Part 3 (the conclusion)
Angel could barely contain his desire to do something other than pace helplessly back and forth. He glanced at his watch again, but didn't need to. Midnight was a special time for all demons, a magic time when the world was in balance. He didn't need to see a watch to know how close it was. He could feel it in his bones. Behind him, Giles was preparing the materials for the ceremony to send the demon back to hell, his manner calm and unruffled, though Angel was quite certain it was nothing but an act. He whipped around suddenly, his black duster flowing around long legs. "I'm going after them," he said simply.
"No," Rupert Giles disagreed without looking up. "You're not. I need you here."
Angel's lips drew back from his clenched teeth in a frustrated snarl. "And Buffy may need me down there."
"You'll be more help to her up here," Giles clipped, still without looking up.
Angel winced. "Helping you kill Willow," he growled unhappily.
And then Giles' head did lift, rage glittering in his eyes. "If you think I like this..." he hissed tightly.
Angel's answer was equally stressed and acid. "Well, it does solve the Council's little problem."
For a moment, Rupert Giles was once again the out-of-control teenager who'd been nicknamed "The Ripper" while wandering the streets of London. He almost lunged, but got it under control. "If you think that has anything to do with this, you're sorely mistaken." He swallowed hard. "I'd do anything I could to save Willow, but we have to make certain that creature isn't released on the world."
The two men stood glaring at one another, their tempers on edge, both wanting to fight something, but with no targets other than each other. Finally, Angel stuffed his hands in his pockets and spun away as he silently prayed to a God he couldn't believe cared about his cursed soul to keep both girls safe. They were both so young and Buffy had already lost more than any human should. He would do anything to spare her more pain.
Giles stared at the other man's stiff back, his own emotions raw. Both girls were like the children he never expected to have. He'd have died for either of them. "We can only pray that Buffy has succeeded in getting her out...and that...we've chosen the right ceremony."
"Right," Angel exhaled heavily. "Pray..."
* * * * * * *
It was just that simple.
They had hit a dead end.
Buffy cursed softly, while Willow leaned heavily against a rough stone wall, steadier than she had been, but still shaky.
"It's too hard," Melvinathoraxisthulixis muttered disgustedly as he tested the rock with a thick fingernail. "I can't break through."
Behind them, the echoey bellows of the Enforcer demon continued to rattle the earth around them, though they were heavily muffled by the thick rocks.
"I was so damn sure it would take us into one of the caverns that leads to the surface," the demon growled. "I mean this whole town is sitting on top of a giant network of caves, and we manage to find the only one that doesn't go anywhere."
The roaring was drawing closer.
"But it does go somewhere. In fact, it goes all the way to the surface" Willow murmured. "I can smell fresh air." She didn't add how good it felt to breathe a hint of oxygen not tainted by the demonic stench that surrounded Melvin and his pursuer.
"Well, yeah," Melvin muttered. As the only one who could see in the dark, he could make out the details the Slayer and her friend missed. "There's a crack there...but it's way too narrow even for you two."
Willow closed her eyes, tipping her head back on her shoulders, as she felt the faint breeze caress her face. She tried to imagine the tons of rock, trees, and grass that lay above their heads. All natural, all earthen. She could feel them. She swallowed hard. "There may be a way out of here."
"Talk to me," Buffy whispered intensely.
"It's all about emotional control...just like the pencil."
There was a long moment of silence as the Slayer absorbed what Willow was saying. "Except the pencil doesn't weigh twenty tons," she hissed at last. "Not to mention the fact that you can only do that pencil thing about half the time."
"But I've been getting better," Willow insisted. "I can do it...I can get us out of here."
"Hey, wait a minute," Melvin broke in. "I'm not following this. Are you trying to say you can break through the rocks?"
Willow nodded in the darkness. "I can use the opening as a wedge...push the rocks outward from it."
"You're what...a hundred and fifteen soaking wet? Not exactly a musclebound maniac there," Melvin muttered in disbelief. "I don't think so, honey. I mean it's sweet of you too--"
"Magic," Willow interrupted. "I can do it with magic. I'm a witch."
"Oh," the incubus breathed, then added, "That explains a lot."
"Like?" Buffy prompted.
"Her vision problems...I did notice them, y'know," he told Willow. "Since her...er...best bud's the Slayer, I figured she'd just absorbed a little of the ambient mystical energy that hangs around folks like you and it was affecting our bonding. But if she's a witch...." He shook his head in the darkness. "Sheez, even Spike ought to know that mystical pheromones affect them differently from normal mortals. She probably wouldn't have even worked for getting the staff anyway."
It was Buffy's turn to simply exhale, "Oh." She still hadn't decided how she felt about their latest ally. After all, he was helping them to survive, but on the other hand, he'd fully intended to seduce Willow and that wasn't the sort of thing the Slayer was inclined to forgive.
"Well, I'm just glad we don't have to find out," Willow inserted, then added, "No insult intended."
Another roar rattled the walls in the distance, reminding them of exactly what was chasing them.
"So what happens if you can't do it?" Melvin asked at last.
Willow shrugged. "Since we're going to die anyway, does it really matter?"
"Fair point...not one I really wanted to consider, but fair," he allowed.
"What do you need from us?" Buffy asked, ignoring him in favor her friend.
Willow was already focusing on centering her emotions. She was far less confident than she had tried to sound. After all, while she'd gotten pretty good at hurling pencils, and had even managed to pick up and spin small rocks and such, but this was way past anything she'd ever tried. Way past anything she'd ever even expected to try. "Just be quiet and ready to move once I start," she whispered. "Oh, and one more thing..." And Willow looked down even though she couldn't see, trying to imagine Buffy's face in front of her as she murmured, "You never did answer my question. Did I dream that, or did I really kiss you?"
