Buffy was pissed. She was angry. It was the kind that sat cold inside her; cold and steady like a tomb marking a past event--past by but still here and ‘x’ marks the spot and here she was revisiting the grave of: ‘oh no, not again...’
She spent the morning in solitude. Quiet. From sunup on the back veranda fingertips pressed together, inch by inch doth she crept into quietus. Energy pulling; gathering together until it knotted into a hard ball and then broke through her system liberating every war, every battle, every spar ever into ready to wear.
By twilight she was ready. Quiet, still as stone and eyes deadly as Medusa.
Girl gone for good.
Vi had the troops gathered in the garden. Two hundred and twenty two slayers. Buffy hoped it would be enough. No amulet this time, no holy hotline...and best not to think about Spike.
Vi barked a monosyllabic command when she came into view at the top of the stone steps and the slayers sharpened their attention to their commander. All eyes on the reigning heavy weight slayer champion circa Earth post millennium and ‘miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep’...
Vi nodded to her and stepped back allowing her the central position, and Buffy thought again how strange, how strange that when the world pushed and pulled and forced situations to a head you never, ever, really knew who would make it through the trial by fire.
There was Vi, so timid and scared for so many of those formative months and never would you ever consider her a leader, but she was the one to pull it together on her end of the battlefield that day at the Hellmouth.
She was the one to stick by Buffy through thick and thin and you never ever really knew what a person had tucked away inside...because it was...well, personal...sandwiched like a secret meat between mother earth and father sky.
And so it was the man least likely to stand by you who did and the one least likely to betray you who does.
Puzzle, puzzle, puzzle...
Dawn was there to her right and had the scythe, The Slayer elemental ready for Buffy when needed. Dawn nodded to Buffy briefly, but didn’t look any deeper into her sister. It was hard to look at Buffy when she was like this.
She and Giles would be staying here in Italy on this side of things, the coven would be watching from Northern England and Giles would send the slayers through the designated portholes in groups of thirty. The objective was to bottleneck the area, contain the tragedy and timing would be key. Timing would be everything.
Only so many slayers would teleport to the interior, the majority would be used to contain the area but only after the height of the battle had been reached, after all the demons being used to fight had manifested themselves in the fray.
It would be deadly business for those in the interior circle and Buffy had only asked for volunteers. And again she had been surprised as to who stepped up. Most of the original crew had--Rona, Vi; she had expected that, but the bulk of the others to make up the fighting crew had been a soft surprise.
It had been the quiet ones--the slayers she had often thought of as the shyest, the tamer kittens from the kaboodle, but suddenly as she stepped in front of these women and she absorbed the impact of their energy enmasse; she knew why it was them.
She looked over the group going with her.
They were the outcasts, the small, the geeks, too sweet, too good to compete in the regular way of the world and now she knew why it was them and why it had to be the young and untried.
Because they were innocent; virgins probably, mostly; too unattractive for anyone to love well on Earth but...First Slayer and First Slayer loved them dearly. She knew this in complete like a downloaded piece of intelligence. If The First existed in evil then it existed in purity as well. Balance was the way of the world.
And if she and Spike had spent all of last year battling The First; she had been compensated in her grief, in her loss...of loved ones...of loved one...with coming to know The First Slayer. To understand the depth of love, the promise of her own heart that First Slayer had foreseen in her. If she had lost Sunnydale and Spike...the grief had been balanced by First Slayer holding her hand...and finding herself.
And now here was First Slayer talking to her again through the solemn still eyes of these girls committed to do this thing, to possibly, to probably lose their lives in order to help.
Oh yes, the majority of the band had to be innocent. They were going in under the banner of righteousness and at the center they needed the heart of a lamb and the hand of a lion.
They were going to win. But they weren’t all going to live. In this world at least.
Buffy looked down at the stone tile of the veranda as she gathered her thoughts. She would be brief.
She looked up and began.
