Tag Archives: Fiction

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 17 & 18

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 15 & 16]

Chapter 17

It was late afternoon when they reached the crater. Everyone stared as they went off-road, onto the dry dirt, and circled around the outside.

“I haven’t seen it since the day we left,” said Xander. “It’s so…empty.”

“I haven’t seen it, ever,” said Spike. “Was kind of dead at the time. By the way, you’re welcome, everyone.”

For most of the crater’s circumference, it was a sheer drop to the interior. But in one area on the south side, the slope was gentle enough to drive on. They made their way there, and then to the center of ‘town.’

Buffy’s Slayers did their thing, scouting the area, creating a perimeter. Emily led the witches in casting one defense and trap after another, as Willow observed their magic and made the occasional correction. The main spell was a great invisible dome, covering the whole crater, which nothing evil could penetrate.

In theory.

Finally all preparations were complete, all strategies confirmed, everything as ready as it could be. The sinking sun painted the desert red and gold till their growing shadows faded into the general darkness and the first stars appeared. Willow shivered and put on a jacket.

Murmuring something in Latin, Emily started a fire over bare dirt, then pulled a dozen rocks into a circle around it. She sat on one, and Willow made herself comfortable on the rock beside her. Soon Xander, Spike, Dawn, Giles, and even Illyria were seated around the fire. Giles was pointing at the sky, seemingly drawing constellations with his finger.

“Well, isn’t this a cozy little pre-apocalyptic campfire,” said Dawn.

“Technically, all campfires are pre-apocalyptic,” said Xander. “The world has to end sometime.”

“Sure,” said Dawn, “with that attitude.”

Willow rubbed her hands together. “All of us together again, I’d be pretty disappointed if there wasn’t at least one Armageddon to look forward to.”

Xander opened a large travel bag and fished out marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate. Spike watched him. “You’re seriously making S’mores?”

“Don’t want ‘em, don’t eat ‘em,” said Xander.

“Hey now, let’s not be hasty,” said Spike. “I never said that.”

Xander passed around the snacks and some metal skewers, as well as boxes of apple juice. Soon Willow found herself eating a S’more for the first time in ages.

“Um, Illyria,” she said, “I think your marshmallow’s done.” It was on fire, black as charcoal, oozing white goo.

“This food is revoltingly saccharine and lacks nutrients,” said Illyria. “I enjoy watching it burn.”

“I said that about Cathy’s sweet potatoes one time,” said Xander. “We still have ladle marks on the wall.”

A figure emerged from the shadows.

Buffy.

“New shift is starting,” she said. “I’m going to sleep now so I can be up by six. If anything happens, get me. I’ll be in that tent over there.”

She nodded once, hesitated, turned to go.

“Hey, Buff,” said Xander. “Stay, why don’t you? One way or another, this is all over tomorrow. We might not get another chance like this.”

“Yeah, come on, Buffy,” said Willow. “We have sugar.”

The Slayer looked around doubtfully, then glared at Spike.

“Oh, come off it, Goldilocks,” said Spike. “If it makes you feel any better, I won’t talk directly at you. Promise.”

After a moment, Buffy sat down between Giles and Emily. She declined an offer of marshmallows.

Awkward silence reigned. Willow began to wonder if inviting her had been a good idea. Come on, she thought, somebody say something.

“So. Illyria.” Xander casually unwrapped another chocolate bar. “You a virgin?”

Dawn spewed out her apple juice, either laughing or choking. Spike grinned. “Xander!” cried Willow, though she was smiling too.

“What?” said Xander. “She’s obviously not shy about, um, biology. Can’t a guy ask a simple question?”

They were all – except Giles – looking at her now. All, apparently, a little bit curious. Even Buffy.

Illyria did her head-tilt thing. “It depends on one’s precise definition of the term ‘virgin.’”

Silence.

“So…many…follow-up questions,” said Xander, pretending to gasp for air. “Can’t…choose…just one…”

“Well,” said Dawn, “I have a question for you, Willow.”

“For Gaia’s sake, Dawn,” Willow said. “I didn’t do it with Faith, and I didn’t do it with Illyria. Just because I’m a lesbian, doesn’t mean I’m some kind of sex-crazed lunatic.”

“Okay, one, our bedrooms used to share a wall,” said Dawn, “so I know exactly what kind of lunatic you are. And, two, not the question I was going to ask.”

She leaned toward Willow from across the fire. “It seems like a good night for a story, and like Xander said, this could be our last chance for a lot of things. I was wondering…well, I guess I’ve always wondered. How did you kill the Senior Partners?”

“Oh.” Willow pulled her jacket a little tighter. “That was so long ago. I doubt anyone’s interested.”

Xander’s hand shot up. “Ooh! I am.”

“Yeah, Will,” said Buffy, “all you ever told me was that you did some kind of spell. I could never get you to spill the details.”

“Maybe that’s a clue, children,” Spike said sourly. “Some things you don’t feel like talkin’ about. Why don’t we leave her be?”

Willow sighed. Spike was right – some memories you would rather forget. And yet, in a way, it might be good to finally tell the story.

She looked at Emily, who gave her a small nod.

“Okay,” said Willow. “Here’s what happened.”

Chapter 18

“To do the spell, we needed space, and we needed privacy. One of our students had a big barn on her property, so we gathered in there. I still remember the smell of hay. The air was chilly. Just before 3 AM. The witching hour.

“We didn’t have any spellbooks or artifacts or anything like that. You don’t need the relics so much for the really professional-grade stuff. We only brought one little thing. I’ll get to that in a second.

“I stood in the center. Seven witches, including Emily, in a circle around me. Fourteen witches in a circle around them. Their job was to stabilize the magic, keep it contained and controlled. My job was to do the spell.

“The plan was simple. Find the Senior Partners, and destroy them.

“Finding them was actually the more complicated part. See, their fortress shifted dimensions every forty-eight minutes or so, and of course it was well-hidden from locator spells. We had to find another way.

“So we used Lilah.”

Buffy frowned. “Time out. Lilah Morgan, the Wolfram & Hart lawyer? I thought she died way before this.”

“She was dead, but still under contract. We needed to summon her, which meant we needed something that had belonged to her. We found a copy of Dante’s Inferno she had given Wesley. Quite lovely, in fact. Sixteenth century. Wesley kept it until his death, then it passed to Charles, who gave it to me.”

Illyria listened. Firelight leaped in her eyes.

“So we summoned her,” Willow continued. “Right into the barn with us. A simple binding spell kept her in place. She started talking, and then shouting, but none of us paid any attention. We were deep in the magic by then.

“She had come from the Senior Partners’ home base, so I just followed her summoning line back to its source. And there they were.

“Once we found them, the rest was simple. I destroyed them, and their fortress, with a basic fireball spell.”

Willow sipped her juice.

“That’s it?” said Xander. “What do you mean, a fireball?”

“A ball,” Emily clarified. “Of fire.”

“Must’ve been a big one,” said Dawn.