"We kissed," Buffy said without elaborating. Gentle fingers found her lips in the darkness, outlining them with instinctive knowledge, and then Willow's lips found her own and she thought she tasted tears. In the background, their pursuer was getting closer by the minute, apparently tearing his way through solid rock in his desperation to get to them.
"Yeah, true love rules," Melvin broke into the kiss as he yanked Buffy back. "But really pointless if we're all in a million pieces." His hands were tight on the Slayer. "If you're gonna do this, go for it."
"You can do it, Wicca-Girl," Buffy encouraged.
Willow pulled inside herself, lips moving in soft chants that helped her concentrate her mental energies. She knew the trick, knew it was just a matter of tapping into the natural flow of energy and directing it. Exactly the same principle as the pencil, and the rocks overhead had more touch with the earth, more energy to tap. It was just a matter of overcoming her mental image of how large and heavy and impossible to move they were. She had to believe.
"There is no try, only do."
Okay, so old Star Wars lines probably weren't the best focusing exercise in the world, but somehow, the thought of Yoda's voice helped. She exhaled, felt the energy inside her own body, touched it, tapped it, then unleashed it. The chanting grew louder as she reached out, mentally searching the rocks, tracing the crack that ran between them, opening herself to their raw power, their link to the universe.
"Feel the Force, Willow."
Her lips were moving too fast to speak intelligible words now. Muscles rippled just under the skin. She could feel the Enforcer demon--a darkness within the natural world--drawing nearer, tearing at rocks and cement to get to them, but it didn't throw her concentration as she felt the earth start to move. She could feel Buffy, her fear, her love, her caring. They gave her strength as she kept pushing. A few tiny rocks trickled down on her head, but she didn't feel them. Her hands lifted, fingers pressing together as she envisioned her mind and power doing the same thing to the world above them. She didn't see the gleam that started at her braced fingertips, she was too deep in her own efforts.
More dirt and rocks rained down on her head as she slowly lifted her hands, mentally imagining that she was pushing the earth away.
Power, raw and very real pulsed through the young woman, wielded with more skill than she should have possessed.
* * * * * * *
"Giles, do you feel something?" Angel questioned as he felt the earth tremble beneath his feet.
The librarian shook his head distractedly. "It's a four pointer at most," he murmured. He'd been in California long enough that tiny earthquakes no longer affected him. "Now I need your help if we're going to send Melvinathoraxisthulixis back to hell where he belongs."
Angel crouched down, holding a hand above the ground. "I really don't think this is an earthquake," he whispered, other worldly bells and whistles going off in his head. "It's something else." He straightened slowly and was about to rise when something tackled into him from the side.
"You were going to send Melvin back to hell!" Stelladvoratrellundar bellowed furiously as she began beating on his head and shoulders.
The vampire and infuriated demon tumbled off to the side together, rolling in the dirt like tussling children as Angel fought in vain just to keep her from hitting him.
"Just like a vampire!" the succubus' voice rose above the fray in piercing shrieks. "Not to keep his word!"
Giles could only stare at the fight with a look akin to horror, uncertain how to react. The clock was ticking down. The ceremony was the most important thing, but at the same time, there wasn't much hope of getting through it while Angel was rolling around on the ground with a bloody succubus. He grabbed a crossbow from the stack of weapons off to one side, trying to take aim on the rolling, tumbling pair.
"No!" Angel yelped when he caught site of the weapon in Giles' hands out of the corner of his eye and between blows. Rupert Giles' aim wasn't anything to write home about past about four feet. And generally, it was best if his targets weren't moving. A shot through the heart was the only thing that would be fatal, but any other hits on his body would hurt--a massive fist collided with his jaw--at least as much as getting beat on, probably more. All rules about not hitting women aside, he tried punching her several times, nearly shattering his knuckles in the process, and as far as he could tell achieving absolutely nothing. It was not proving to be his day. "Look," he tried to reason with the howling succubus. "It's not what you think--" A fist collided with his jaw and he barely managed to twist in time to avoid getting a knee in a very sensitive portion of his anatomy. "We're trying to--" Another fist.
It was definitely not Angel's night.
* * * * * *
Buffy's eyes rounded as she watched the light that had started at Willow's fingertips expand outward, spreading over her body before it threaded upward into the nooks and crannies of the rocks overhead. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end as she felt the electricity that arced through the surrounding earth. And through it all, her friend's lips moved steadily faster, while her eyes were closed, her expression perfectly composed as the lights flickered over her. Dirt and small rocks flittered downward and the ground trembled ever so slightly.
And then the real fun started.
Willow's voice rose to an almost steady whine of chanting, her head snapping back on her shoulders as the rocks suddenly started to move. And then she was screaming, lifting her hands as though pushing at something, her face twisted with effort, her voice that of someone in pain. Buffy would have gone to her, but hard hands grabbed her back.
And then rocks geysered upward in a fountain of earth and stone, splitting, cracking, lifting, and tumbling over each other as if trying to escape the energy shooting from the young woman's fingertips.
It lasted no more than a minute, but in that time, Buffy Summers suddenly gained a whole new respect for Willow's belief in all things pagan. The last thing she saw before the lights blinked out was the neatly rounded tube to the surface had been carved in the earth. The world fell silent except for the soft grunt and thud as Willow toppled to her knees. Blinking to clear her fried irises, Buffy lunged toward where she had last seen her friend. She touched warm skin as she fell to her knees beside the witch's slender frame and wrapped an arm around Willow's shoulder to find her trembling violently. "You okay, Wicca-Girl?" she exhaled worriedly.
A tiny whimper greeted the question, then Willow straightened her shoulders under Buffy's arm. "That's a little harder than it looks," she exhaled heavily.
