By Annie Sewell-Jennings
Sequel to The Waiting Season
Chapter Seventeen: The Blood of Four
That tiny glimmer of fate.
Nothing existed outside of the crypt. Everything was inconsequential. The world was encased in these four walls, and the only players in this tight-knit game were the monster and the girl.
The monster sat atop a stone tomb, Indian-style, dressed simply in blue jeans and a polo shirt. Barefoot. Smiling with ease. The girl moved in slow, careful circles around him, her eyes always on him, never trusting him to move. Neither of them wielded weapons. Neither of them dropped their defenses.
The game was on.
He reached down beside him and offered the girl a beer. "Care for a drink?"
The girl shook her head. "Not thirsty."
He widened his smile. "You're always thirsty. Might not be beer or wine, but there's other stuff you want."
"I want to kill you."
"Then kill me."
Neither of them moved.
The girl narrowed her eyes at him. "What's your name?"
"I don't have names. Neither do you."
Her eyes were cold like flint. There were sparks in them, like ancient flint hitting a stone. She was older than her skin. "I have a name. I have a family, and friends, and a life. I have a purpose beyond being a killer."
"But none of it will slate your thirst. You can taste the normal world all you want, but it's not going to save you from what you are. What's to come."
"I haven't even begun."
Trey couldn't stand it anymore.
Nervously, he paced around the living room, biting his lip and glancing worriedly at the clock. Not even a half hour had passed since Buffy and the rest of them had left, but hours had passed since Dawn had disappeared. What if they were too late? What if these things got to her before they could save her? What if they were all really fucking crazy and this was all a big lie?
Frustration won out and Trey collapsed on the couch, slamming a fist into the couch cushion. He should've gone with them. Should've gone up there, even if it meant that he ended up just another dead kid. Dawn was up there, and it was ridiculously important that he save her. He'd lost her, and it was his responsibility to find her.
An ache flared in his heart when he turned his head to the little table beside the sofa. Photographs of the Summers girls sat atop the surface, and they broke his heart. Here was Buffy alone, pretty and blonde, and here was Buffy and Dawn together, all sisterly and adorable. And there were the two girls with their mother, a pretty woman with warm eyes that both of her daughters inherited.
Dawn had the loveliest eyes. You could see for miles in those eyes. Like she'd lived too long, even though she was only sixteen. But if you just looked at her for a little while, you'd see something much, much older than that. Something that was bright and delicate and full of potential.
He had to save her because he'd started falling in love with her and wanted to finish the job.
Trey balled up his fists and stood up. Walked calmly to the dining room table and picked up a dagger and a stake. Wasn't quite sure how to use them, but it wouldn't hurt if he had a little artillery. He walked to the front door and then started running towards North Hill Cemetery. The same cemetery where he'd been attacked, where he'd first seen what could only be a vampire.
Fuck this bullshit of waiting around.
He was going to get his girl.
"Where is the ritual?" the girl asked. Still circling, always circling. It was the way things were meant to be. The girl would always revolve around to where she had started, and then the cycle would repeat itself for the remainder of time. A perfect ring, from life to death.
The man smiled. "The ritual is all around us. It never went away. You thought it did, but it didn't."
"Why are you wearing those clothes?"
"Because you like things casual. I like that about you. You like the modern way of living, and so do I. Sure you don't want that beer?"
"I don't drink."
"No, you don't. You never drink. You never consume. Kind of hard to devour something that's hardly even there to begin with, after all."
The girl frowned at him. "I exist. I do."
The monster waved his hand dismissively. "Yeah, you take up space, and you're made of bone and meat, but beyond that? There's nothing but death. Nothing but the hunt. The kill. You can have the friends and the family and the name all you want, but the fact of the matter is that you're building a life on a foundation that doesn't even exist. And then those people take and take until the little bit that was actually you is just... gone."
A troubled look passed over her face, and the girl swallowed hard. "But they can't take it. I give it. Death is my gift, remember?"
"Yes, death is your gift. But they took it away from you, and now what do you have left? An empty space where you used to be."