Willow smiled.

She pointed at the sky. Giles paused his own calculations to watch her.

“You see that big triangle of bright stars?” she said. “That one’s called Altair. Right beside it, a little to the south, you can see a dimmer star by the name of Alshain. It’s a yellow giant. About ten billion years old. Part of the constellation Aquila.”

She lowered her hand.

“It doesn’t exist,” she said. “It’s gone. Alshain was forty-five light-years away, which means that in another…let’s see…twenty-seven years, it will vanish from the sky. Astronomers will go wild trying to figure out what happened, but they’ll never guess the truth. I channeled its entire energy into the home dimension of the Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart.”

They all stared at her in astonishment, except for Illyria, who was unfazed. She said, “The star Gamma Ursae Majoris has certain properties that might have rendered it a more suitable candidate.”

“I thought about that,” said Willow, “but I would’ve felt bad messing up the Big Dipper.”

“Anyway,” she continued, “once the Senior Partners were gone, their contract with Lilah expired. Her body crumbled to dust on the floor. And we all drove home and went to bed.”

“Bloody hell,” muttered Spike.

“So that’s why you…” Xander gestured. “You know.”

Willow nodded. “Apparently, relocating a sun isn’t something the human body is really designed to handle. I burned out as soon as I released the spell. Lucky to have any magic left at all, really.”

Her eyes rested on Dawn once again.

“And that, as they say, is that.”

[Go on to chapters 19 & 20]

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]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 13 & 14

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 11 & 12]

Chapter 13

T-minus four days, and so much left to do. So many questions still unanswered.

Of the eighty-seven demon species on her shortlist, which were most likely to show? How long was the manifestation likely to last? Should her witches concentrate on defense spells, or offense? With three major forces – the witches, the Slayers from the Watchers’ Council, and Zeta Black – none of whom was likely to take orders from the other two, how should they organize themselves?

Willow had been battle planning all morning in the first-floor conference area, which they’d turned into a makeshift War Room. She was on her way back to her office when Margaret, her secretary, stopped her.

“Ma’am, there’s a Bill Morrison from the Peace Village NGO, here to see you.”

“I asked you to clear my calendar.”

“He doesn’t have an appointment. He just showed up.”

She walked away. “Have him talk to Phil, he can handle it. I don’t have time.”

“Ma’am?”

Willow stopped, tried not to sigh too loudly. “Yes, Margaret, what is it?”

“Sorry, it’s just…he flew here from Kazakhstan to see you specifically. He flies back tonight. If you don’t meet with him, I think it could damage relations with Peace Village.”

Willow rubbed her temples. Peace Village was the only major NGO on the ground, caring for refugees, at the Kazakh-Chinese border. They had been courting the Foundation for membership for almost a year now. And Willow did want a presence in Central Asia as part of their long-term strategy.

“All right. Send him in. Twenty minutes, that’s it.”

She was in her chair, trying to massage the stress from her shoulders, when he entered.

“Dr. Rosenberg.”

She stood up. “Please, call me Willow.”

“Right. Bill Morrison, CEO of Peace Village.” Big grin. They shook hands and sat down.

Unusual-looking fellow. Ragged T-shirt and jeans, almost insultingly casual. Mop of chestnut hair. Arms and face browned by the sun. Strangest of all, a silvery pair of aviator sunglasses, which he was evidently planning to leave on.

She pushed aside her misgivings and tiredness, switched herself to business mode. “Pleasure to finally meet you in person, Bill. As you know, the Maclay Foundation has been reviewing your application for some time. We’ve done a great deal of research on your organization, and I have to say, I’m impressed. You’re doing good work out there.”

“Awfully kind of you.”

He had an odd accent, too. Somewhat like a Kazakh native (though he was obviously Caucasian), but mixed with something else.

“To tell you the truth,” he continued, “I’ve done a fair bit of reading on you, Crimson Goddess.”

Willow frowned. Who had he been talking to? “That is a very unofficial nickname, and one I don’t approve of.” She tapped some keys on her desk. “Now, according to your last report – ”

“Why?”

“Sorry?”

“Why don’t you approve of people calling you Crimson Goddess?”

She looked up. “Well, among other things, I’m not a goddess.”

“Oh, no. No, indeed, that’s true.” That insolent grin was back. “As it happens, I’ve met a goddess or two in my time, and they didn’t have a tenth your power.”

“And as you’re no doubt also aware,” she said coolly, “I’ve lost most of my magical capacity. May we get back to business?”

“The burnout, yes, I’ve heard. Very sad. Still, you’ve trained a loyal personal army of the strongest witches in the Western Hemisphere. I imagine that takes the edge off, no?”

Willow was rapidly getting annoyed. “It’s not an army, it’s a college, and they are students. And I am a student, too. We all learn from each other.”

His grin vanished. “Oh, spare me the false modesty, Doctor President Rosenberg. It doesn’t become you. Shall I go down the list?” He sat back and propped one leg on the other. “Inventor of the oscillating quantum transistor, without which the modern computer would not exist. Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Winner of the Turing Prize. And, let’s not forget, celebrated war hero.”

She ground her teeth. “Is there a point to this?”

“Total net worth: officially, $2.1 billion. Unofficially, about five times that.”

Her eyes widened. He had done his research. “Look, I don’t know where you’re getting this information, but – ”

“And shall we talk connections?” He seemed to be enjoying himself. “A direct line to the CEO of Wolfram & Hart. An address book that reads like a Who’s Who of Silicon Valley. Highly placed contacts in the Watchers’ Council. Personal friend of the living incarnation of an Old One. Back-door access to every intelligence database worthy of the name, foreign and domestic, supernatural and otherwise. And, oh yes, nearly forgot. Former college roommate of the Dragon of Zeta Black.”

He furrowed his brow, as if thinking of something for the first time. “Why, little Willow, some might call you the most powerful woman on the planet. What does a person do, I wonder, with that much power?”

She racked her brain, trying to figure out his game. Was he a spy for somebody? No, he wouldn’t reveal himself like this. Blackmail? Surely he wasn’t that stupid.

Willow opted for the direct approach. “Why are you here, Mr. Morrison? It’s obviously not about the Foundation.”

“Ah, yes, the Foundation. Full name: the Tara Maclay Memorial Foundation. A fitting tribute to a truly remarkable young woman. How did she die, by the way?”

She stood up slowly. Voice tight with anger. “I can snap my fingers and have a dozen witches here within seconds.”

“Would those be the same witches who are just students, and not your personal army?”

“Mr. Morrison,” she growled, “I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, but…”

“This must be your famous emotional self-control. Tell me, how’d that work out for you when Tara got shot in the heart?”

“You’re trying to provoke me,” she said slowly. “It’s not going to work. Now, I’ve run out of patience. Whatever you were trying to do, it’s over. So why don’t you fly back to Kazakhstan, or wherever you’re really from, and tell your employer that – ”

He tilted his head. “Bored now.”

Her breath caught. Her heart forgot to beat.