"Umm...yeah..." Buffy whispered, not knowing what else to say. Her eyes were already readjusting to the thin moonlight that now spilled into the tunnel from overhead, allowing her to see her friend's exhausted posture. She twisted to stare back at the creature that had unwittingly become their ally. He was still staring up at the hole Willow had just carved in the ceiling, his massive jaw hanging open.
"That ain't normal," Melvin breathed at last.
"You're a fine one to talk," the Slayer riposted neatly.
"I'm eccentric," Melvin disagreed mildly, his attention still on the hole over their heads. "That's just weird...so, how do we get out of here?"
"Climb?" Willow said weakly.
* * * * * * *
Angel groaned softly, spitting dirt and grass bits as he slowly pushed up on his hands, shaking off a thick coating of dirt and small stones. He lay at the midway point of a plumed earthen mountain, actually, partially buried in it if he was honest about it. The vampire heard a soft scraping sound and twisted in time to see Giles scrambling out from under a thick coating of debris at the bottom of the unnatural mountain.
"All right," the librarian called up as he struggled free of the rubble. "I'll admit that may have been something other than an earthquake."
Angel bit back on a sarcastic reply as he pushed to his feet. Fighting with Giles wouldn't help the situation. He was just debating his options when a ground shaking bellow rattled up from below.
"MELVINATHORAXISTHULIXIS!!! I'M GOING TO CARVE YOU INTO A THOUSAND BITS AND FEED YOU TO THE FIRST LEVEL DUST DEMONS!!!!"
* * * * * * *
"Oh God," Buffy groaned as she saw their pursuer, his broad form filling the remains of the rock corridor about fifty yards from their position. The going was tight, so he was moving slowly, tearing out stones in his furious drive to get to them. "Doesn't he ever give up?"
"That's not something Enforcer demons are known for," Melvin yelped, then reached above himself, scrambling for a hold in a panicked effort to escape.
Buffy latched her hands around Willow's waist, hefting her upward with the barked order, "Climb!"
The witch's fingers scrabbled on rock, bringing a shower of small stones down without getting a good hold.
"Couldn't you have put in stairs?" Melvin panted as his own efforts to climb brought more debris down on their heads. "Because this isn't working."
"Sorry," Willow groused. "I've never done this before. I don't quite have all the details down pat."
"What about some kind of levitation spell?" Buffy demanded as she was forced to drop Willow's feet back to earth.
The hacker glanced back. "Even if I knew one," she exhaled shaking her head. "There's no way." She could barely concentrate well enough to stay on her feet. Another spell was out of the question.
The Enforcer demon was still moving toward them, plowing through rock with terrifying determination.
The Slayer's eyes lifted until she spotted the figure at the lip of the mound of dirt that had formed around the hole. "Angel!" she yelled up. "We need a rope down here."
The vampire looked around himself, then shook his head. "I don't have one!"
"Great," the Slayer muttered under her breath and glanced back at the roaring, screaming thing clawing its way toward them. "Where's the Rope Fairy when you need one?"
"Maybe I can come up with some kind of spell," Willow filled in nervously. "After all, necessity is the mother of invention."
"Melvin!!" Stelladvoratrellundar's dusty crimson beehive appeared above the edge of the hole and she waved down with black tipped fingernails.
"I'm a little busy right now, honey!" the demon shouted back, his eyes locked on the gnarled black doom headed their way. "And probably going to be even busier dying in just a moment," he whimpered.
The Enforcer demon clawed through the last layer of dirt and rock, freeing its warped muscular body and laughing as it saw the terror on the faces of its intended victims. "Time to die," the thing snarled, dropping its voice to a low octave vibration that set the Slayer's hair on end. Still laughing, it stepped forward.
And was suddenly pulled up short as its massive rack of gnarled and twisted horns caught in the rocks. "AGHH!!!!" the thing grunted as it twisted, trying to free the snarled mess.
"Too busy for this?" Stella called down, her words greeted by the heavy clanking of chains tumbling downward. Each link was as big around as Buffy's wrist.
"Demons, I'll never complain about her fondness for sex toys ever again," Melvin said happily, and grabbed Willow, all but tossing her high onto the chains, before grabbing the Slayer and doing likewise.
Buffy considered asking, then decided she didn't want to know and just kept climbing.
The Enforcer demon was still fighting with his tangled horns, and howling as he tried to get to them.
"Buh bye," the incubus taunted with a smile and a tiny wave as he mounted the thick chains, climbing them with ease.
The links were so huge that the two girls climbed quickly and soon Willow's hand was grabbed by Angel and he hauled her to safety. A brief second later Buffy landed next to her friend, and their gazes briefly locked. Both girls froze for a moment.
"True Love's Kiss," Buffy whispered almost inaudibly as she remembered the moment of realization that had passed between them.
Willow's voice was very small as she whispered. "I didn't imagine that either then?"
"No," Buffy confirmed, swallowing hard as she started to say more. She broke off abruptly as a massive hand clawed over the edge of the pit, digging into the ground and leaving deep furrows as it skidded back toward the broken hole.
"I could use a little help here," Melvin gasped as he tried to claw his way from the chain, the other end of which was still held tightly in Stella's massive fists.
"Looks like you've been having a bad day, lover boy," the succubus snapped, then flashed a glare toward Willow. "I guess that's what you get for consorting with virgins."
"Aw, come on, Stell," Melvin pleaded between grunts of effort. "Nothing happened. She's still human as the day she was born." He slid back another few inches even as Buffy grabbed for his arm.
"Help me," she grunted to Angel, who stood uncertainly at the sidelines.
"Um, Buffy--" the vampire began hesitantly.
"Just do it!" the Slayer bit out, while Willow lunged forward, grabbing Melvin's arm alongside Buffy.
In the pit below, the Enforcer demon finally forced its way free of the caverns, breaking off both rock and twisted horns in its desperation to get to its target.