Something flitted across them. Around them. Shapes moving, and there was violence outside. The girl shook her head. "I think there's something I'm supposed to be doing."
"Nah. That's nothing. Excess noise. This is about us."
It was always about them.
The air was hot and full of water, and Dawn was sweating.
They'd been taken outside; she could feel the cold hands of the vampires on the skin as they'd taken her up through the tunnels. The other people were still with them, and they were all awake now and scared shitless. She was pretty much scared shitless, too.
But she had something.
A weakness. She found it. There was a little give in the ropes around her ankles, and she knew that if she could just get out of her sandals, she could slide her feet out. She could run, she could escape, she could fight back. She could do something other than wait and hope that she wasn't going to die.
The grass was cold against her body as she wriggled subtly under her restraints. One sandal loose, one step closer to freedom. There was whispering, soft chanting. It sounded like when Willow used to meditate, when she used to whisper Latin under her breath. A spell. Magic.
Sure enough, there was the crackle of fire and the burned smell of herbs. Quickly, she had to do this quickly, before whatever evil ritual this guy Marty was doing got to the part about the human sacrifices. More wriggling, and the other sandal slipped off of her foot. Dawn bit down on her lip and ignored the burn of the ropes as they chafed against her skin. Slithered and slid, and then her feet were free.
But there was the blindfold and the ropes around her waist. She had nothing, no weapons, no way of defending herself or avoid falling on her ass. Buffy could probably do it, but Dawn wasn't a Slayer. She had nothing but some light training and determination inside of her, and that wasn't going to get her out of this scenario, and--
And there was something in the air.
Dawn froze. Everything inside of her seemed to… move. Vibrate. Like there was a tuning fork at the base of her spine and it was sending shivers all under her skin. There were forces all around her, and she could smell the energy, taste it on her tongue. It was mixing inside of her, and she’d never felt like this before. Never in her life.
And then something took over her and she was on her feet.
Running. Kicking. Flailing. Everything dark and it did not matter. The darkness was inconsequential. All that mattered was survival. Self-protection to the highest level. Her body was capable, her feet were swift, and she did not need the light to guide her through the cemetery and towards safety. Blood was her compass. Curving, cutting, moving faster—
This is the way. This is the way that we fight. This is the way that we survive. We live through the blood, and the blood is the life and the key, absolute. This is the way of the ancients, and we do not need the map of men when we have the blood.
It is always about blood.
Hands gripped her shoulders roughly. She lashed out with her leg, but the body was strong and suddenly, Dawn snapped back into herself. Everything was dark and she was afraid, and she thought that she had blood on her hands but could not be sure. Couldn’t be sure about anything.
Except that here was Trey, with his hands on her shoulders, and his voice whispering her name in her ear as he embraced her. “Oh my God, Dawn, I thought I lost you. I thought I lost you.”
He peppered her face with kisses, buried his nose in the nape of her neck, and she was surrounded by his sweaty boy smell, his warmth, his substance, his humanity. Dawn said nothing for a moment. Her lips felt numb, and her heart was racing. Everything was racing, and when he took the blindfold from her eyes, the world swam around her.
She was in the middle of the street. Right in front of the entrance. Her feet were bleeding and she did not feel any pain. Felt nothing at all. Not his hands, not his heart, not her breath and not her life.
Something had taken her over. Something strong, something powerful.
Something inside of her.
It’s always about blood.
As Trey cut the bonds around her hands, Dawn said nothing. Just stared out into the distance, fear slowly creeping up and down her body as she came to. He was talking, saying things, and then he said, “Dawn? Are you even listening?”
She looked at him with terror in her eyes and licked her lips. “Something’s really wrong with me,” she whispered, and he frowned at her, about to speak—
But there were screams from the cemetery and they had to move.
“What do you want?” the girl asked. Still moving in circles, still returning to the same place over and over again. “Why are you here?”
The monster smiled. “I’m here because of you. Because you brought me here so that we could have the Book.”
