The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 15 & 16

Standard Disclaimer

This is fan fiction of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which were created by Joss Whedon. If you like, you can read my thoughts on the ethics and legality of fan fiction.


[Start reading story from beginning]

[Go back to chapters 13 & 14]

Chapter 15

T-minus one day. Early afternoon.

Willow emerged from the big white air-conditioned bus into the dry California heat. A few parking spaces over sat a coal-colored Honda CRV – one of the new models, by the look, running on pure hydrogen. As she approached, the driver’s door opened. Xander.

“Hey you,” she said, throwing an arm around him.

He kissed her forehead. “Hey.”

“Glad you could make it. Are…are you and Cathy okay?”

“You mean, did we have a huge fight?” He smiled. “No. Just a regular-sized one. I have to do this, and I think – as much as she hates it – she understands.”

“I still probably shouldn’t visit anytime soon.”

“I’d stay out of Minnesota completely, just to be safe.”

Dawn and Illyria joined them.

“Hello, hello,” said Willow. “You all came together?”

“We got side-by-side rooms at the Hampton,” said Dawn. “Three deluxe suites. I figured, since we might die tomorrow, and since you were paying, and all…”

“Their shampoo smells like blueberry,” said Xander, sounding impressed.

“Illyria,” said Willow, “how was your room?” Somehow the idea of an Old One in a Hampton luxury suite was amusing to her.

“Acceptable,” said Illyria. “I was interested in the channel devoted to biology.”

“The what now?” said Xander.

“It was necessary to pay extra. Presumably to fund the experiments. I am unsure what hypothesis was being tested, but numerous sets of humans were engaged in copulation.”

Xander managed a straight face. Very seriously, he asked, “How many of these, um, experiments did you watch?”

“I require minimal sleep. I observed approximately eleven hours of video data.”

Willow covered her mouth to hide a smile. Dawn sputtered, but kept from laughing.

“Eleven…hours,” Xander repeated. “That’s, uh. That’s a lot of science.”

She looked around at their reactions. “Why is this amusing?”

“Illyria,” Willow said gently, “that wasn’t biological research. It was pornography. The goal is not to inform, but, um, to arouse.”

Illyria tilted her head. “It was not successful.”

“Moving on!” Xander said quickly. He looked around. “So what is this place, anyway? Some parking lot in the middle of nowhere. I don’t see a building or anything.”

“Nailed it,” said Willow. “Used to be a warehouse, but it burned down. Remote and inconspicuous. We figured it was a better rendezvous point than the college, or anywhere obvious like that. And before you ask, no, we weren’t followed. I’ve got eighteen of my best witches on the bus. They would know.”

“They just going to stay in there?” said Xander.

“Well, they really wanted to come out and stand in the ninety-degree heat,” said Willow, “but I told them, no, you have to wait in your climate-controlled bus. I’m a tyrant like that.”

“Still,” said Dawn, “a bus? It’s a three-hour drive south to Sunnydale. Don’t you have, like, seventeen private jets or something?”

“Only four, thank you very much. And anyway, there’s no good airstrip near the crater. C’mon, a group bus ride will be fun. We’ll sing 99 Bottles of…” She glanced at Xander. “…Water.”

“Hilarious,” he said.

The fourth door swung open, and Giles stepped out.

Dawn looked surprised he had gotten out on his own. He seemed a little surprised himself, or at least disoriented, looking around at the bus, the Honda, the desert, the four of them. He kept making little sounds like “Oh,” and “Hm.”

Dawn shut the door softly behind him. “Rupert, do you want something? Do you want your book? It’s in the car. Do you want it?”

“Oh, um.” His lip jerked briefly into a polite smile as he continued to glance around. “No, I think not. Rather a vulgar text, if I may say. Sparsely indexed, inadequate citations, and a volume of errata unconscionable in a third edition. No, no, I shall, um, I shall ‘hang out’ here,” he made quote marks with his fingers, “for the nonce. Pardon the vernacular.”