"Help," Melvin squawked as his assailant lunged at the chain, scrambling after him.
"We've got to get him up," Buffy growled as she felt Angel grab the demon's other arm, adding his strength to the effort. Suddenly, Melvin popped up over the edge of the hole, and went sprawling, a broad arm thrown across the two girls.
"Let go of the chain, Stell!" the incubus shouted as he scrambled clear.
The succubus opened thick knuckled hands, landing on her considerable backside as the heavy chain rattled away from her, disappearing into the depths of the pit. A brief moment later, a heavy thud echoed through the night followed by a string howled curses that were profound in their obscenity.
Buffy leaned over the edge of the sharp cliff, easily spotting the enraged demon. "I don't think he's having a good day," she said not unhappily.
"Couldn't happen to a nicer guy," Melvin observed.
"Aw, gee, I dunno," Willow cracked, "there must be someone somewhere who's nastier, uglier, and smellier."
The three looked at each other, and shook their heads in rhythm. "Nah," they agreed in unison.
Then Buffy turned to face Willow, brushing a gentle finger along her dirt smudged cheek. "Hey, Wicca-Girl," she spoke just loudly enough to be heard over the roaring, fuming creature below.
Angel stared at them all with a confused expression. "Um, Buffy," he said at last as he was shouldered aside by a fast moving Stelladvoratrellundar, who leapt into her demonic boyfriend's arms.
"So you didn't deflower her, lovemuffin?" the beehived succubus demanded.
"I was never even tempted," Melvinathoraxisthulixis assured her. Sometimes a lie is better--and certainly healthier--than the truth, then the two began trading affectionate small talk that would have made most diabetics more than a little ill, their voices nearly indistinguishable as they whispered back and forth. "I love you pooky...but, I love you more, demon-ears...you're my life, devil-buns...you say the sweetest things, my little succy-wuccy..."
Luckily for their mental health, no one was listening. The Slayer spun to face her sometimes boyfriend. "Angel," she squeaked. "I...we...that is...Willow and I..."
The vampire brushed past her, his manner borderline gruff, making the slightly ambiguous meaning of his words obvious. "I already know about it. Giles told me."
Buffy and Willow both flamed bright red. "Oh," the Slayer exhaled as Angel leaned over the edge of the pit, getting a look at the creature raging below, then turned a blank look toward Melvin. "What happened down there?" he asked Buffy at last.
Melvin broke away from his demon lover as he turned to face Angel and offered a hand for a comradely shake. "Well, it's kind of a long story," he boomed with a friendly smile. "But, if you like, we can share a beer afterwards and trade a few stories."
Angel eyed the demon and then the huge hand offered his way and then turn his gaze back toward his former lover. "Buffy?" he said a little helplessly.
"It's a long story," the Slayer admitted with a shrug.
Concluding no shake was coming, Melvin peered back over the edge of the pit and blanched to a soft pastel pink. "Uh oh," he squeaked. "We've got a problem."
The others followed the line of his gaze, all of them losing color as they saw the Enforcer demon methodically pounding stairsteps into the magic-made cliff walls.
"This is not good," Buffy muttered, then shook her head violently as she was suddenly doused in flakes of sage. The Slayer spun around just as Rupert Giles came scrambling up the steep slope of the rock mound, an ancient text in one hand, a copper pot of herbs balanced neatly on the open pages.
"I banish you, Melvinathoraxisthulixis, to the nether realms," He shouted between gagging coughs and flung another handful of herbs from the pot, before lapsing into Latin, his powerful voice ringing across the night, though hardly loud enough to be heard above the thing steadily pounding its way out of the pit.
"Not now, Giles," the Slayer said impatiently. The first one to break out of the momentary paralysis that seemed to have struck the small group, she stormed toward her Watcher, grabbing his pot of assorted herbs and snapping the book shut with a short-tempered, "That's really not necessary."
Her Watcher stared blankly at her. "But, Buffy," and then a look of suspicion settled over his features and he backed off a half step. "Exactly what happened down there?"
The Slayer sighed as the ground shuddered beneath her feet. "I found Melvinathoraxisthulixis," and Buffy was impressed that she actually managed to pronounce it correctly, or at least she thought she had.
And then the Enforcer demon got a monstrous black arm up over the edge of the pit and began dragging itself up.
"And then we all found something even worse," she added as she spun back toward the fight, bounding back toward where the others were quickly scrambling away from the pit. "How do we fight it?!" she demanded of Melvin, grabbing his arm to keep him from bolting.
The demon's gold eyes were wide with terror. "Fight?" he repeated disbelievingly. "An Enforcer demon? You've gotta be kidding." His voice cracked with sheer terror, while Stella pulled on his other arm. "You don't fight an Enforcer demon! You run away from an Enforcer demon! Preferably very quickly!" he explained as though she wasn't the sharpest stake in the weapons collection.
"Come on, honey," Stella urged as she grabbed Melvin's arm. "Tell the nice little demon fodder it was nice meeting her, but the party's over and it's time to go."
And then the Enforcer demon bounded up over the edge of the pit, landing on top of the mounded earth on its feet and knuckles, like some twisted, hellborne gorilla. Angel stepped forward as if to block the thing, but it batted him aside like an annoying mosquito and he landed a dozen yards from the base of the newly made mountain sprawled and unmoving.
"All right," the Slayer snarled as she spun to face the thing. "Now, you've pissed me off."
The Enforcer demon's mouth twisted in what might have been a smile--though Buffy was far from certain--and made a snuffling sort of laughing sound. "I haven't squashed a human like a bug in ages," it said, the words not quite matching the mouth movements, making for a sight vaguely reminiscent of a bad Japanese monster movie. "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to have a little fun on this assignment."