“The only book you’ve ever needed. Written in the language that only those creatures like you and I can understand. There are things you have within you that no one else possesses.”
“I know this already. I’m the one. The only.”
“It’s hard to be unique, isn’t it?” he asked. “It makes you tired. Makes you feel ill. Nobody really understands who you are, because they are not you. And that only makes the emptiness worse. The pain just increases exponentially, until there is nothing left but that final moment.”
“Yes,” the girl whispered, and the monster smiled sympathetically at her. Sometimes, in matters such as these, only the monster could understand the way that a dim, sad heart could beat.
“They don’t understand when nothing you do is enough for them. You’re different. Unique. They don’t understand that in order for you to live, for you to do your job, pieces of you must be broken.”
“All of them.”
Disaster was everywhere.
Willow screamed as another vampire tackled her to the ground, and she quickly lashed out with her legs, tried to move the monster away from her. Tears ran down the dead woman’s twisted features, and it really was very obscene to watch a vampire cry. “I can’t stop this!” the vampire shrieked. “I can’t stop moving, and I want to sleep, I just want to sleep….”
Desperately, Willow flailed her hands around her until she found a snapped branch, and then she drove the makeshift stake through the vampire’s heart until the creature’s sobbing dissolved into dust. Quickly, she brought herself to her feet and looked around her.
The things just kept coming….
Giles called out Xander’s name as one of the vampires approached him, and Xander was there, stake in hand, ready to dispatch the undead attacker. Willow whipped her head around to see Anya cleanly kick one of the vampires in their direction, and Xander took care of that one too.
And poor, poor Spike.
One of the vampires, a young boy, maybe fourteen when he’d been turned, ran towards Spike while screaming in his child’s voice for release. Screaming for his mommy, for his daddy, for his sister and his kitty. Wanting peace, wanting something, but his fists were balled up and his eyes were yellow. None of them were in control of their actions. They were just undead marionettes and someone else was pulling their strings.
Willow could tell that this was killing him. The pain on his face was tense and sharp, like the tip of the stake he wielded as he slammed it through the young vampire’s heart. The boy screamed and dissolved into dust, but there were more of the monsters coming through the hills, and Willow could feel a sudden rush of darkness. A push, a tug of energy.
The ritual was about to begin.
She’d debated this. Wondered if when the time came, she would be able to do what needed to be done. Her palms were still sweaty, and her stomach turned like it was full of bees and butterflies. Perspiration glistened all across her skin, and Willow felt her heartbeat accelerate as the energy grew closer.
She didn’t have the luxury of fear.
“Spike!” she called, and the blond vampire lifted his head and cocked it in her direction. “Keep them distracted! I’m going to try something!”
“Right!” he called back, but his voice was choked and it sounded broken. A stab of pity ripped through her chest as she looked at him. He tried so hard, and he should not have to do this.
But then again, neither should she.
Quickly, Willow ran for the shelter of a nearby oak tree, far enough away from the din that she would be unnoticed but close enough so that if something were to go wrong, she could run to the fray. She slid the backpack off of her shoulders and dropped it to the ground. Hastily, Willow pulled out her supplies and began setting everything up. She tried to will her hands to stop shaking.
It didn’t work very well.
Candles. Herbs. The little jars of potions, the various demon parts that were necessary for the spell. Mortar and pestle. Incense and lime. She struck a match and began to light the candles in a protective circle around herself, and then sat Indian-style in the middle of it.
She did not need a book for this. After all, the magic was still there. All inside of her, all churning and waiting to be used. Utilize the forces. Harness the energy. Control. This was all about control.
Willow began to speak.
Blessed be in the name of the powers. I come before you as a humble servant, asking for your protection.
She sprinkled the powdered thyme into the bowl and then dropped a match into the dish. A brief explosion of sparks, and then the compound started to glow. “Take the darkness, take the time, and in your power I must bind. Lock the gate and drop the key, bind this harmful energy.”