“Okay, that sounds good.” Dawn leaned toward the rest of them and said quietly, “Did you notice he answered the question? He’s gotten a little better since London. I think the time outside is helping.”

Illyria looked down the road. “Who are they?”

Three – no, make that four – jet-black, full-sized vans pulled into the parking lot. Eight or ten women emerged in all-black commando gear. They spread out, setting up a perimeter around everyone in the lot, flashing hand signals at each other and muttering into their wrists.

“Huh,” said Xander. “I wonder why they call it Zeta Black?

The area was apparently deemed secure, because Buffy got out of the nearest van and came over to join them.

A tense quiet, now, as Buffy and the group sized each other up. The Slayer herself looked nearly the same as she had in Sri Lanka. No, there was one difference: aside from the stake at her hip, she was unarmed. The Scythe was notably absent.

Nobody said anything.

Finally Dawn – who was leaning against the Honda – pushed herself upright and walked over to face her sister. She crossed her arms and scowled.

“So, I can either hug you, or kick your ass,” she said. “Your choice. But if you go for option two, I’m taking down your Mighty Morphin’ Power Slayers with me.”

A ghost of a smile flickered on Buffy’s lips. She embraced Dawn, and they held each other tight for a long time.

“This doesn’t mean I forgive you,” Dawn said softly.

“Didn’t ask.”

Buffy let go. Turned to her old Watcher.

“Hi Giles,” she said. He glanced at her, frowned uncertainly, looked away. She hugged him too. He hesitated, then patted her back.

“Very good,” he said. “Yes, sorry for your loss. Terrible business. Yes, very sorry.”

Xander went to Buffy next. “Geez, there’s all this peer pressure. If I don’t do it, how will I fit in with the cool kids?”

They hugged.

“I kinda miss the eyepatch,” said Buffy.

“You would,” he said. “It was black.”

Finally Buffy came over and put her arms around Willow. The witch closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of the embrace. She hadn’t believed this would ever happen again.

While they were close, Buffy whispered, “Did you tell them why I agreed to this?”

“I said, because you love them,” Willow whispered back. “Was that a lie?”

They let go of each other. Buffy looked at Illyria.

“I do not require physical contact,” Illyria said.

“Thank God,” Buffy muttered. She looked around at all of them again. Her tone became brisk. “All right. Fresh intel says a new Big Bad is in the game, and he’s been systematically wiping out the competition. We don’t know who it is yet, but he and his forces are likely the only hostiles we have to worry about.”

“Just one guy,” said Xander. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”

Buffy shot him an are-you-kidding look. “This thing, whoever or whatever he is, has knocked off some of the biggest names in the demon world. Pretty sure he won’t be handing out lollipops.” She put her hands on her hips. “Satellites indicate nothing’s at the crater now, but trouble could arrive anytime. I’d like to get there first. Who else are we waiting on? The Slayers from the Council?”

Willow nodded. “And one other.”

“Who?”

Xander looked at Willow in surprise. “You didn’t tell her?”

“Who?” Buffy demanded again.

“Right there.” Willow pointed at the arriving vehicle.

It was – as she happened to know – a 1959 black DeSoto Fireflite, still legal in California through a grandfather clause despite the EPA’s sincerest efforts. As it slowed to a halt, the ancient gasoline engine grumbled, sputtered, and died. The door swung open.

“I almost didn’t believe you,” Dawn told Willow as the car’s driver approached. “But it’s him, isn’t it? It’s really him.”

She dashed over and tackle-hugged him. “SPIKE!”

He spun her around once and set her down, but she didn’t let go. “Easy, Li’l Bit,” he smiled. “These days I do have to breathe, you know. It’s good to see you, too.”

She led him by the hand back to the gathering. He nodded at Xander and Illyria, frowned at Giles, and finally turned to Buffy.