“Who are you?” she whispered.

“I told you,” he said. “My name is Bill Morrison.”

He took off his sunglasses.

“Or, if you want to be proper about it: William.”

She studied his face. The eyes – the cheekbones – even the accent, changed but familiar.

No. It couldn’t be.

“Spike?”

“Well, now.” He put both feet on the ground and clasped his hands together with mock severity. “That is a very unofficial nickname, and one I don’t approve of.”

“But…” Her head was swimming. Trying to think, and failing. “You’re human.”

“Look who’s talking.” He grinned. “Fancy a pint?”

Chapter 14

Two o’clock on a Tuesday. No surprise the Winking Wizard was deserted. They got a mug of Guinness each, plus a bowl of peanuts for Spike, and found a table in the back.

He took a swig of the dark stout and lowered his mug with a satisfied sigh. “Say this for the bloody Irish, they don’t leave a bloke thirsty.”

Now that he’d revealed who he was, Spike settled back into old mannerisms. The Kazakh accent dropped, and he reverted to his familiar English dialect. Willow couldn’t take her eyes off him. Tan skin, unbleached hair, no longer wearing the leather jacket, and subtly but unmistakably older – yet it was him. Definitely him.

Human. That must be why the locator spells had failed. They’d been looking for a vampire.

“Start at the beginning,” said Willow. “I want to hear everything.”

Spike began shelling the peanuts. “Well, I was born William Pratt, in London, 1852. Wrote my first poem when I was eight years old. Something about bifocals. My mother had it framed, but two years later…”

He broke off when he saw her expression. “Well, fine,” he muttered. “Didn’t want to tell it anyhow.”

Tossing a peanut in his mouth, he started over.

“The year was 2018. Wolfram & Hart was under new management, Dracula was a pile of dust, and Buffy’s righteous quest to off my kinsmen was in full swing. Back when she was still working for the Watchers’ Council, mind. Me and Buffy, you know, we’ve always been a little off-again, on-again.”

Understatement of the century. Willow just nodded.

“So we were off again, but still fighting on the same side. And that’s when she captured Drusilla.”

“Oh,” Willow said quietly.

Spike wagged a finger at her. “My reaction precisely. She didn’t even tell me, you know. I got it secondhand. From Xander, of all people. So anyway, naturally I went to see the old gal. She sired me, after all.”

Another peanut.

“After knocking a few heads, I found her tied up in a basement. She had information, you see, or someone thought she did. Doesn’t matter. Buffy had been…hurting her.”

He took a long drink and sighed.

“Dru was out of her gourd, and she’d racked up more victims than the Inquisition,” he said. “She deserved every bit of it, and worse. But I couldn’t…you understand? I couldn’t just leave her like that. She was singing, Willow. Dusty old white dress spattered with her own blood, and she was singing to me.” Spike was shaking his head. “I couldn’t just…I had to…you understand, don’t you?”

Willow nodded, a lump forming in her throat. “Yeah. I understand.”

“I staked her. Buffy found out, of course. She was livid. Said people would die because of the intel they’d lost. We got into it. Finally she told me, if she ever saw me again, I was dead.” He shrugged. “A bloke can tell when he’s not wanted. I left. Last time I ever saw her.”

“Spike. I’m sorry.”

He waved away her concern. “Not the first time she’s said that sort of thing. So I wandered a while, killing time, more or less. And then I heard about this shaman in Kazakhstan who could turn a vampire human. Shanshu Prophecy in action, I suppose. But there was a price. There’s always a price, you know.”

“I’ve heard rumors to that effect.”

“I can’t kill anymore.” He gestured. “Or, well, I can, but then it’s curtains for me too. Sort of the cosmic equivalent of a chip in the head.”

“I don’t understand,” said Willow. “Why did you want to be human?”

“Oh, right. Would you care to be a vampire these days?”

“Uh-huh. That’s part of the reason.” She leaned her chin on her hand. “Why else?”

Spike didn’t answer right away. He rolled a peanut between his thumb and finger, back and forth, back and forth.

“I was tired of killing,” he said. “When you’re a vampire, you always think about it, even if you’re not doing it. You always drink blood, even if it’s not human blood. I was tired of watching my friends die. Tired of war. Ready for peace. That shaman’s price, you know, it was a pretty cheap bargain in the end.”

“That’s why you started that organization,” said Willow. “Something to do besides killing.”

“Mm.” He tossed the peanut back in the bowl. “Even got married.”

“Oh! Spike, congratulations.”

“Yep. That’s what everyone said, right up till the divorce. Lasted all of seven months.”

“What happened?”

“Zoe, she was a lovely girl, but…” Spike shrugged. “She wasn’t her.”

“Her who?” He gave her a look. “Ohhh. I see. Her.”

“Never got married, did you, Red?”

Willow sipped her beer. “No.”

“Anybody long-term? Serious? Special?”

Kind of a personal question, but after all he had told her, she’d allow it. “I’ve been with a number of women. All special in their own way. But if you mean, anyone like Tara? Not really, no.”

“And why would that be, do you suppose?”

She thought it over. She wanted to give him a good answer. It seemed important somehow.

“I don’t believe in soulmates,” she said. “But if I did, then Tara was mine.”

“Figured as much.” He tilted his mug in her direction. “So now here we are, thirty years later. And if anything happens to Tara Maclay – again – what would the most powerful woman on Earth decide to do next?”

Willow studied a little scratch in the surface of the table. “I won’t turn to the Dark Side again, if that’s what you’re asking. I’ve learned that lesson very well, thank you.”

“Not worried about your darkness anymore, Red.” He gave her a sad smile.  “I’m worried about your light.”

[Go on to chapters 15 & 16]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 11 & 12

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 9 & 10]

Chapter 11

A young, dark-skinned woman in full-body camo gear was escorting Willow on a path through the Sri Lankan jungle. The woman refused to give her name, so Willow was mentally calling her Alice. This ‘Alice’ carried a duffel bag in one hand and a strange-looking weapon in the other.

“What is that thing, anyway?” said Willow. “Is it a spear or a gun? It kinda looks like both.”

Alice ignored her.

Soon they came to a clearing. A few rugged, dark green tents. A handful of other women in camo moving around. Alice approached the nearest and called out, “Ma’am!”

This new woman – short blond hair, blue eyes, improbably muscular – looked like she’d stepped out of an ad for some kind of dietary supplement. We’ll call you Olga, Willow decided.

“Ma’am, I found this civilian out walking in the jungle. She…claims…that she got lost from a tour group.” Alice’s sour expression showed her opinion of that story. “I’ve searched her, she’s clean. And I confiscated this.” She lifted the duffel bag.

“What’s in it?”

“I was…” Alice cleared her throat. “Unable to open it.”

“You were unable to open a duffel bag.” Olga crossed her arms. “Do you require zipper-related training, Ensign?”

“No, ma’am,” Alice said stiffly. “I believe the bag is enchanted, ma’am.”