Yes, oh yes. This was what it felt like. That slow, unfurling cascade of bliss and power that started to roll through her in waves. Ecstasy started to burn in needles and pinpoints at the back of her skull, and Willow swallowed hard. Swirls and whorls of magic crystallized in the air, creating patterns and shapes, dancing all around her. This was working, and she was strong and powerful again. All the world was at her fingertips, and if she just let go for a single second, she could taste utopia….
And Willow slipped.
Energy shot through her, slamming through her body until every single pore tingled and glittered and she gasped. Threw her head back and felt the words spill out of her in a dark language that her desperate brain could not comprehend. Her hands lifted to the sky, her body no longer hers, but oh, she could feel it. Feel the power. Feel the damage she was about to do.
She was crossing into familiar territory and pulling out the dead.
Oh, Buffy, forgive me. Forgive me, for I’m failing.
“By the way, I really like your vampire.”
For the first time since entering this ring, the girl stopped in her tracks. Stared at him. There were memories niggling at the back of her brain. Eyes that looked like the color of the African sky, right when the sun was setting into the dunes. Hands that were cold but sweet. Her heart pulled in a strange constriction, and there was a flare of something bright inside of her that she could not name.
The monster smiled at her. “You remember him. That’s good for you, isn’t it? Having someone to remember. It’s nice not to be alone all the time.”
“I’m always alone.”
“Yes. But when you’re with him, you think that you’re not alone.”
Yes. This was true. She could remember vague games of mouths and hands, and there were gasps and ecstasy, and she could remember that there was no solitude when that jewel-blue gaze was upon her. “He makes me feel real. Like I’m not a shadow or a puppet.”
“You know that you can’t save him.”
The girl bowed her head. “I know.”
“But you don’t understand why.”
“Tell me why.”
The monster sighed and waved his hand in the air. “It’s simple, really. It’s the same reason why you love him. Because you are the embodiment of death. Death is attracted to death. I’ve seen tons of you girls, and you’re not the first who’s done this. Not the first at all. Like attracts like. Birds of a feather, stuff like that. But the two of you are doomed, because you can’t save each other. You desperately want to, but you’ll never be able to pull each other away from it.”
“Away from what?”
The girl started to walk again. Circling, pacing. They were reaching the climax, and she could feel it. “It’s all about death with you, isn’t it?”
The monster grinned.
This had to end soon, or else he was going to lose it.
Spike closed his eyes and lunged forward, stabbing the vampire through the heart and silencing its awful cries. Wished that it sounded inhuman, like most vampires when they roared and growled. But no, the worst of it was that they all sounded so fragile. So human.
Just like all of his victims.
The woman's hands were around his throat. Fangs and ridges, tears and pain. "This isn't happening," she wailed as she tightened her grip around his throat. "Please, tell me this isn't real."
Wanted to do something. Really, he did. Wanted to make her stop screaming, fix her proper. But there was nothing he could do. Souls or no souls, these vampires were gunning for him and the others, and Buffy was God knows where, and all Spike knew was that he had to survive. What do you know? Instinct prevailed after all.
Quickly, Spike spun out of the vampire's grasp, pulled out his stake, and rammed it into her heart. Just as the woman evaporated into dust, she cried out for mercy, and all he could do was stare.
The most unnerving part of all of this was that he could see himself in them.
They'd stopped coming, which was a bloody good thing because things weren't looking very good. Giles and Anya were sporting some scratches on their faces, and Xander was holding his arm a little funny. Plus, there was still no sign of Buffy, and pain clutched around his heart. She'd gotten lost in the fray, and dammit, what had happened to her?
The ground started shaking beneath him, and Spike swayed on his feet for a second, trying to keep his balance as the world rocked under his boots. "What the hell?" he muttered as he looked around him, and suddenly, he caught sight of Willow underneath the oak tree. Candles burning all around her. Eyes gone dark with power.
Oh, yeah. Little witch still had it in her.
Suddenly, a beam of violet and red light shot up from her slender body and reached for the sky. She raised her palms in front of her and blood was suddenly fresh and hot on her skin. Spike could smell it. Young blood. The earth trembled again, and her voice came out in booming tones, too dark and ancient to come from little Willow Rosenberg.