"No!" Willow shouted and lunged forward as she saw the thing's massive fists lift. She tackled into Buffy and they both went tumbling even as the beast's arms fell and thudded into the ground in their wake.
"NO SPLAT," the thing snarled unhappily and lifted its arms to try again. This time there was no way the girls could get out of the way in time.
"Aw heaven," Melvin growled and lunged between them, blocking the swing with a heavy arm, then threw a heaving punch that connected solidly with the Enforcer's jaw. The blow would have left the average human in pieces, and even the Slayer would have suffered more than a few broken bones if hit with the power behind the Melvin's punch.
The other demon never even flinched.
"Oh, this is bad," the incubus breathed.
The Enforcer demon laughed again. "You're pathetic, Melvinathoraxisthulixis, consorting with humans, thinking yourself in love." The thing snorted, nodding its uneven jaw toward Stella. "And with a succubus who couldn't seduce a customer in a whorehouse if she started offering freebies."
"Hey!" the demoness shouted, raising balled fists.
"Now, there's no need to get insulting," Melvin said, backing up a half step. Violence hadn't worked so he was inclined to try negotiation.
Willow scrambled free of the tangle of Buffy's arms and legs, skidding and clambering toward Giles, who was flipping desperately through his book. "An Enforcer demon," she panted as she reached the Watcher. "We need a spell for banishing an Enforcer demon."
"I don't know if there even is such a thing," the librarian responded, still hunting desperately. Willow glanced back just in time to see the huge black demon backhand the incubus.
Melvin's massive body was momentarily airborne, then slammed into the earth with bone shattering force. "Aw, man, that smarts," the demon groaned and lifted his head unsteadily. "I gotta learn how to do this fighting thing."
The Enforcer demon glanced back at its most recent victim, snorting as though amused, then turned its attention toward Stella. "And now you, Stelladvoratrellundar," the thing growled throatily. "Shall we dance?"
The succubus giggled in nervous terror, then bolted, bounding around their assailant toward her demonic boyfriend.
The Enforcer demon only laughed. "I'll deal with both of you soon enough," it said as it turned its attention toward the humans who stood so close. "I've always loved that little splat mortals make when they die."
"Willow, Giles, run!" Buffy ordered with a glance over her shoulder as she stepped between the creature and her friends. She was on her own now. The Slayer braced herself, drawing her hands up into a fighting position, fully intending to stop the thing at least long enough for Willow and Giles to escape.
Giles was hunting even harder when Willow suddenly grabbed the book from him, flipping through it with an unusual sense of confidence. It was like a flash of knowledge as she suddenly understood what she was looking for.
The demon paused, eyeing Buffy as it chuckled once again, the sound dark and ugly. "So, you're the Slayer...vampires are such a weakling breed of demon...so I'm not surprised their Slayer is as well."
Eyes flashing angrily, Buffy's lips turned up in a sneer. "And yet, you still stand there, while I still stand here," she taunted. "One could almost think you weren't in a hurry for our little face off."
Willow flipped desperately through the pages of the ancient spellbook, ignoring Giles' demands to know what she was doing refusing to let him take it back. "I know I've seen it here somewhere."
The beast laughed, the sound booming across the night. "You think I fear you?" it demanded of Buffy, then chortled again. "A creature that can't even beat up a punkling incubus." It brought up a huge, misshapen hand, curling the gnarled fingers into a fist. "SPLAT!" it pronounced very clearly as it readied to swing.
"I wouldn't do that!" Willow shouted as she lunged forward, the ancient spellbook still held firmly in her hands.
Buffy chanced a glance back, her expression bordering on panic. "Willow, go!" she hissed desperately, but the hacker didn't budge an inch, just straightened her shoulders as she glanced down at the book in her hands and then back up again.
"And now another child threatens me," the Enforcer demon's voice rumbled low in its throat. "What's your plan, little girl, bore me into submission?"
Willow swallowed hard, forcing down the sudden sense of panic as the demon's eyes pinned her in place. Intending to face an Enforcer demon and actually facing an Enforcer demon were two very different things. She straightened her shoulders, eyes narrowing as she tried her best to look threatening, despite the fact that Buffy kept hissing at her to leave. "No," she said with as much bravado as she could muster. "I-I'm going to banish you back to hell." She held up the book clumsily. "And I have the spell right here..." She gulped a breath to continue. "And, you should know that I'm considered a very badass Wiccan."
The beast's oversized, slobbering lips lifted in some kind of a smile. "I almost regret making you go splat," it mused. "You're funny."
"You think I can't do it?" Willow demanded, still trying to look braver than she felt. "You-you're going to regret that...I'm going to banish you now."
The creature snorted. "I haven't been successfully banished since the first Caesar ruled the known world," it sneered.
"Oh...well...we'll just see about that," the Wiccan as she looked down at her book. Her voice lifted, the Latin words sliding from her lips in stumbling syllables. She tried to concentrate, used the herbs in the pot, which were more or less what she needed, and pronounced the words.
While the demon laughed at her.
It was not an auspicious beginning and resulted in a disgustingly predictable ending.
When Willow finished, there was no crack of thunder, no explosion, no hands reached up from the netherworld to drag the Enforcer demon back into hell. What actually happened was nothing. Not a damn thing. The demon still stood there, still calmly laughing at her when she finished.
"Willow, go," Buffy ordered and grabbed her shoulder, pushing her friend out of the way as she stepped in to face the demon. "Save yourself."
Willow stumbled backward, falling over her own feet and hitting one knee to watch in horror as the Slayer somehow ducked a heaving fist then fought back with a flying roundhouse that had absolutely no effect on the beast. She recovered quickly and bounded straight up, the air foil from the creature's swing unbalancing her and nearly sending her sprawling without even making contact.