“You promised to kill me if we ever met again,” he said mildly. “Well, I’m free if you are. Not a vampire anymore, but I wager a stake to my heart would still get the job done.”

Buffy’s eyes remained fixed on him, expression unreadable. “Willow,” she said, “why didn’t you tell me?”

Spike answered. “Because then you wouldn’t have come. Isn’t that right?”

“I’ve got nothing to say to you.”

“First time for everything.”

Buffy growled. “How much longer till those other Slayers get here and we can leave?”

It wasn’t till then that Willow noticed the phone at Xander’s ear. “Yes,” he was saying. “I understand.” Pause. “Okay.” Pause. “Okay. Thank you.”

He slipped the phone back in his pocket. His jaw moved side to side wordlessly.

“What is it?” said Willow.

“Something’s happened. The Slayers, um.” He cleared his throat. “All twelve of them are dead.” Everyone started talking at once. Xander raised his voice over the commotion. “The plane they were on exploded midair. They don’t know what happened, but I think sabotage is a safe guess.”

Dawn swore under her breath. Willow shut her eyes tight.

“This thing, this creature,” said Buffy. “He killed my Slayers.”

“Buffy, they weren’t your Slayers,” said Xander.

“They’re all my Slayers,” said Buffy, grim as death. “Come on, boys and girls. Enough talk. Let’s go clobber this son of a bitch.”

Chapter 16

The big white bus took to the highway with two black vans in front, two behind, a sort of honor guard. Buffy rode with her team. Willow and the rest sat at the front of the bus. Her eighteen witches were scattered throughout the back.

For the first hour of the trip, she found herself thinking about them a lot.

They ranged from teenagers to AARP subscribers. Fifteen women, three men. (She still didn’t know what caused the magic-adept gender imbalance.) They came from all over the globe.

Willow had trained them personally. She knew their stories. Had been to some of their weddings. Was godmother to one of their sons. She was proud of each and every one of them.

And tomorrow, probably, some of them would die. Just like those Slayers had died.

The witches had all volunteered, of course, and they were hardly defenseless, but that didn’t make it any easier. One girl was only nineteen. Willow herself had been just sixteen when she started battling the dark forces. She remembered how scared she had been, and how brave she had forced herself to be.

It helped if you had friends.

These days, Willow’s duties kept her from spending much time with her students on a daily basis. They had been in and out of the War Room, of course, and she had included them in her battle planning, but she wasn’t the one drilling them on tactics. She was more like their admiral, really, than their captain.

The role of captain fell to Emily Chae, the twenty-eight-year-old sitting halfway back. A Texan born to Korean parents, Emily was a true magical prodigy, the strongest and smartest of the bunch. She sat alone, looking out the window, her black-haired ponytail dipping down behind her plain white tank top.

What are you thinking, Emily? Do you feel prepared? Nervous?

Afraid I’ll let you down?

“Yoo-hoo, Willow. You having an out-of-body experience over there?” She turned around and saw Xander in the seat in front of her, waving a hand by her face. “That’s not actually a joke. I have no idea what kind of crazy voodoo is spooking up this bus.”

“I’m here. What’s up?”

“Since you’re the resident expert on weirdness – ”

“Thank you.”

“ – we were wondering. Are these souls all going to appear in the same places they died?”

Willow shook her head. “They’ll emerge from one spot, the rip in the Empyrean Veil, which is right where the Hellmouth used to be. About the center of the crater.”

“And they’ll have physical bodies, just like we do?” said Spike.

Willow nodded.

“So,” he went on, “you and your girlfriend can shag?”

Willow sighed. “Yes, Spike. I am going to have hot lesbian sex with my spirit lover, in the sand and the dirt, with everybody watching, while a battle is going on around us.”

Spike turned to Xander. “Can’t tell if she’s joking or not.”

Dawn giggled. She seemed happier since coming back here, Willow thought. Less serious. Less burdened. Giles sat by her side, oblivious, quietly reading a book.