"Take the blood from my hands. I offer these lives to you in trade for the passage of another. I come before you in the names of the living and the names of the dead, and I ask that the gate be opened. Bring forth the boy from the blood of his father. Bring forth his soul, his essence, his life. Let him cross over!"
"Willow, no!" Xander cried from the background, and he ran towards her. A rush of light shot from the beam around Willow, and Xander cried out as it hit him in the chest. He crumpled on the ground, knocked unconscious, and Anya yelled out his name.
A scream howled from Willow's mouth and Spike yowled and clutched his head at the sound of it. The pain was instantaneous and horrible. All of them, the vampires included, fell the ground, covering their ears, as the light shot through her and then disappeared.
The instant that it was gone, the two remaining vampires exploded into dust, and everything was so deadly quiet that none of them could move. Spike couldn't think. Couldn’t do a damn thing but stare at Willow in awe. So this was what she'd become. Not such a little witch anymore, was she?
But she looked very little indeed when she fell forward and started to sob.
Instantly, Spike and Giles made their way over to Willow as Anya crouched beside Xander and tried to wake him up. She gasped for air between her tears, and Giles bent down next to her, brought her into a sitting position. She was pale, obviously worn out by whatever had just happened, and looked extraordinarily miserable.
"Willow, what happened? Are you all right?" Giles asked.
She just shook her head and sniffled. "Oh, God. It was... something shot through me. I was just trying to do a binding spell, and I thought I had it under control, Giles, I really did...." Her words went all wet then, and Spike suddenly really hated seeing Willow cry.
Slowly, he knelt down beside her, put his hand on her cheek, and looked her straight in the face. "Come on, love," he said softly. "Calm down, take a breath."
Willow swallowed hard and shook her head, her eyes panicky. "You don't understand," she rasped. "It's a trap, Spike, it's all a trap. You have to find Buffy. You have to find her before she...."
But Spike didn't hear the rest of it. He was already on his feet, running towards the gravesite.
"Tell me about heaven."
The girl's face crumpled. She shook her head, closed her eyes. "I can't talk about that."
"You miss it, don't you?"
She shook her head. "No. I have a job to do. I have purpose and direction. Remember? I have a name."
"You still labor under that delusion? Trust me, you don't have a name. You don’t need one. And really, if you'll come to admit it, you don't want it. What you want is what you used to have. When it was simpler. When you didn't have a name, and when all those empty parts were filled in."
Her voice was suddenly very small, and she could feel things outside of the crypt, but they were terribly unimportant. Small, minor details. Excess noise. All that mattered was the monster. "I felt...."
"You felt complete," the monster said, and she sighed in confirmation. "I know. I understand that. Only one of us could really understand it. For the first time in your life, you were allowed to be complete. It's a curse with all of you girls. In life, you're broken, and the only way to fix you is to kill you. That's the price you pay for saving the world."
"There shouldn't be a price."
"No. There shouldn't. But life's a bitch."
For the first time, the monster stood. He walked across the room to the girl, and leaned in close to her. Grinned his deadly wolf grin and licked his chops. "I'm much more interested in matters of death, aren't you? You can still taste it on your lips every morning. You used to dream about it at nights, and you'd pray you wouldn't wake up. They took it away from you, and they made you fight their awful war again, and all you are is a tool for the fates."
"Yes," the girl whispered. It all was true. Every last word. Monsters never lied, after all. The truth was much more painful.
He leaned in very close to her ear, so close that all he needed to do was whisper the words into her ear. "And sometimes, even though you'll never tell anybody else, you hate them. You hate your friends for taking away your reward. You hate your family for making you want such burdensome troubles as names. And you hate your lover most of all, simply because he has the audacity and the pigheadedness to love something like you."
Again, it was true. If she could, the girl would be crying now. She knew that in her heart, as broken as it was. "Yes."
"And sometimes, you think about killing them."