Buffy didn't have a prayer. Sooner or later, one of the Enforcer demon's fists would make contact and then the Slayer was as good as dead.
Willow pushed to her feet, wildly flipping through the book, hunting for some kind of answer even as her friend was coming closer and closer to Splatdom. It wasn't working she realized with a sick rush. She wasn't going to find it in time.
And then the demon's fist caught Buffy in a glancing blow and slammed her hard into the ground. Badly winded, the girl could barely push up on her hands. She braced an arm across her ribs, fighting for air as she sensed the demon drawing close.
A huge black fist lifted. "Splat," the creature chuckled as it readied to squash the Slayer.
"NO!" Willow screamed. She couldn't let that happen. It simply wasn't an option.
"Yes," the beast disagreed and his fist started to fall.
Willow never knew what she said, what incantation fell from her lips, or even if one did. It might have been that she only screamed mindlessly, the sheer emotion of her voice propelling the spell forward. In any event, even the Enforcer demon froze as a tornado seemed to whip up around the girl, while lightning flared and sparked around her narrow frame, the bright blue-white fingers touching and caressing pale skin.
And then all hell broke loose.
"Oh shit," the Enforcer demon said. They were to be his last words.
Then Buffy rolled onto her stomach, bracing her arm protectively across her face as heat and light exploded over her head.
It didn't last long--timed on a stopwatch, only a few paltry seconds would have been recorded--but it felt like a century for the tiny group gathered outside the long abandoned Yugo dealership. Like a lightning bolt, it flicked out in a millisecond, leaving a scattered after-image imprinted on every remaining eye.
"Willow?" Buffy groaned as she pushed up on her hands and twisted toward where she had last seen her friend.
The wiccan was on her knees, her head tipped forward on her shoulders. "Remind me never to do that again," she groaned with heartfelt sincerity. If there was a single millimeter of her body that didn't hurt, she had no idea what it might be. Even her hair was throbbing with pain.
"My God," Giles exhaled as he scrambled to the girl's side. "You did it. You banished an Enforcer demon." He swallowed hard, shaken by the sheer power required for that sort of an operation.
"Yeah," Buffy groaned and stumbled to her feet. "She did."
"Yes...well..." Giles murmured, visibly shaken. He hooked a finger under Willow's chin, tipping her head up to stare into her dazed eyes. "Are you all right?"
Melvin bounded to his feet, pulling away from Stella as he moved to stare down at the spot where his pursuer had last stood. He knelt, reaching out to trail a broad crimson finger through the dust. "She wasted him," the demon exhaled, then paled to a ghastly shade of pink. "And I kidnapped her," he whimpered. "If I ever catch that blond vamp and his nutso girlfriend, I'm going to do something evil to them...Donny and Marie reruns will probably be involved."
"She actually banished him," Buffy mumbled in astonishment as she staggered over.
The incubus glanced back, golden eyes finding the girl easily in the faint light. "She didn't banish him," he whispered in an awestruck voice.
Buffy frowned, tracking Giles out of the corner of her eye as he checked Willow over. "What do you mean?"
Melvin dug a hand into the ground, picking it up and letting it trail between massive fingers so Buffy could see the pale grey ash. "She destroyed it." Where before his whispers had rattled the rafters, this time Buffy had a hard time hearing him through the shock that had robbed his voice of volume. "She fried an Enforcer Demon...completely eliminated him except for a tiny bit of ash."
"Okay?" Buffy was nonplused. As far as she was concerned that was the best course of action when it came to Enforcer demons.
"Don't you understand?" Melvin exhaled, still staring at the fine ash as it floated from his fingertips.
Buffy shook her head.
"She's special," the demon said. "Really special." He pushed to his feet, clamping a solid hand on Buffy's shoulder as he leaned close, his voice dropping even lower. "I've heard stories, but never seen...never thought I'd see..." He shook his massive head. "There's one Slayer in a generation...but there's only one of her in a millennium...there are prophecies about her...important ones...."
Buffy's brows drew together in a frown and she swallowed hard, sensing the world-shattering import of what he was telling her.
"You protect her," the incubus growled, then shook his head, backing off as Stella bounded their way. He was scared--Buffy realized in a rush--really scared.
"Melvin, we really should be going," she snapped, her eyes glittering with jealous lights as they fell on Buffy.
"Yeah, honey," the incubus agreed, his glitter-gold eyes still on the Slayer. As Stella curved a hand to his upper arm, he let himself be dragged away, though he pulled up short to growl at the Slayer, "Remember what I've told you."
Willow straightened away from Giles' worried ministrations and stepped around Buffy's Watcher as she called out, "Melvin."
The creature turned, pulling his girlfriend up short as he faced the Wiccan, paling ever so slightly. He backed up a nervous step. "I hope there are no hard feelings," he said instantly, then muttered to himself. "Of all the virgins to kidnap--"
"It's okay," Willow said with a small smile. "I know you didn't have a choice...thanks for helping us."
The incubus shrugged. "Well, don't expect it to be a habit or anything like that. Just because I'm in love doesn't mean I'm suddenly one of the good guys." Then he glanced at the ashy remains of his demonic pursuer and was reminded of just how powerful she was. "On the other hand, being a good guy might not be so bad."
"Keep working on it," Willow suggested. "You might just make it."
"That's enough goodbyes, now come on, Melvin," Stella said insistently and pulled sharply on his arm, yanking her demonic boyfriend out into the night.
"See ya around, little Willow," the creature called in his booming voice as he disappeared into the darkness.
A long moment of odd silence followed, broken only by a faint wind. Finally, Buffy limped over to Willow's side.
"You okay, Wicca-Girl?" the battered young woman questioned her friend as she reached up to gently trail a hand along the curve of her jaw.
Willow shrugged. "Not at my best," she admitted shakily, then leaned her forehead against Buffy's shoulder. "But a lot better than I was...not being seven foot tall, horned, or demonically possessed works for me."
"Yes, well...for all of us." Giles inserted himself between them, all but dragging the two girls apart.
"You all okay?" Angel groaned as he staggered up from where he'd been tossed. Drying blood stained his face in streamers from his nose and mouth and a wound in his forehead. "I saw..." he exhaled, then ran a hand through his hair. "I mean the explosion." He stared at Willow. "You did that?"
The girl nodded and shrugged, suddenly embarrassed. "I kinda lost my temper."
Angel just stared at her, while they were all saved from the need to comment by the screech that rang across the night.
"You said we'd get the staff!" Drusilla's high pitched voice berated her partner and the small group turned toward the sound, easily spotting the pair some distance away.
"Actually, dear, that was your plan," Spike tried to defend himself, but it was a pointless exercise.
"And then you said we'd get to kill a Slayer!"
"Well...yes, I was hoping--"
Drusilla struck his chest. "AND NO STAFF AND NO DEAD SLAYER!!!"
"AND YOU PROMISED!!" she hit him again, then turned and stomped off. "I don't ever want to see you again if you can't even keep your promises! I should never have taken you back!!"
"But Dru, honey...."
"Think we should go do something about them?" Buffy questioned.
Angel shook his head. "Nah, let Dru torture Spike for awhile...it's a fitting punishment."
"A tosket, and slashket, Spike's head on a pike on the wall," Drusilla sing-songed with absolutely no regard for meter or rhyming.
"Dammit, Dru, stop hitting! I'll find you another bloody way to walk in sunlight!?" Another slapping sound echoed across the night, followed by Spike's pained yelp. "There's some kind of a ring I've heard about--"
"Just more of your useless promises!" the vampiress screamed in a fury as she stalked off into the night.
The last thing the small group heard of the two was Spike's plaintive voice. "C'mon, Dru, honey..."
"I hope they drown in holy water," Willow muttered grumpily, then turned a plaintive look toward Buffy. "Home now," she whimpered and leaned her forehead against the Slayer's shoulder, exhaustion threatening to send her to her knees. In a very short span of time she'd cast two spells that should have been impossible for someone as inexperienced as she was--or someone far more experienced for that matter. To say the least, it had cost her.
Buffy lifted a hand, stroking soft read hair gently as she turned her head until her cheek was pressed against Willow's temple. "Soon," she promised.
Angel tensed and looked would have looked away, but his eyes locked with Buffy's as they swept past and they both froze in place, though Buffy continued tenderly petting Willow's hair. And in that moment, seeing the look in his former lover's eyes, he knew. Whatever was happening between Buffy and Willow wasn't just youthful experimentation. It was real and they both knew it. He'd almost forgotten Giles was there until the librarian stepped forward and cleared his throat.
"We should be going," he said simply, then herded the two girls toward his car. He paused suddenly and half turned back. "I'm afraid there isn't really room for all four of us," he said apologetically and shrugged. "Not with the books and equipment that also have to be returned to the library."
Angel knew what the other man was going to ask even before he said the words.
"Would you mind walking back?" Giles questioned the vampire coolly.
It was on the tip of Angel's tongue to refuse, but Giles was already herding his charges toward his car. Moments later, he was left alone as Giles small car puttered off into the night. Silently, the vampire stuffed his hands in his pockets. If his heart still beat, it would have been hammering in his chest. He sensed what Giles intended, at some level, he even knew the other man was probably right, but he was heartsick. He dragged a hand through his hair telling himself over and over that it was for the best. Buffy had enough to deal with--as the Slayer, every minor and major demon on the west coast was after her--without adding the Watchers to her enemy list.
Which was why it was such a surprise several minutes later when he found himself running, his long legs pumping hard, driven to try and stop what he sensed was intended for Buffy.
* * * * * *
Angel entered the school library on silent feet, little more than a ghostly shadow, his expression unreadable. The room was unusually quiet; no teenagers giggling in the stacks, no arguments over who got the jelly donuts, and no discussion about which demon their prey might be. A muscle flexed in his jaw as he hunted for some sign of the others, hesitant to call out for reasons he didn't dare give voice to.
So it was a surprise when Giles' disembodied voice spoke, "You're too late. It's already done." A heartbeat later, the librarian stepped from his shadowed office. He looked like Angel felt--hurt, angry, gutpunched.
"You make it sound so simple," the vampire growled, his chest feeling more hollow than it had since that first moment when his soul returned to his body, confused and tormented. "What did you do to them?"
The other man paled slightly and froze; instinctively reacting to his former torturer or reacting to his own guilt? Angel had no way of knowing.
"Well?" the vampire said simply, hands fisting at his sides as he tried to convince himself that the Watcher would never hurt either girl.
Giles didn't have to ask what Angel was referring to. He already knew all too well. "It's done," he growled, hating the feeling burning in his gut. Even knowing he was only trying to keep them safe, he felt like a rapist for the first time in his entire life. He took a long swallow from the brandy glass in his hand. "I made them forget," he snarled, then waved the glass toward the double doors to the library. "They left a few minutes ago...none the wiser about their little...infatuation." He raked a hand through his hair, leaving it in an unaccustomed disarray.
"Infatuation?" Angel barked on a disgusted half laugh. "You do know that the only way to release a chosen from an incubus' spell is with True Love's kiss, don't you." He shook his head disgustedly. "Buffy was the only one down there with Willow and that demon. You do the math."
Giles paled another notch and tossed back the last of the brandy before setting the glass aside. He tossed the crystal in his other hand onto the table next to the glass. He had used it to help hypnotize the two girls, separately, leading them into his office under the pretense of treating their injuries. Then he'd stripped their memories, taken them and reconfigured them, rewriting history, rewriting their own thoughts and feelings. He felt ill. Just touching the crystal he'd betrayed them with made him want to undo it all and beg for forgiveness. He suddenly realized he'd been silent for far too long and looked up to see Angel still watching him with that unreadable look.