“This isn’t a rescue mission. This is about containment and justice. If, by the time we get to the center and there is anyone left...do not engage the vampires in battle...do not. Your natural instincts will lead you toward them and your blood lust will be kicking in...but do not engage them. The others on their crew are a misnomer at this point and not the objective. When my crew reaches the center they will be able to identify the vampire they have had a prior association with and he can relay to them, friend from foe. I repeat, no one stakes the blonde vampire, I am aware of slayers gathering stripes by staking notorious vamps and there will be no counting coup here...do it, I’ll know it, and you will be sorry.”
Beat. She turned dropped her voice a bit as she spoke to Vi:
“Vi...your group protects Spike...”
Vi nodded smiling a bit. “Sure...totally my pleasure...”
“The other one is mine...” Buffy’s eyes turned steely as she stepped in front of Giles.
Arms crossed in front, scythe in hand and waited.
Spike placed his hands together palm to palm and was bringing air into his dead lungs...breathing it in slow and deep into his dead lungs...balance and ballast and maybe bizarre under the circumstance, under of the screech of devastating onslaught...but why fight unless one could fight...very well.
It had been a while but he knew the way.
He closed his eyes, closed his ears and turned into himself to find the quiet space no sound, no emotion could penetrate--he found the space and poked it, jolly, with a spike. He spiked himself and the spark bit back. It was the berserker of creation/destruction, the Big Bang beginning the great end of the universe.
He found himself waiting for himself.
‘Ah...’ there he was, ‘hello mate...haven’t seen you for a spell,’ and then he was smiling, little Buddha, little battery charging up and down deeper he went into himself, now...his soul...and he felt the sting but pleasant too like coming home and found the warm love for a woman waiting there for him, steady and constant and feeding him too, hooking him into heaven, and so he opened to the love, he admitted it freely as a source of strength and so it came...hot and hardening his will and shot through his body like liquid lead...it’s all right...it would be all right...he knew what he was fighting for now...he was...
He didn’t hear it, didn’t need to.
His sword came up to clash with the claw of a dragon sweeping down to clamp the seeming sleeping Spike.
The hot strength and holy connection to why he was alive, why he tried, shot all the way up through his sword and impossibly, the dragon’s stony claw was severed and sent spinning.
“--Out?” Angel finished lamely. He looked at Spike, at the glazed look in his eye, at the wild fire of ‘I will...’
And he smiled. He had too. When Spike fought like that it was a thing of beauty. (‘Huh. This might be fun...’)
They exchanged looks for a brief moment and said nothing but wasn’t there the smallest bit of a shared smile?
Angel and Spike went back to back and began.
Spike was on fire. It was a battle again, another apocalypse and he was on fire again, but this time, metaphorically.
He was in the zone, man...and Gunn recognized it. It was that crazy light that surrounded a warrior sometimes who stood up straight in a sheet of gunfire and you knew, just knew the dumn bastard wouldn’t get hit.
He had heard stories about it, had seen it sometimes and here it was in front of him. It was like the thing you suspected, just suspected about a person, a secret they had inside them and now it was here full blown and Charles Gunn, wounded as he was, knew enough to get behind Spike. To watch his back.
It was like fighting behind a force field, action still came his way, but they were the wounded ones Spike slashed a mortal blow and then went to the next, they were dying but still alive, still dangerous and could have turned on Spike’s blindside--if not for Gunn.
Spike saw what he was doing, but was beyond words at this point so instead of speaking, sounded a battle cry and threw Gunn another Blastok to finish off.
The sound of Spike’s roar rang through Gunns bones and ‘by god if it wasn’t catchy...and wasn’t he feeling better too’? Stronger somehow, battling in Spike’s wake?
Another Blastok fell hard and knocked Gunn sideways, and as the demon rose Gunn impaled him with his sword and it fell heavily against him, pinning him down.
Illyria was in trouble. It was a steadfast fighter, strong, as in ‘mountain strong’ but had the same inflexibility. It couldn’t face more that one opponent without having to stop and think about it’s next move. And that wouldn’t work here, this was meatball fighting.
Angel had his hands full with a pissed dragon who for some reason was taking it’s vinegar out on him.