She didn't answer this time. She just bowed her head. The monster sighed, and then put his hands on her. Flesh to flesh, dead to living. He whispered her name into her ear, and then she let it slip away.
"The boy will suffer again if he crosses over. It has already begun. The witch is raising the dead again, an affront to nature, and he will wither and die again, and it will go on like this until that man is dead. His blood is what brings the boy through. Kill him, and the boy won't be made to go through what you went through. You can save him. Death is your gift."
The monster dropped his hand away. The girl was panting, her eyes wide and panicked as the world sank in all around her. There were things out there that she was meant to be fighting. She'd forgotten something important.
Slowly, the monster stepped away from her and gave her a smile. "I think there's something you're supposed to be doing."
The world spun around her in a violent blur of motion, and then it stopped.
Slowly, Buffy opened her eyes and took her bearings. A crypt, she was inside of a crypt. Alone. But he'd been there, that Drake man. She could remember something, something important. Lost time, she'd lost her sword and lost the others. She felt lightheaded, felt drugged and dazed. Needed to do something. She had a mission.
She looked around her for something, and found a sword on the lid of the stone sarcophagus. Glinting silver, ancient and beautiful. Meant for her. This was left behind for her.
Death is your gift.
Oh, God. The boy.
A scream penetrated the air and Buffy was instantly on her feet. She grabbed the sword from the sarcophagus and burst through the door. The ritual, goddammit. She'd forgotten about the ritual, she'd been caught off guard. Trapped, and she fell for it, and now there was someone screaming. How many lives to pay for the suffering of one little boy?
She had to hurry.
Buffy burst into the clearing and almost fell to her knees at the sight of it. Red and violet energy shooting down from the sky and onto the earth. Martin Glaze was kneeling before the gravesite of his dead son, sobbing hysterically. There were only three bodies. The blood of four, right? Then this couldn't be right, she still had time to stop this--
Glaze was bleeding.
Blood oozed down from the puncture wounds in his palms and dirtied the otherwise immaculate dress shirt he wore, and the blood on his hands was glowing. It was feeding into the energy, and the energy was shooting into the ground. She could see it, all around her, and she could suddenly feel that pull.
The gate was open into paradise, and Buffy could feel it again.
warm so warm everything finished nothing more to do lay down your arms and rest be loved feel loved know that you are safe and you are free
And then the gate closed, and the energy was gone.
The ritual was complete.
Glaze was laughing. Drenched in blood, rocking back and forth, laughing his fucking head off. "Brandon," he sighed. "Brandon, my boy, you're mine. We'll be together. We'll be together forever. I'll never let you go."
The earth at his feet started to move and rumble, and horror flared in Buffy's stomach. She couldn't let this happen. Not again, not to a child. Not when the taste of that ripe, gold place was still on the tip of her tongue. And here this bastard of a father was, rejoicing at the promise of suffering for his dead son.
She heard him in the background as she moved. Saw him break into the clearing, his black leather flying. "Buffy, no!" Spike screamed, but he did not matter now. All that she could do was move. She had to stop this. Couldn't let it happen again.
A hand shot out from the earth. Thin, small boy fingers, shaking and covered in dirt. She raised the sword back as she approached Glaze, and Spike cried out her name and tried to grab her.
He was too late.
The blade sliced straight through Glaze's back and impaled his heart. He gasped, eyes bulging outward as blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth. Slowly, he fell forward to the ground, his head landing inches from Brandon Glaze's fingertips.
The hand was still. The boy was dead.
And so was Martin Glaze.
I just killed a man.
Dully, Buffy stepped backward and released the blade. Spike's hands were on her in an instant, and he wrapped her up in his arms as she stared numbly at the dead body before her. She thought she might be shaking. It would explain why he was so desperate to touch her, moving his hands all over her, holding her so tightly that she forgot to breathe.
"It's all right, love, it's all right. You're safe, that's all that matters. It's going to be all right."
But all she could do was stare at the dead boy's hand reaching through the earth for nothing at all.
Continued in Chapter Eighteen: The Open Door