"Betrayals are a bitch, aren't they?" the vampire drawled knowingly. The demon in him had taken great joy in doing far worse, while the man had been left with the guilt of the acts when he'd returned to his own body. "Because no matter the reason, it never changes what you've done."
Giles' hands fisted at his sides, his jaw clenching. "It's the only way to save their lives." He spun away, fumbling with his glasses to have something to do with his hands. "The Council would already just as soon see Buffy dead and a new Slayer in her place...one more...malleable to their interests. And Willow?" The Watcher turned, facing Angel, the guilt clearly written on his face. "They've regarded all of you as threats to their control--very likely responsible for their Slayer's defiant streak--and now she's shown a level of mystical power no one could have predicted." Giles shook his head, admitting to himself that he was nearly as shaken by that discovery as he was by what he'd been forced to do. "They'd consider her strong enough to be a threat, strong enough to make those prophecies come true, and they wouldn't hesitate to destroy her. In fact, I suspect they'd consider it the utterly moral choice."
Angel spun away, muscles flexing under the skin, disbelief written on his handsome features. He wasn't a man easily shocked, but Giles was managing to do it. "And these are the good guys," he snarled. His eyes landed on the crystal used to betray the woman he loved.
"If it's any comfort," Giles said softly, trying to comfort himself as well as Angel. "They won't know anything's missing. I replaced the night they...they first kissed with another memory, made them believe that tonight's little...adventure...was nothing but a kidnapping by Spike and Drusilla...and...reinforced their feelings for you and Oz." he didn't add that he'd restructured Willow's memories of the magic she'd done and subtly discouraged her from trying anything like it again. Power of that magnitude was dangerous at best.
Angel wondered if that was supposed to somehow buy him off. If it was, it didn't work. "And what if one of them starts to remember?" he ground out.
"Then I will do it again," the Watcher snapped, his own ragged emotions showing more than he would have wished. "Look, Angel, I don't like this either. Believe me, hypnotizing Buffy into being even more in love with you would not be my ideal choice...but under the circumstances--"
"Don't, Giles, just don't." Angel reached out, picking up the faceted crystal Giles had discarded, dangling it from the delicate gold chain that fastened to the point of the teardrop. He lifted it as he turned, letting it dangle and spin on the chain, staring at the delicate facets with inhuman intensity. He made his decision in an instant. Vampires are mystic creatures with inhuman powers--not so many as most works of fiction might claim, but more than enough to spare. His voice was soft and smoothing, his features inhumanly beautiful.
"Angel," Giles gasped, sensing what the vampire intended, and pulled away as if to escape. Angel caught him, pinning him against the wall with one hand as he twisted the chain to make the crystal spin, the delicate facets spilling tiny splashes of light around the dimly lit room.
"Sometimes, the safest path isn't the best one," Angel whispered. "Buffy and Willow deserve the right to chart their own lives."
Giles tried to fight the hypnotic spell, but the vampire's skill and power were far too overwhelming. In moments he was lost.
* * * * * * *
Rupert Giles leaned back at his desk and massaged the back of his neck tiredly as he noted the glowing bit of sunlight gleaming through the tiny window high on the wall in his office. Thank goodness retrieving Willow from Spike and Drusilla had gone easier than they all expected, and the girl had been returned home unharmed. He didn't know what Buffy would have done without her best friend's caring ear and always practical advice. He peeled off his glasses, polishing them on his shirtsleeve, then suddenly froze, staring off into space as though there was something he should remember, but he couldn't quite bring it to the fore. Finally, he shook his head, throwing off the odd musings that had struck him. He should be happy they'd won a battle for once. He closed the text he'd started researching after Buffy and Willow had left, frowning slightly as it occurred to him that he was more tired than he'd realized. He could barely even remember the night's events. Time to get home and get some rest. The battle with the mayor still lay ahead of them all.
* * * * * *
Angel stood inside the safe protection of his lair. The stench of the succubus still hung heavy on the air, but it was dulled by the thick smell of alcohol, and even moreso by the fact that the vampire was rapidly becoming increasingly inebriated. But the alcohol wouldn't change what had happened or what he'd done. He'd given Buffy and Willow a chance to find their own future without interference. Or had he? He shook his head, uncertain he'd be able to turn down the chance with Buffy that Giles' hypnosis had given him. Finally, he drained the last of the bourbon in the bottle and tossed it aside before stumbling into his bedroom, hoping to escape the demons chasing through his brain.
But he wouldn't escape them. And days later, when Joyce Summers appeared in his home and asked him to leave town, it would almost be a relief to agree with her that he had to go.
* * * * * *
"You okay, Wicca-Girl?" Buffy questioned gently as Willow joined her at her locker.
The redhead nodded and offered a small smile. "Thanks to you." She hitched her backpack a little higher on her shoulder. "Nobody ever had a better friend."
Buffy laughed. "T'is true," she agreed, then slung an arm around Willow's shoulder. "Now, I think it's time we go find that cutie of yours, Oz. I'm betting he wants to find out his main squeeze is okay."
Willow giggled and blushed, her eyes gleaming with adoration at the mere mention of her boyfriend. "I already called him twice this morning," she confided.
"Now, that's the spirit. Unfortunately, I have to wait until tonight to speak to my main cutie." Buffy heaved an intentionally overly dramatic sigh. And if she paused to wonder about the sudden tightness in her stomach at the thought of Willow and Oz, it was only for the briefest moment. After all, Willow was in love with Oz...and she was in love with Angel...and all was right with the world...
Not Even Close to the Real End