“So we might have a witch on our hands.” Olga studied Willow, taking in her khaki jacket and pants, fuchsia boots, and smiley-face fishing hat. “Although she doesn’t really look like one.”

“Hey!” said Willow. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Frankly, she was shocked that neither of them recognized her. The lost tourist routine had just been a joke, but Alice had taken her seriously. How famous did a witch have to be?

“Who are you?” demanded Olga. “What are you doing here? What’s in the bag?”

“My name is Willow Rosenberg.” She searched their faces for a sign of recognition. Blank. “Seriously? What do they teach you people in school?”

“Ms. Rosenberg,” said Olga, “this is a serious matter. You’ve walked into a Sri Lankan government military base. Seeing as we’re eighteen miles from the nearest village, I very much doubt you were part of a tour group. So why don’t you cut the crap, save us all some time, and tell me the truth.”

“Gladly,” said Willow. “The truth is, your cover story is even worse than mine. A Sri Lankan military base? Made up entirely of female soldiers? With those accents? Please.”

Olga scowled. “We value diversity.”

“Oh. And here I thought you were Zeta Black, the most elite special ops team in the world, all Slayers, commanded by one Buffy Summers.” She lifted a hand. “About yea tall? Blond hair, sorta grumpy? I really need to talk to her, if you don’t mind.”

Olga and Alice exchanged grim looks. “Nobody talks to the Dragon,” said Olga.

“The Dragon?” Willow giggled. “Do you all have code names? Are you two, like, Hobbit and Chupacabra?”

Growling, Olga backhanded her.

Willow licked blood from her lip and rubbed her jaw. Her grin turned wolfish, insolent. “Hey, that hurt,” she said. “You should really use your words to resolve conflict.”

“What’s in the bag?” Olga shouted.

“A rare artifact. It’s called Nun’yah.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Well, it’s Nun’yah business.” Willow laughed harshly at her own joke. “Do…do you get it? It’s like I’m saying ‘None of your…’”

Olga raised her weapon, preparing to strike.

“Lieutenant!” someone shouted.

They all turned toward the new voice.

“Stand down,” said Buffy. “She’s a friend.”

Chapter 12

The tent was big enough for a round plastic table, half a dozen folding chairs, a chest bristling with scary-looking weapons, and a sleeping bag that lay right on the bare dirt. Willow took off her hat and made herself comfortable on one of the chairs.

Buffy didn’t sit down. “Well,” she said. “If you were anyone else, I’d ask how you found me.”

She had the uber-commando look down to a science. Black everything: boots, pants, knee guards, fingerless gloves, jacket, all black. Willow suppressed a small grin – apparently, at this level of badass, camo wasn’t required. Blond hair short and practical. The old scar, a thin white slash down between her eyes to the corner of her lips.

Like a jungle cat sizing up her prey.

“Guess I should’ve called ahead,” Willow said. “The welcome committee was fresh out of hospitality.”

“I’m not surprised. Olga has an impressive resume, but charm isn’t on it.”

“Olga? Her name is actually Olga?” Willow burst out laughing, saw Buffy’s expression, cleared her throat discreetly. “Never mind. Long story.”

Still Buffy was studying her, as if surveying enemy terrain. “Your lip is bleeding. Why didn’t you defend yourself?”

Willow ran her tongue over it and tasted blood again. “You know my magic is weaker now.”

“I also know that in twelfth grade, you killed a vampire with a No. 2 pencil, so don’t give me that ‘poor helpless Willow’ crap. You let her do that. Why?”

“Guess I wanted to see just how much she was willing to hurt an unarmed civilian.”

Buffy snorted. “We both know you’re neither of those things.” She fingered the long wooden stake holstered at her hip, as if to show that she had her weapons, too. The hilt of a sword peeked over her left shoulder. Black, of course.

Willow leaned back, trying to get comfortable in the metal folding chair. “So how long’s it been since your last vamp kill?”

“About six months. But we’re getting close here. We got a positive read on the scanners just this morning. I bet we take him in the next day or two.” Calm as a weather report. Overcast skies, with a 60% chance of impalement.

“Uh-huh. And no offense, but, um…two dozen Slayers with high-tech weapons? Isn’t that a little bit overkill for one vampire?”

“There used to be millions of vampires. We estimate there are only a dozen or so left in the world, and they didn’t survive this long on their good looks. These things are either very clever or very well-connected. Often both.”

Buffy smiled, a lean, grim smile without warmth. “Actually, it’s funny. You remember Harmony Kendall? We finally got her a couple years ago. Can’t believe she made it that long. Found her shivering in a hole at the edge of the Kalahari Desert, covered in rags, so filthy I almost didn’t recognize her. Probably hadn’t fed in a month. So much for Little Miss Prada.”

Despite the heat, Willow felt cold and a little sick. “That’s funny to you, huh?”

Buffy’s smile slipped. “Something you want to say?”

“We went to school with her, Buffy.”

“No, we went to school with a young woman who was murdered by a vampire on Graduation Day. The thing my team killed was a monster. That’s sort of why we hunt them, remember?” She crossed her arms. “Or maybe you don’t remember. I guess your warrior days are pretty much behind you, aren’t they?”

Willow collected herself. Didn’t take the bait. “I’m not here to criticize you. I just worry about you sometimes. You’re the strongest woman I know, you can do anything you want, and here you are crawling into caves, chasing a handful of starving vampires. I mean, God, Buffy, it’s been twenty years. Almost half your life on this. When is it over? Are they still that much of a threat?”

“Yes!” Buffy shouted, slamming her fist in her palm. “You don’t get it, do you? It only takes one, Willow. Exponential growth – you’re the math whiz, you have to see it. We miss just one vampire, the whole goddamn thing starts over again. You, the Watchers’ Council, nobody understands. It only. Takes. One.”

The Slayer took a couple deep breaths, eyes shut.

“Enough chit-chat,” said Buffy. “You want me to come to Sunnydale, right?”

“That’s right.”

“No.” She scratched her cheek. “Anything else?”

Willow leaned forward, hands together. “You know your mother will be there.”

“I said goodbye to my mother a long time ago, which, frankly, is none of your business.”

“None of my business. Right. I guess I wasn’t there, crying beside you, at her funeral.”

Buffy didn’t answer.

“Dawn will be there too. Still alive, last I checked.”

No answer.

“I suppose, no point in mentioning that your mom’s immortal soul could be destroyed forever. You abandoning her, and your friends, I guess that’s none of my business either.”

Buffy growled and flipped the table. It clattered against some chairs and came to rest on the dirt.

Willow remained where she sat. “Temper.”

“This isn’t about my mother, or me, or Dawn,” Buffy seethed. “Just like always, it’s all about Willow. You want to see Tara. That’s what this is, right? One last kiss? Sorry I almost deep-fried the planet? Love you, sweetie. Be with you soon, sweetie. Happy tears. Right?”

Willow measured her words quietly. “The thought had occurred to me.”