“Hey I’m not the one who gave you a manicure you filthy bitch!”
He got a hold of the tail this time around and swung hard using the momentum of it’s flight to hurtle the body up against a brick building. There was a satisfying crunch of bricks but seemingly little damage to the beast. Shit. Just how did they slay those things in the low tech middle ages?
Angel had a moment to glance around and noted Spikes whirling dervish with...well...was that pride? Gunn was struggling out from under a demon but Spike was in no position to help him he was in a space of unbroken concentration. Ah...Gunn was free now to fight again and Angel marveled that he was still alive...he saw the strategy of the pair and smiled again.
(‘See Spike, not the caveman...modern success was all about teamwork’...the astronauts...oh hell...he would have to gloat later...)
Angel shouted to it. “Illyria...watch Gunn...see what he’s doing? Get behind Spike...”
He had no idea if it would take his suggestion, Illyria had it’s own stubborn streak but it understood logic.
He watched it turn it’s head toward Spike and now, just now with it’s head turned away and with most of the blue not showing...it could be Fred...Angel felt a clutch at his heart and....not now...god...not now...
He saw Illyria hurl the demon in front of it fifty feet into the wall and then move to stand in Spikes wake.
Good...good...he could deal the mortal blow and Illyria and Gunn could watch his back and finish them off. In that way, Illyria wouldn't have to think too fast and Gunn...may live...just a little bit longer...
It wasn’t about winning at all...just killing as many as they could and living a little bit longer.
The dragon was circling now and coming back for a taste...good. Good.
They came like the singing sword the high holy hum of girls tuning up, tuning in...a high pure note but with a warble too...
Spike felt it...somewhere in the deep interior of where he sat in the calm of his hurricane he felt them come.
But he was in the zone and in so deep--the world could send messages in but not out. He could feel them, the multiplicity of purity; he could feel her note in the song but not see them. He was fighting from his inner eye as if blindfolded and sought and found the heart and vitals of his enemy with one swift stroke. No pleasure, no pain, no guilt, no anger just this truth:
Come up against me and you will perish...
The message radiated from him and take a look--there were enough dead bodies in evidence around him for any demon who doubted. He was dimly aware of Angel off to his left and wounded...seriously...Angels blood was on the air.
He could feel the three of them slightly behind him and if Angel had fallen it wouldn’t be long now...but that meant nothing to him either. It was only now...now...now...
The Blastok had swelled or maybe they were being pushed, but they seemed to be all around now...the dragon swooped down and grabbed Gunn and without a beat Spike leapt thirty feet into the air and swirling in a smooth circle sliced the leg holding Gunn clean off. Gunn with claw still attached fell to earth with Spike landing gently beside.
He looked about the battlefield as he landed.
Gunn was out. Knocked out or dead...it didn’t matter...
Illyria was bent in two but still mobile...
Part of Angels right arm was missing...but he was still fighting and mad as a hat.
Spike closed his eyes and began to fight again....
Vi’s heart did a little double beat when she saw him.
They were coming up now on, the weakest flank just as planned...working their way in toward the home team on the right flank, with no causalities so far. She, Babbette, Chow lien and Tedi were on point and working down the side to team up with ‘the vamps.’
Buffy had teleported into the thick of it with the newbie’s to surprise and alarm the demon force...she was there in the center at ground 0 and cutting a swathe through to the end...causing enough terror and distress to force Wolf Ram and Hart to call in for reinforcements.
They wanted the entire force, reserves and all...everything they had in the arsenal thrown at them, everything needed to be in the mix before they bottled it up with the slayers on standby waiting to teleport. Get them all into the pool before they pulled the plug. Put them out of business once and for all. It would work. The...vamps may not be alive by that time...but Wolf Ram and Hart would be over.
And there he was. Vi hadn’t remembered him like this. He looked...unearthly...
“Mighty, mighty...who is that?” Tedi croaked.
“That’s Spike. Do not fight him--get it.”
“Oh yeah. Gotten.” Tedi agreed and the others concurred.
“We are supposed to protect him?”
“Cut the chatter...Babs--Tedi flank right...I’ll go left to see if I can get into his line of vision...”
Vi felt Chow lien grab her arm...”Vi...he has eyes closed...shut...see?”
“Christ...how can he fight with his eyes closed?” Tedi whispered
They separated and began to work their way in to back up anyone left alive.
Buffy was about forty feet away when she saw him.
There he was.
Suddenly, it was Spike.
It was Spike.
Her heart did a glad slam of it’s own and she felt a swell of emotion, something cracking close to happy Hallmark tears and she had to bank it down. Not now. Not now.
Suddenly it was Spike, he was there, but dipped in red. Red Spike...Blood. Her heart slammed and she grabbed hold of herself and in between deadly thrusts at the Balstok she looked more carefully. She knew enough not to look directly at him for too long. It was that thing that happened when someone was looking at you that pulled your energy to look back. She didn’t want him looking out here to see her and then lose his concentration at a critical moment. She had seen good warriors die that way.
She focused on the task at hand mentally counting down until the porthole opened and the troops arrived and all the while keeping Spike in the corner of her eye. She couldn’t see Angel and didn’t want to think about that.
One thing at a bloody time.
He seemed to be in some kind of trance. Vi had arrived and was flanking him but keeping well out of his way too...which was good because he didn’t look to be all there. How long had he been fighting? More than an hour perhaps. A long time in this melee.
She didn’t see it--she heard it.
A screeching and a flapping and the female instinct to cover your head to the keep bats from your hair.
Huh. That was one hell of a dragon.
It was going for Spike and he didn’t see it coming...or he had his hands full...or...
It came in low on a beeline toward him and as it flew by her, she leapt up twenty feet in the air and grabbed a leathery wing, the dragon dipped and screeched and tried to shake her off but she held on and with the scythe she swung her arm around and neatly severed the wing from the body. Unfortunately she was still attached to the part of the wing that was earthbound. Oops. Oh well...earth is good.
Buffy landed in a roll with the dragon tumbling down beside her. In a moment the slayers fell upon it like feasting mosquitoes. The dragon grabbed one Slayer in its mouth...who was that...Lynn? This drew a frenzied cry en masse from the slayers in the surrounding area, as if they were all connected by a beehive mentality--when a slayer was hurt they felt it as one. They fell upon the beast and it would not be long for this world. Buffy considered going in to deliver the quick killing blow...but then...no...let them have this...
She pushed the fallen slayer from her mind and turned her attention to Spike and...and where was Angel?
She felt the shift in the battle. They all felt it. It was over. The plug had been pulled and whoever was in wasn’t getting out...and she could feel the panic in the demons rise as this sunk in.
It was over but still deadly. Panic. And panic was deadly....she shouted instructions to Rona to keep the circle. Killing the dragon had been a psychological boost and a blow to Wolf Ram and Hart...but beware of hubris.
And it was time to get the wounded out.
There was no longer a crowd of demons lining up to be slain by Spike. Instead of three to one it was now one to one...and Babette and Tedi had to move further out to find quarry... Spike would move a little ways out but would always angle the battle back into position...as if he were protecting something or...someone...
The battlefield was now swarming with slayers and fewer and fewer demons...with a ratio of something like ten slayers to one demon....now it was just a matter of time...and taking nothing for granted.
Buffy approached Spike the Berserker, her heart doing something incomprehensible...she felt a softness opening up that was wrong, bad for battle, but it was him...how she felt, how she responded when within twenty feet of him. It wasn’t throw down romantic love...no...no...it was steady and warm and potent as the heartbeat that kept you alive.
She said it aloud. He didn’t hear her.
Vi approached her giving Spike a wide berth as he finished off a Turak Han. Jese. Like she hadn’t seen ENOUGH of those.
“Buffy...he can’t hear me...he’s like, zoned out or something...”
Buffy nodded as Vi flanked her and they stood side to side so they could watch each others back as they talked.
