Tara was uncertain. Looking deep into the contents of that ugly urn, she felt a coldness run through her spine. It had all been arranged. But she knew it hadn't been paid for. Someday, she knew, it would have to be.
She tried to smirk off her irresolution. Of course, she was sitting at a grave. But it wasn't her own. And it would soon be unoccupied, if it all came out right-- how they expected, how they'd planned.
Xander wondered if Buffy would look the same, as he lit his candle. The flame danced in front of him. Would she appear before them whole, bathed in magical light? Or would she come distorted, the sweat of the inferno still clinging to her shoulders, decayed and rasping.
He'd seen a statue once, of death. Some medieval German thing. It was fascinating and terrible at the same time. Such delicate and amazing work, as intricate and detailed as Willow's spell. But there were holes in death's body, and his tendon-laced hand held up a tattered standard. Inside his ribcage, visible through the wood-carved flesh, had been a frog, clinging to what was left of tired lungs.
But Willow said it wouldn't be that way. Willow knew. She was strong.
Willow was losing her patience as well as her nerve. But she couldn't show weakness, or they would break apart the circle. She had only chosen these three, because the others would be dangerous to the plan. She couldn't have that, not after everything they'd gone through to get to this point. To save her.
"Anya, do you have it?" Willow's commanding voice was tinged with panic. She had the strangest sensation their time was running out.
"I'm trying..." the lighter sputtered over her candle. Her hands were shaking, and her resolve was crumbling. Only the look of command in the witch's eyes pushed her forward, made her try the lighter again, working the mechanism with a clumsy thumb.
The mechanism lit. She held it to the wick. Willow took a deep breath, ready to voice the first of the ancient litany, that no one had spoken in thousands of years. Her words seized in her throat as a fantastic motion caught the corner of her eye.
A dark figure vaulted from the shadows, where it had been stalking them.
It was a preternatural, graceful movement. With a strange beauty it soared from the shadows, the leather about it flying behind like strange, membranous wings.
It alighted softly in the center of the Holy Circle. Its boots made no sound as they contacted the soft earth of the grave.
It landed on all fours, like a cat, in a strange, coiled position. There was something under its left hand, pale deadly white against its black sleeves. Its eyes shone with a predatory anger.
And before any of them could react, it sprung. It raised the hammer in its hand, and crushed the urn. The blood within ran deep into the sod, and, suddenly, just as the fragile clay fractured, the candles in their hands all sputtered out.
None of them could find their voices. The figure rose, leaving the hammer on the ground, and passed by their stunned forms, walking into the trees.
It was Anya who first broke the silence. Her tone was shocked, but somewhere in her, she felt something well up and spill over. Something steely and sure. Something not unlike respect for the now vanished form.
"Spike..." she whispered, sadly. Her words broke the others from their paralysis. Tara rushed to Willow's side. Xander's head fell, his eyes dropping to the shattered pieces around them.
"No..." Willow cried, her voice a lingering whine. The wet trails started to fall down her cheeks, and she gasped and choked on her tears.
Somewhere in the distance, they heard the rumble of engines. They were coming closer every second. The dull growl rose into a deep, forbidding roar.
Spike walked through the darkness of the forest, away. He had made it in time, and now it was time to leave. He had nothing left to do in this place.
She was safe.
"I will not wake you from your sleep,
I'll leave you wanderin', countin' sheep--
No more sad or sunshine days,
Trust me, dear, you're better off this way."
--Adam Gardner, 'Airport Song'