“Okay, Willow, but really,” Dawn pressed, “what are you going to say to her? Do you know?”

Willow had asked herself that question many sleepless nights over the past few weeks. How to greet her, how to say goodbye again. What to ask, what to tell. How to say ‘I love you.’ But somehow, none of the scripts in her mind felt satisfying.

“I’ll know when I see her,” she answered, wondering if it was true.

Xander said, “What about you, Dawnie?”

“I guess I’ll just…” She shrugged. “Hug my mom and tell her I love her. You know? I mean, I’ll be crying like a baby, but that’s how it goes.”

“Hug, ‘I love you,’ cry,” said Xander. “Check, check, check. That’s pretty much my plan for Anya.” He pointed at his eyes. “These will be manly tears, you understand. Distinguished from regular tears by their unique…manliness.”

Willow reached forward and patted Spike’s shoulder. “What about you? Anyone special you want to see?”

“Maybe,” he answered, but refused to say anything more.

“I find your behavior irrational,” said Illyria, sitting at the front right corner of the bus. “All of you.”

“Well, that’s never happened before,” said Willow.

“You experienced great pain when these loved ones died,” said Illyria, “and it cost you much time and energy to recover. Now you seek them out again, which will undo your healing and bring the pain back. It is counterproductive.”

The rest of them looked at each other.

“She’s not exactly wrong,” said Xander.

Willow tried to explain. “It doesn’t undo the healing. It’s a way to reconnect, a kind of – ”

Spike interrupted. “Wesley.”

“Explain,” said Illyria.

“You do have a heart, Blue, all appearances to the contrary. I know because Wesley ripped it in half when he died. Now, what if I told you now there was even a chance to see him once more, even for a second. Are you really telling me you wouldn’t move Earth and Heaven just so he could rip it in half again?”

She tilted her head. Like a cat, Willow thought. Her sapphire eyes darted back and forth, processing.

“I withdraw my objection,” she said.

It was, thought Willow, the sweetest thing she’d ever heard her say.

But Spike’s talk about Wesley dying and hearts ripping turned her mind once more to the coming battle.

“Just wish I knew who we were fighting,” she said. “I wish we had more information. We don’t know anything, except that he’s really strong, evil, and hungry for a hundred thousand human souls.”

“Whatever he is,” said Xander, “he’s probably not in the mood for – ”

“Shh, Xander, quiet for a second.” Dawn stood up and yelled to the whole bus. “Everyone quiet for a second!”

Silence fell. Only the murmuring engine, now, the gentle rhythms of the road.

Dawn put her hand on Giles’ back. “Rupert, can you say that again, please?”

Head bowed, his hand traced a small circle in the air. His voice was faint but still certain, still precise. “Abaddon the Destroyer,” he said. “The Locust-King, the Blinded One, Keeper of the Pit. And lo, he shall come unto thee, master of armies, even unto the ruins of the mouth of hell. And the souls of the righteous shall spring forth, but he shall devour them. And he shall hold the reins of Armageddon. And the veil shall be parted, and ye shall look naked on the countenance of Death. The Book of Auguries, chapter twenty-six.”

Giles faced the window and fell into quiet mutters.

Willow looked at her hands. “I take it back,” she said. “I didn’t actually want more information.”

“Abaddon,” said Spike. “Think I’ve heard of him. One of those real ancient, purebred darkness types. Unpleasant fellow by all accounts.”

“Thanks,” said Xander, “I didn’t get that from ‘Locust-King’ and devouring the souls of the righteous.”

“Rupert,” said Dawn, taking his hand. She got his attention. “What do we do? Is there a way to fight Abaddon?”

Slowly he reached out, as if to touch her face, but his fingers fell. The corner of his lip curled with pity. When he answered, he didn’t sound confused at all.

“And ye shall look naked on the countenance of Death.”

[Go on to chapters 17 & 18]

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