“So you organize your mission, and I’m supposed to feel guilty if I don’t tag along.” Buffy was yelling at her now. “Well, guess what? I’m on a mission of my own. Have been for some time, as a matter of fact. While you and Xander and Dawn are living your quiet, comfortable lives, I’m still out here, finishing the mission. You know, the one we agreed on? Together? Because, last time I checked, it wasn’t actually finished. So don’t you tell me about abandoning my friends!”

Willow stood up. Don’t get angry, she reminded herself. Keep your voice quiet. With an effort, she managed. “This mission you’re talking about. Is it the same one where I burned out most of my power, killing the Senior Partners for you? The one where you’re commanding a team of Slayers that I created by myself? This is the mission where I didn’t contribute? Just want to clarify.”

They stared each other down.

“Are we done here?” said Buffy.

“No. You’re coming to Sunnydale. And you know why?”

“Oh, this ought to be good.”

“Because if you do, you can have what’s in the bag.”

Buffy glanced at the duffel bag. “Let me guess. A year’s supply of guilt, and a coupon for a free lecture?”

“Not exactly.”

Willow knelt, opened the bag, pulled apart the packing foam. She took the item inside and held it up for Buffy to see.

The sarcasm died on Buffy’s lips. Her mouth fell open. Her eyes, jaded and calculating, softened into awe. Willow imagined that Gentile kids on Christmas morning looked pretty much the way Buffy looked right now.

It was the Scythe, of course. Not a very good name – it was closer to an axe. At one end of the handle, a gleaming, wickedly curved, red and silver blade. At the other end, a wooden stake, enchanted so as never to break or rot. An instrument of death.

What talons were to an eagle, what claws were to a tiger, that’s what the Scythe was to Buffy.

Not a Slayer’s weapon. The Slayer’s weapon.

“How?” said Buffy.

“After that greenmarrow demon stole it in ’06, it bounced around the black market for a few years. Finally ended up at Wolfram & Hart.”

Buffy tore her eyes off the Scythe and looked at Willow in surprise. “And you stole it?”

“Didn’t have to. I talked to Charles and he gave it away, free of charge.”

“You’re kidding. He would never…” For the second time in sixty seconds, Buffy was stunned. “The favor you had, for killing the Senior Partners. You called it in.”

“No big. They didn’t have anything else I wanted anyway.” Willow thought it over. “Except for, like, eight thousand other things.”

She held it out to Buffy, who took it after a moment’s hesitation. Buffy closed her eyes and exhaled as the power coursed into her. She moved slowly through half a dozen fighting forms. Again, but faster. And again, so quick now that the Scythe flickered and flashed around her like a scarlet ghost.

Willow smiled. “Should I leave you two alone?”

Eyes open. Still drinking in her new toy. “You’ll give this to me if I go to Sunnydale? Help you fight off the monsters?”

“You and the rest of Zeta Black. Yes.”

“And what happens if I ignore you and keep it anyway?”

Willow’s smile never faltered, but her answer was delicate as a black widow’s web.

“Try it and see.”

After a long moment, Buffy threw back her head and laughed.

[Go on to chapters 13 & 14]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 9 & 10

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 7 & 8]

Chapter 9

Willow was in her comfy clothes, sitting on the couch at home, a bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips open beside her. She crunched one as she waited. The viewscreen in front of her read:

Charles Gunn

CEO, Wolfram & Hart, Worldwide

Los Angeles, California

Connecting…

A minute later he appeared, breaking into a wide grin. “Willow!”

He sat behind a huge desk with absolutely nothing on it, wearing a suit that must’ve cost more than a small car. Still sporting the goatee, still a cue ball on top.

Well, you know. If a cue ball were black.

“Charles.” She smiled. “How are things in Lawyer Land?”

“Oh, it pays the bills. And it pays for a few additional houses, on which to pay the bills.” He laughed. “No, but it’s good. You realize that next week is the 10-year anniversary of the Universal Demon Common Code?”

“Wow,” said Willow, trying to remember what that was. “The UDCC.”

“For the first time ever, a legal framework governing every demon on Earth. No more vigilantes. We arrest, try in court, sentence if guilty.” He shrugged. “Still a few kinks to work out, like…most demons don’t accept our authority. But we’re getting there.”

“That’s great! Really great.”

He chuckled again. “And it’s putting you to sleep right in front of me. Fair enough. What’s on your mind, Miss Rosenberg?”

Pleasantries over. He wouldn’t be smiling much longer. “I assume you’ve heard about Sunnydale?”

Charles nodded. “The entire underworld’s buzzing with the news. It’s like demon Christmas. Which, I guess, would be pretty weird. Are you going?”

“Yes.”

“I figured. Be careful. I know you can take care of yourself, but there are some seriously big-time players gearing up for a piece of this action. Things so dark they make Freddy Krueger look like Edward Scissorhands. I haven’t got names yet, but it won’t be pretty.”

“As expected.” Assume the worst, and you’re never disappointed. “I’ll have my witches there, plus Illyria. And the Council is sending a team of Slayers.”

“That’s a good start. But I’d bring a little more firepower, if I were you.”

“Actually, that’s what I want to talk about…”

“Oh no.” He waved a hand. “Stop you right there. I can’t give you any special forces. This is a battle, not a police action. Wolfram & Hart agents are spread too thin as it is.”

“Special forces weren’t quite what I had in mind.” She paused, feeling rather dramatic. “I want you to give me Vault Forty-Seven.”

“Vault Forty-Seven,” he repeated dully.

“Well, not so much the vault, as what’s inside.”

“That’s, um.” He stroked his goatee. “That’s some pretty heavy artillery, Willow. What are you going to do with it?”

“Exactly what you think.”

“Yeah.” Charles leaned forward. “Sorry, but um, I have to say no on this one. I’d like to help, and Lord knows I’d love a front-row seat to whatever kind of crazy you’re planning. But if we start giving power to vigilantes, it could seriously damage the firm’s reputation.”

Willow smiled. “I’m sure you have ways of handling PR situations.”

“Yeah, we do. Mostly by preventing them.” He shook his head. “Sorry. My answer’s final.”

“No, it’s not,” said Willow. “You’re going to give me what I want.”

Silent for a moment. More curious than defiant. “And why is that, exactly?”

“Because I’m calling in my favor.”

He stared at her.

“Your favor,” he said. “The one you’ve been sitting on for almost two decades?”

“I don’t recall it having an expiration date,” she said mildly.

“No, no, I didn’t mean that. It’s just…” He laughed again, mostly from surprise. “This is what you’re using it on? You can ask anything you want from the CEO of an interdimensional multi-trillion-dollar corporation, and this is it? Don’t get me wrong, it’ll get the job done. I just always assumed you’d go for something…bigger.”

Willow smiled.

“As far as I’m concerned,” she said, “it doesn’t get any bigger than this.”

Chapter 10

That night found Willow rummaging through old boxes and seldom-opened drawers. She finally found what she wanted in a corner of the attic, nestled under a stack of National Geographics from 2003.

She carried her prize down retractable wooden stairs, into a guest bedroom, where she sat cross-legged on the floor to examine it.

The Sunnydale High ’99 Yearbook.

A red cover with odd-looking art: three faces staring at the sun. (You could go blind. Was that what they wanted to teach impressionable teens?) At the bottom, in big, serious letters: ‘The Future Is Ours!’

She flipped through it, searching for one picture after another.

Willow Rosenberg. Rockin’ the overalls, of course. Not so much a smile as a look that said ‘I’m having intestinal cramps.’

Alexander Harris. A grin that could only be translated as ‘Hey, ladies.’ She was probably the only girl in school who’d ever found it sexy.

Daniel Osbourne. Having a staring contest with the camera, and winning. Oz lived in Tibet now. Last she heard, a grandfather, and owner of a surprising number of yaks.

Cordelia Chase. Prettier than you, and knew it. Who would ever have thought, all these years later, she would actually miss Cordelia?

And finally…

Buffy Summers. Warm, honest smile. Glowing with optimism. Not a child, not innocent, even back then. But still, mostly, herself.

Going back, seeing her this way – it could break your heart.

Willow closed her eyes. When had Buffy changed? When had the darkness crept in?

You could point to any number of traumas, of course. Loss of her mother. Death and harrowing resurrection. Annihilation of her hometown.

A lot of people told Willow the real change had happened during the war. Connor being turned to a vampire, he and Angel staking each other’s hearts at the same moment. The death of Andrew, and of so many Slayers.

The day that Diabo’s vampire thugs traveled all the way north to Colorado, took Dawn hostage, and hacked off part of her leg as a warning to Buffy.

It was supposed to intimidate her.

He obviously didn’t know Buffy.

Spike told Willow later, he had never seen a human being so angry. Hadn’t understood, really, what anger was capable of. That night, he learned. No screaming, no swearing. No throwing things around. Buffy was far beyond those minor tantrums. It was almost gentle, this rage, in its exquisite sharpness, its single-minded unity of purpose. It was a physical force, irresistible and serene.

Spike had never seen it before. But Willow had. She had felt it, breathed it, tasted it. Carried a piece of it, still, in her heart. Willow and Buffy, they understood each other fine.

A team of commandos rescued Dawn. Later that night, Buffy and Willow stormed the Palace, just the two of them. Witch in the sky, Slayer on the ground, they split the world between them.

Diabo was dead within forty-five minutes. They wrapped up the rest of the war in a few weeks.

That was when she changed, people said. And maybe it was true.

But for Willow, the real change had come three months later, during a rare sunny day in London. They were on vacation – sitting together on lawn chairs in St. James’s Park, eating overpriced watercress sandwiches, watching pelicans on the lake.

She could still remember the exact words that had shifted the course of their lives.

“Will,” said Buffy, “I’ve been thinking.”

“Not allowed,” Willow said brightly. “This is relaxing time only. If I see you with even a single idea, I’ll drag you to the stockades.”

Buffy didn’t answer, and Willow realized they had drifted into something serious. She put down her sandwich, worried. “What is it?”

“I’ve been thinking,” said Buffy. “I want to kill the vampires.”

Willow frowned. “As opposed to what you’ve been doing for the past twenty years, chasing rainbows and cuddling puppies?”

“No,” said Buffy, still looking at the water birds. “I mean, I want to kill them all. I want to eradicate their species. I want to wipe them off the planet.”

“Oh.” Willow wasn’t sure what to say.

“I’m tired, Will. I’m tired of fighting one battle after another, when nothing changes. I’m tired of playing hero like it’s some kind of game. I want to finish this. Forever.”

Willow reached for Buffy’s hand, but found her fingers tight, unresponsive. She pulled back, really concerned. “Well, um. What did you have in mind?”

“Start with their power sources.” She was getting warmed up now, constructing her idea aloud. “Where do vampires draw their strength? The Hellmouths. So let’s destroy them. There are thirteen in the world. I say that’s one down, twelve to go.”

“Wow. Uh, that’s a pretty tall order. I mean, theoretically it’s possible, but…”

“Next. Their allies. Who are the biggest vampire sponsors anywhere? The Senior Partners, Wolfram & Hart.”

Willow was still playing catchup. “You want to stop them from…”

“I want to kill them.”

“Okay, Buffy, listen. Listen to me. Please?” She tugged at her sleeve and finally got the Slayer’s attention. “I know you’re hurting. I can’t imagine how much. But this stuff you’re talking about? We’re kind of in crazy territory here. The Senior Partners are older than the universe. Their entire dimension is a fortress. There are whole categories of magic that only exist because they invented them. Think about what you’re saying.”

She wondered if that would make her mad. But Buffy looked back to the water, undisturbed.

“I have thought about it,” Buffy said. “A lot. And I think it’s time we stop selling ourselves short. With one Slayer, one witch, and some friends, we killed a god. Remember? Now we have dozens of witches, hundreds of Slayers, all the resources of the Watchers’ Council, mountains of cash. And you. You’re ten times stronger than you were back then. A hundred times. Whatever we want to do, let’s do it.”

Willow kept silent. She could see her friend had rehearsed this talk, needed to get it out.

“And then we come for the vampires.” Buffy stood up, paced over the concrete path, animated. “We step up the game. No more of this medieval weapons crap. We think different. We stop treating it like a series of fights, and start treating it like what it is. Genocide.”

Willow’s throat went cold. “Yeah, when you’re selling your plan to a Jewish girl, maybe don’t bill it as a genocide? Not really one of our favorite words.”

“This is different. They’re not people, Will! I didn’t hear you complaining about the first few thousand I slaughtered.”

That was the first real flash of anger, but it faded at once.

“I’m just saying,” Buffy continued, “we need to get efficient. Industrial. Let’s figure out the tiniest amount of wood that qualifies as a stake, encase it in a bullet. Let’s explore the limits of holy water. Can you spray it as steam? Can a priest bless a rainstorm, or the moisture in the air? Let’s do it. And sunlight. I want to shine it in the dark. I want to synthesize it, weaponize it. We’ll find a way.”

She was really getting into it, using her hands, sculpting invisible futures in the air.

“And we need to go further. Long-range vampire detectors. Chemicals that toxify human blood, without hurting humans – we can put them in the water supply. Gases that stop vampires metabolizing blood – we can pump them in the air. We just need to do the research.”

Buffy sat down again, hands clenched tight, a fresh intensity in her eyes. “And when we’re ready, we sweep the cities. Big ones first. We go block by block. Spread out from there. Sterilize the major infections. After that, the rest is just cleanup.”

She was nodding.

“We can do this, Will. We can make it happen. I know I can get Giles onboard. But I’m coming to you first. I can’t do it without you.”

Buffy leaned toward her urgently.

“What do you say?”

Willow rested her head in her hands, thinking. Trying to find a path of logic through the doubts and the worries. Trying to figure out what, exactly, bothered her about this scheme.

It wasn’t the epic, near-insane difficulty of the plan; she had followed Buffy into hell before, and she would again. Nor was it the ruthless, massive, calculated violence; though that made her uncomfortable, she knew Buffy was basically right. Vampires were monsters, not people, and they ought to be exterminated.

What bothered her was Buffy herself. The hunger in her voice. The grim, predatory set of her jaw.

Willow didn’t care what this would do to the vampires. She cared what it would do to her friend.

“Buffy,” she said at last. “You know how this ended for Captain Ahab, right?”

Buffy’s smile was colder than Siberian tundra.

“Ahab hunted his whale in a wooden ship,” she said. “Let’s try it in an aircraft carrier.”

They talked about it for three more weeks after that. But in the end, Willow said yes.

And now she was sitting on the floor, looking in a yearbook at a girl who no longer existed.

What would become of the woman who’d taken her place?

What would become of them both?

[Go on to chapters 11 & 12]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 7 & 8

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 5 & 6]

Chapter 7

Dawn led Willow briskly through the white, antiseptic halls of the E. Johnstone Psychiatric Hospital.

Dawn’s navy skirt left her lower legs bare, and Willow couldn’t help but glance at her right calf, which had a slight polymer sheen under the glare of the LED bulbs. You might not even notice if you weren’t looking for it. And that was a ten-year-old model – the new prosthetics today were indistinguishable from the real thing.

Willow had asked her once about upgrading, but Dawn said she didn’t care if people noticed. Why should she? If it made someone uncomfortable, that was their problem.

In some ways, she hadn’t changed at all.

“You haven’t seen the room since they remodeled, have you?” Dawn was saying. “It’s a lot better. I think he’s happier now.”

Willow tapped her wrist. The time blinked there briefly. “It’s almost ten. Will he still be awake?”

“Should be. He only sleeps six hours a night. You know how active he is.”

“How often do you visit?”

“Two or three times a week, if I can.”

They stopped at a door that read:

Rupert E. Giles

Rm 2389

Dawn touched the doorknob, looked back to Willow. “Sometimes he knows me. Usually not. If he isn’t, you know, there, don’t push him too hard. It just gets him mad, or scared.”

Willow nodded, a queasy feeling growing in her stomach.

They went inside.

The room was huge, nearly as big as Dawn’s entire flat. Left and right walls fitted with floor-to-ceiling oak shelves, every inch crammed with books. Personal area on the far side, bed and a curtain, bathroom door half-open, shoes and clothes lying around.

In the middle of it all, four big tables, each with a pile of books.

Not a hospital room. A library.

“It’s incredible,” Willow murmured. “Can’t believe how much they expanded. This must have cost a fortune.” She gave Dawn a sharp look. “You’re not paying for any of this yourself, are you? ‘Cause you know I can…”

“Everything courtesy of the Watchers’ Council,” said Dawn, with a hint of pride. “Thank God, for all the struggles we’ve had, we’ve never lacked for money.”

Willow set her eyes on the figure at the far right table. With a deep breath, she went to him, Dawn following behind.

In many ways, he looked just as he had in high school, all those years ago. Slightly rumpled gray tweed suit. Old-style glasses, probably non-corrective, as he’d long since gotten laser surgery. Clean-shaven. Standing over an open book, left hand marking his place, taking notes with the right. Yes, he was more wrinkled now, hunched over a bit, hair thinning and gray. But it was still him. Still Giles.

Except…

Except he hadn’t looked up when they approached. And something…there was no other way to say it. Something was missing in his eyes.

“Yes,” he muttered to himself. “Yes, these markings certainly indicate the artifact was created by the Patoreth clan. But the grammar…” He squinted at the book, flipped a page forward, back again. “The system of verb declension is unprecedented for this region.” Now he was scribbling in the notebook. “If I could reproduce…”

He went on.

“Try calling him Rupert,” Dawn whispered. “He seems to respond better to that.”

Willow cleared her throat. “Hello, Rupert. We came to visit you.” No answer. “Do you know who I am?”

Giles halted suddenly, looked her up and down. “Of course,” he said. “You’re Willow.”

She and Dawn exchanged grins.

“Willow Rosenberg,” he continued, returning to his book. “Yes, I’ve read all about you. Very famous. Instrumental in the human victory at the Battle of the Palace, Rio de Janeiro. The eighth of April, in the year of Our Lord 2015. Arguably the turning point in the Great Vampire War.”

Willow’s smile slipped.

He was pacing, now, wagging his finger as if lecturing. “The war began, of course, with the vampire Gabriel o Diabo. Diabo’s key insight was to transform the siring of new vampires from a haphazard personal affair into a systematic and disciplined method for building a vampiric army. At the height of his power, he controlled Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and parts of Argentina and Peru.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Willow said gently. “Rupert, I’m here with you right now. Willow Rosenberg is here. I want to talk to you. Can we do that, Rupert?”

He gazed up at the ceiling a moment, lost in thought, then went to the shelves as if hunting for another book.

Willow glanced at Dawn again, then back to him. “Giles,” she tried.

“Rupert Giles,” he said, finger still moving over the spines of books. “A controversial figure. President of the Watchers’ Council for seventeen years. Sometimes criticized for allocating immense resources to certain projects deemed…”

Always the same tone. Dry, but somehow lively, in an academic sort of way.

She kept pace with him. “What about Joyce Summers? Do you know her?”

He switched gears seamlessly. “Mother of Buffy Anne Summers, widely considered the most prolific and effective Slayer of the last century. Joyce’s influence on the Slayer during her formative years cannot be overstated. Her unexpected death is frequently cited as a key event in the early…”

Willow listened. Be patient, she thought. Give it time. But inside she felt terribly hollow.

“Jenny,” she said.

“The Djinni are a race of quasi-spiritual entities, originating in the Arabian Peninsula, most known for…”

“Jenny Calendar.”

The finger stopped. The lecture fell silent.

From behind, she watched him lift his head.

“What did you say?”

Heart beating quicker, Willow kept her voice steady. “Jenny Calendar. Do you know who she is?”

He turned around. Looked at her – actually saw her – for the first time.

Softly. “Yes.”

“Would you like to see Jenny again?”

He studied her. Searching.

Barely a whisper. “Yes.”

“Would you like to travel to Sunnydale and see Jenny Calendar again?”

Slowly, he took off his glasses, wiped them, put them back on.

“I believe I should like that very much indeed.”

“Okay.” Willow was nodding, over and over. Couldn’t stop. “Okay, Giles. We’ll go and see Jenny again. Okay.”

Giles frowned.

“Now where was I? I’ve lost my train of thought.”

Back to the bookshelves.

“Yes, yes. The Compendium of Elders. If I could locate the second volume, I could begin translating the key passage in the Zaddion Codex, which may shed some light on this grammar issue…”

Willow looked at Dawn and saw that her cheeks were wet with tears.

“Dawnie,” she said, then realized for the first time that she was crying too.

Chapter 8

Back in the flat now, almost midnight. They were leaning against counters in the dark kitchen. The only light was the moon gleaming on the Thames. Two empty wine glasses stood by the sink.

“Any progress on the research?” Willow said. “Any closer to finding him a cure?”

Dawn snorted. “You’d really think so, wouldn’t you? The largest pharmaceutical in the world, with an entire department working on it. But no. Not really.”

As expected. Willow blinked, tired but not yet ready to sleep. “Anything we can do to speed them along?”

“The manager’s requested money to build a whole new lab, hire dozens more researchers. I told her I’d check with your Foundation, but it’s so expensive, I figured…”

“No. If it goes to the Foundation, it’ll be tied up in red tape for months. I’ll pay for it myself.”

The least she could do.

“Uh, Willow.” Dawn slipped off her shoes and kicked them away. “I realize you’re rich and all, but no offense, we’re talking upwards of six hundred fifty million – ”

“I said, I’ll pay for it.”

“Wow,” said Dawn. “Okay then.” She curled her toes, watched her feet. “But you still won’t consider the Almada spell?”

Willow shook her head, not meeting Dawn’s eyes.

“It would cure him, Willow.”

“You remember what Giles said. No magical – ”

“Yeah, I remember. No magical cures to natural ailments. Crosses a line, goes against the order of things, blah blah blah. I won’t start the old argument again. I just…I miss him so much, you know?”

Willow crossed her arms, hugging herself. “Yeah. I know.”

For a while they stood together silent in the dark.

“Willow, do you remember Faith’s funeral?”

“Of course.” After all the demons, the chaos, the war, killed by a motorcycle crash in her early forties. “How could I forget? The first funeral in history with an open bar.”

“And a guitar solo.” Dawn was smiling.

“People always say funerals should be a celebration of life. But only Faith had the guts to actually do it.”

“And Xander was all twitchy because he had just gotten sober, and everyone was drinking. But he insisted on being there.”

Willow followed Dawn’s example and kicked off her own shoes. The cold floor felt good on her feet. “Did you know he lost his virginity to her?”

“That may have come up, like, twenty or thirty times. Every time it did, he tried to cover my ears, protect my innocence. I kept asking him where he thought my kids had come from.” Dawn’s laugh settled into a mischievous smile. “Speaking of which, I’ve always wondered…I mean, you don’t have to answer…did you and Faith ever…?”

Willow lifted an eyebrow. “Did we ever…what?”

“You know,” Dawn insisted. “Did you ever…do it?”

Willow sputtered and laughed. “With Faith? Oh, my goodness. She didn’t even like girls.”

“What?” Dawn practically shouted. “Are you kidding me? I just thought…I mean I always assumed…”

Willow was still laughing. “Straight as an arrow, Dawnie.”

And now she’s gone forever, said a voice in her head.

Her laughter died. Dawn must have thought the same thing, because she got serious again. She leaned back against the counter, gazing out the window.

“Buffy was there, too,” she said. “At the funeral. Nobody knew if she was going to show, but she did. She paid her respects, drank the booze, helped carry the casket. She was a good girl. Didn’t cause a scene.”

“I remember,” said Willow. “That was the last time I saw her in person.”

“And you know,” said Dawn, “what I really remember about that day? More than the drinks and the party and the strippers. I remember, right at the end, Buffy took me aside. Gave me the strangest look, like a trapped animal, or something. And she took me by the shoulders, and she said, ‘Dawn, when I die, don’t let anyone get on a stage and talk about me. Just put me in the ground. No eulogy, nothing.’ She wanted me to promise. I asked her why.”

Her gaze grew more intent, as if seeing past the river and the buildings to some distant, unimagined place.

“And she said, ‘Because if someone has to explain who I am, I haven’t done my job.’”

Dawn sighed and rubbed her neck. “I’ve never told that to anyone before.”

Willow took hold of her arm.

“I’ll get her to come,” she said. “I’ll find a way.”

“Thanks.”

And then, a long moment later:

“Wait. How did you find out Faith didn’t like girls?”

“I, uh…” Willow felt herself blushing in the dark.

Dawn laughed so hard she got the hiccups and had to hold her breath.

[Go on to chapters 9 & 10]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 5 & 6

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 3 & 4]

Chapter 5

Anne let out a delighted “Oh!” and gave her a warm hug. “Aunt Willow! What a surprise. Won’t you come in?”

The flat was small but elegant. Sleek Swiss chairs and tables, a kitchen plucked from a Modernist showcase. Windows made up nearly the whole west wall, revealing a mass of old gray and brown buildings huddled along the River Thames.

“Cuppa tea?” Anne said brightly.

Willow smiled. She couldn’t help thinking the young woman matched the flat. Shoulder-length brown hair proper but stylish, crisp white dress, matching shoes with sensible heels.

So much like her mother.

“No, thank you.” She went to the window. “Lovely view.”

“If you like gray,” said Anne. She went hunting for something in the kitchen. “And what brings you to London? Here to see Mum, I suppose?”

“Yes. Mostly.”

“She ought to be home before long. Most days the office lets her out on time.” She returned with a plate of cookies. Willow took one, and they both sat down.

“So,” said Willow, “you’ll be back to University soon?”

“End of August. And Justin’s a year younger than me, so he’s…speaking of.” She got up and made her way to the back of the flat. “Justin! Aunt Willow’s here!” Some muddled reply. “Don’t be a prat, Justin. Willow Rosenberg? From America?”

A pause, then poor Anne was practically bowled over as Justin dashed into the room. “Auntie!” he cried, bending down to hug her, then plopped on the couch and rested his sneakers on the coffee table. “Ace! Biscuits.”

Anne returned to her seat, glaring at him. “Not overdressed, are we?”

He glanced down: faded jeans and a ragged black T-shirt that read simply, in white letters, BOLLOCKS. “What? Got my trousers on, don’t I?”

Willow smiled. It was good to see these two again. “Justin, your sister and I were just talking about school.”

“Bored you to tears, did she?” Justin put his feet down and leaned forward eagerly. “Listen, Auntie. You haven’t, you know, killed any vampires lately. Have you?”

“Justin,” said Anne, “don’t be stupid. Nobody’s seen a vampire for almost a decade.”

He grinned. “Buffy has.”

“Justin!” Anne was scandalized. “We don’t say that name!”

He rolled his eyes at her. “Sod off, Anne, it’s not a secret.” He turned back to Willow. “So?”

Her stomach sank, but she preserved her friendly smile. “No vampires, I’m afraid. Not lately.”

“Too bad,” said Justin. “Reminds me, though. Can I show you this picture I found?” He flipped open a panel on the coffee table and began typing.

Anne tensed, preparing to stand. “What are you…?”

“You’ll see.” Moments later, a large rectangular image floated above the plate of cookies. “Ta-da!”

Willow stared. Her smile disappeared.

It was a painting. Of her.

Floating in the sky, arms out, palms open. Long red hair wet against her face. