted with fur and scales. Still a dozen among fifty was not enough. As for Buffy, she had fared even better; maybe twenty bodies lay at her feet. A wild and savage gleam in her eyes as she fought. She was bloody splendid, Spike thought as he watched her. A goddess of battle. This was the Slayer pure and simple, nothing remotely human about her. Yet it was the final dozen or so demons that did them in at the last. Overwhelming the pair as they fought. Willow shouting instructions in the background. Something about a cell and that was the last thing Spike heard.
When he opened his eyes it was to see Buffy looking down at him with concern on her battered face.
“Are you okay?” she whispered to him.
“Noarrgh...” he mumbled through his swollen lips.
“Yeah, that's about how I feel.” Buffy agreed, looking over her shoulder warily.
Spike squinted at their surroundings. Another sodding dungeon. He groaned and tried to sit up. It was hard; the demons had practically torn him apart. Buffy helped him. Propped him against the wall so he could get a better look. A cell with three stone walls and an iron grate for the fourth wall. Beyond the grate was that awful throne. Willow sat upon, watching them both with undisguised malice.
“Bloody wonderful...the wicked witch awaits...” Spike growled.
Buffy nodded in agreement.
“What are we gonna do? Just sit here and waste away while she watches?” he asked.
“No...I’m going to talk to her,” Buffy replied, never taking her eyes off their captor.
“Buffy...don’t push her. She’s absolutely mad. Nothing left of th’ cute little redhead there...” Spike warned, gently probing his ribcage. At least two had broken ones...maybe more.
Buffy looked back at him. Bent down to drop a light kiss on his cheek. She looked so sad...not in the same way as before but there was a new regret in her eyes now. He felt a stab of fear far sharper than the pain in his ribs.
“I think there is something left. I have to try and find it,” she said.
Spike grabbed her arm. “Buffy...”
She pried his desperate fingers from her arm, gave him a last searing look as if she would burn his face into her mind one last time and stood. He struggled to stand, to stop her but she was already at the bars.
“Willlooow....” Buffy called tauntingly.
Willow smiled and descended from her throne. The witch walked to a nearby table piled high with arcane materials. She began to pick and choose, throw things in a small black cauldron. A spell was in the works.
Buffy called again. “Willow...”
“Be quiet,” Willow snapped. “A few minutes and you’ll be your old quivering self...” The witch threw some strange glowing herbs in the pot and turned the flame beneath higher.
“Did Tara teach you that spell?” Buffy said softly.
She saw Willow stiffen; her hands begin to tremble.
“Don’t speak of her...you have no right.” Willow hissed, refusing to look at Buffy.
“Did Tara practice spells to twist people’s minds? Would she approve?” Buffy asked.
Willow turned to face Buffy. Eyes crackling with dark energy. “Stop,” she commanded.
“Do you remember why you decided to stay in Sunnydale? Instead of going off to Oxford...Harvard? What did you tell me? You thought saving the world sounded like a good cause...you wanted to be part of that,” Buffy pressed.
Willow’s hands started to burn with blue fire.
“Buffy...don’t do this...she’ll kill you,” Spike warned urgently.
“You’re angry with me...you’ve been angry with me for seventy years. Why don’t you take it out on me instead of the rest of the world? Face to face for once. Tell me how you feel Willow...” Buffy urged.
Willow stalked up to the bars, pressed her face close to Buffy’s until their noses almost touched through the bars. The air shimmered around them as Willow glared at the person she considered responsible for the end of her world. Willow reached out slowly and unlocked the cell with one flick of a shaking finger.
“Buffy, this is madness. You can’t stand against her! Come back here!” Spike surged forward, ribs grinding against each other as he stumbled towards the open grate. Gasping in pain he slammed into the bars just as Buffy firmly shut the grate behind her. He laced his fingers through the bars, looked at Buffy wild-eyed.
“Buffy, you can’t kill her. If you do, you die too. Please let her put the spell back on you. I’ll get away. I’ll find a way back to you an’ get you free of her...If you do this...you’ll die!” he pleaded.
Buffy cast her eyes downward for a moment. “I know,” she said quietly.
Spike hurled himself against the bars but they wouldn’t give. “Buffy!”
“I know it will kill me and I have to do it. You have to do what you came here for. Get the book and get it to someone who can close the Hellmouth. I know I promised I would never ask you to leave again but that’s all you can do now...” Buffy brushed her fingers against his softly before walking away towards a waiting Willow. It burned worse than any torture Willow had devised.
“No...” he whispered, watching her go.
Buffy walked to the center of the room and stopped in front of Willow. Bare inches separated the two. Buffy spread her arms to show she held nothing.
“No weapons, Will. Wanna call off your boys or what?” Buffy said challengingly.
Willow waved away the waiting group of demons near the throne. Grumbling in disappoint, they obeyed and lumbered away. The chamber was empty except for a witch in black, an imprisoned vampire, and an all too ready Slayer.
Willow’s arm moved with inhuman speed and a ball of her blue fire came hurtling towards Buffy. When it arrived, Buffy wasn’t there. She had moved, a scarce inch to the right but enough to avoid the flames. Willow hissed in disappointment. Buffy darted forward and Willow felt her head snap back from an unseen kick to the chin and Buffy was somehow back where she started.
Willow touched one finger to the trickle of blood at the corner of her mouth. “You hit me,” she said, sounding surprised.
“Gotta say you had it coming, Will,” Buffy said without sympathy.
Willow’s next shot grazed Buffy’s cheek and Buffy reached up to feel a row of blisters raising up on her skin from the intense heat of the fire.
“You killed Tara. You must suffer.” Willow snarled.
“I’ve been taking credit for that for a long time, Willow but you know what? It wasn’t my fault. The demon killed her. As for me...human error...I’m not perfect. I have to forgive myself for that,” Buffy shot back, weaving in to land another lightning quick jab to Willow’s side.
The witch staggered under the force of the blow and started muttering a spell. Another fast punch to the mouth stopped the spell midcast.
“None of that now,” Buffy warned.
Willow eyes whirled faster. She looked amazed that Buffy was able to stand against her like this. Spike felt a tiny glimmer of hope. Maybe it didn’t have to end the way he thought. He pressed himself against the bars, seeking a weakness in their structure.
“What’s this all about Willow? Besides torturing me. The demons, the Hellmouth? Why Willow?” Buffy demanded.
Willow backed up, leaned back against her throne. She was confused. This wasn’t going the way she planned. Buffy was cool, confident, and utterly unwilling to let Willow punish her as she deserved. She looked at the defiant Slayer standing a few feet away. This was the Buffy who simply didn’t believe anyone could beat her. The Slayer who had battled a god to her knees.
“Why Willow?” Buffy persisted.
Another kick, another fist. Willow felt things breaking inside her as Buffy pummeled her. She fell to her knees, the black silk of her dress shredding on the sharp rocks.
“Why Willow?” Buffy asked again.
“To get her back!” Willow screamed.
The blows stopped. Willow looked up. Buffy just stood above her. Hands hanging loosely at her sides. She was waiting.
“If I have enough power...if I find the right spell or talisman...I might find the way to bring her back. You came back. Unworthy, unreliable you...why not her? Tara...the brightest, the best of all of us...” Willow continued, her gaze dropping to Buffy’s scuffed boots.
A voice came from above her. No anger or hurt in it anymore. Just an aching sorrow. “This isn’t the way to Tara, Willow. You’ll never find her down here...in hell. And if you did, what would she think? What would she say about the Willow she found here?”
Willow felt the hot sting of tears in her eyes. So strange...when had she last cried?
“Tara once did a great thing for me. Helped me through something. I want to do the same for you. Give you an undeserved gift.” Buffy’s voice sounded closer and Willow realized the Slayer was kneeling in front of her, her hazel eyes steady as she spoke.
“I forgive you,” Buffy whispered.
Willow reared back. “No! No you don’t. I killed Xander...would have killed Dawn if she had ever come back. I’ve let hell into our world, more each day. You can’t forgive that,” she shrieked.
“Still, I forgive you,” Buffy’s gaze never faltered.
“Decades of torment, alone and friendless? You can forgive that?” Willow demanded.
“Yes,” was the answer.
Buffy watched Willow closely. It was working. The black was draining away leaving brilliant green in its wake. As Willow focused on her, Buffy saw her friend for the first time in far too long.
“Willow, I forgive you,” she said one final time.
Willow slumped forward against Buffy. The tears fell freely now.
Spike watched in disbelief from his cell. Only on the Hellmouth could a fight to the death end this way. Bizarre was the norm here.
Buffy lifted Willow’s limp head from her shoulder, looked at her gravely. “There is a way, Willow. A way to mend this and maybe see Tara again...in a place beyond this world.”
Willow just looked blank. Buffy stood and fetched the book from its place on Willow’s table. Held it up for Willow to see. Willow shook her head. She didn’t understand. Spike did though.
“No, Buffy! Let it alone. What do I care if the bloody world crumbles away. Not if I have you!” he shouted, renewing his assault on the bars to his prison.
Buffy looked determined and ignored his outburst. “The book, Will. There's a spell in it to close the Hellmouth, stop the demons from becoming more numerous.”
Willow rose to her feet, came forward slowly. She took the book from Buffy and opened it for the first time and read the spell. A moment passed, another, and suddenly black flooded her eyes once more.
“No! I will not give it up! I need its power to live!” Willow screamed.
“What for, Willow? You’ll never find her here,” Buffy replied sadly.
The black receded again and Willow looked out of the witch's eyes again.
“Can you do it, Will?” Buffy asked.
“Yes...I can,” the witch replied, sounding weary.
“Buffy, please,” Spike said from the cell.
Buffy left Willow’s side to return to Spike. She didn’t open the grate however, just stood on the other side and looked at the grieving vampire.
“I can’t let you go now. You’ll try to stop us,” she said.
“Bloody right I will,” Spike retorted. “Buffy, we’ll find another way.”
“No. We won’t. This has to end now. Willow will do it and the world will have its chance,” Buffy said firmly.
“But...” Spike began.
“Why did you come? What did the Council tell you to make you agree to this?” Buffy asked unexpectedly.
Spike was nonplussed but he answered, keeping an eye on Willow as she assembled her needed ingredients for the spell. “Your children...Dawn’s. I wanted to believe they could live in a better world. One where monsters like me were not at the door everywhere they went.”
Buffy nodded. “I thought so. It still holds then. Dawn has children and grandchildren and more. They do deserve that.” She reached out and twined her fingers with his. He clutched at them desperately. “I died a long time ago, William. It’s just time to make it official.”
It was then that Spike knew he could not dissuade her. She had made up her mind. Chosen the good of the many once more. As much as he hated it and her a little for doing so, he knew it was a big part of why he never loved anyone as he loved her. Why he could never put her behind him. She was as close to pure good as he would ever get.
He leaned his face against cold iron, felt her warm lips press against his forehead. She whispered a request into his ear, waited for his promise to fulfill it. He nodded his assent, unable to look up knowing it would be the last time he saw her, wanting to stave it off that moment even for a little while.
She squeezed his fingers. He raised his head at last. She gazed into tear brightened blue, felt her heart skip a beat. Nothing in her life had ever been as intense as him, as alive. “Goodbye...William.”
Her fingers opened...his dropped to his sides. She turned and walked away. He leaned against the bars, helpless to move, no part of him functioning any longer, and watched her go.
Willow and Buffy knelt inside a circle Willow had created from oddly colored sand. The two clasped hands, at the end they were together again. Willow opened the book in front of her. One thin arm raised in the air in supplication to greater powers, she began. Oddly slurred words that sounded nearly recognizable but somehow...not. The circle flared to life, encasing Buffy and Willow in incandescent light. Spike didn’t look away. He would see this through until the end.
Willow called forth all her hoarded power and tried to force the Hellmouth to obey her bidding. The earth shuddered violently as she recited the spell, a hard determination in her voice as she encountered resistance. Buffy squeezed her hand in support and Willow forged ahead. Her words grew more commanding, more insistent, and finally a great cloud of smoke billowed up from the pit as they watched. The greenish glow emanating from the bottom of the pit guttered once, twice, and finally...went out. A howling could be heard from the myriad demons as they realized that the gateway to earthly paradise had closed leaving them stranded. Spike heard them fleeing like rats from a sinking ship.
The cavern was plunged into darkness. Even with his enhanced vision, Spike had to strain to see the figures of Willow and Buffy, still inside their now defunct circle. They were leaning together, no movement. Spike listened in the now echoing silence of the cavern. He could hear...heartbeats. Two distinct heartbeats but before he could translate that sound into hope, he heard one falter. It beat slower and slower and then abruptly stopped. Now there was only one. He listened to it; clung to the sound like it was his last anchor to Buffy. Beat...beat...beat...beat...beat...beat...beat...and then...nothing.
Spike slid to the ground, the pain in his abused body nothing to the pain in his heart. There was one final sound...what was it? A harsh sobbing. Was it someone? No...that sound...it was just him.
Continued in Part Fifteen: Farewell