“Not good...” Vi said. “I don’t think he can tell friend from...you know...fe fi foe...”
“I smell the blood of an Englishman...”
“Tell me about it...he’s bleeding bad--and I’ve actually been angling demons his way for him to fight...afraid if he runs out he might turn on us...”
Yeah...that could happen easy, Buffy thought.
Slayer was Spike favorite prey of old; she was just praying there was enough sane Spike left to connect to.
The Turok Han was dust and just as Vi feared, Spike turned toward Babbette...Buffy didn’t wait to find out his intentions, he could move way too fast--she went at his legs to knock him off balance...but he jumped and her legs swung around through the air.
Without thinking she tossed the scythe to Vi who caught it handily...she didn’t want Spike to register a weapon in her hand...god...his eyes were shut...there was a small beat...and then Spike tossed his sword away matching her action.
What did that remind her of? Old times.
Buffy almost smiled. Not over, not yet, still gotta talk the tiger down to kitty cat.
She raised her hand and he countered with a blow and then they were at it. Matching blow for blow, counter puntel, punch and swivel and Buffy was surprised at how strong he still was after such a long battle and had to remind herself to never, never underestimate him...he could seem to be asleep at the wheel and then drive home with the atom bomb in a grocery bag.
She never struck out at him; she deflected his attack, countered his parry, but no thrust, no harm, no foul and bit by bit the energy of the dance, the peacemaking gesture permeated through to him until his blows were deflecting her deflection...pretty soon it would wind down to something like a pleasant patty cake...
He knew they were here...she was here somewhere working her way toward him but he could not let go of his center long enough to look, if he let go...if undone...he would wind down to dust with no coming back to battle stance.
He could feel her like a sweet bit of music; a favorite song coming closer. One of those songs that takes you back to a time, a refrain that takes you back to a place in time so completely you have to slow everything down, stop the works...to just...be there again...just to listen...listen...listen...maybe he could stop just to listen for a bit...
Just the gentle music of her soul softening his bones.
He opened his eyes.
Quiet. They looked into each others eyes.
He asked it like he was badly baffled and he had forgotten where he was and what was going on and were they back on the Hellmouth?
She nodded her head slowly.
He started to fall and she leapt forward to catch him. Helped hold him upright, helped him hold her.
His bloody hand came up to stroke her hair and she murmured.
“Shh...shh...it’s alright...it’s over....”
“Shh...it’s o.k....it’s over Spike...we got it now...”
“No...it’s Charlie...behind...and...Illyria...gone I...I...think and Angel...”
“It’s all right I got you...we’ll find them...anybody else?’
He thought...was there? No...no...he shook his head ‘no’ and passed out.
Buffy kissed the side of his head and laid him gently on the ground.
“Got it.” She stood sentry over Spike while Buffy and Rona searched the area Spike had indicated. It was cluttered with dead bodies. There were dead bodies...demons everywhere...
“Found someone...” Rona called. “Human...I...I think he’s gone...”
Buffy came to look over her shoulder. Not Angel. “Call Dawn, get him out of here.”
Rona nodded already on the cell.
Buffy was cool, stayed cool inside while looking for Angel....
It was Spike he had come around again.
“He’s up there...last I saw...I can still smell him...he’s alive...but hurt bad...”
Buffy nodded and moved in the direction Spike indicated. She followed her instincts from there.
He was pushed up against the wall, he had propped himself up to fight to the last but had passed out from loss of blood. He had lost most of his right arm.
Buffy’s stomach flipped at the sight but she steeled herself against it.
She leaned down and called out to him.
Her voice brought him around and when he opened his eyes to see her looking into his, he smiled.
She did not smile back.
“As a spokesperson for Humanity and on behalf of First Slayer and from the center of the highest source of unconditional love that flows through my being, I arrest you, Angel for the premeditated murder of Drogan the Innocent. The Holy Sentinel of the Well. And for crimes against cosmic order.”
“Buffy...” he began
“--Tell it to the Judge...” she said and then in one fluid motion, stood and walked away.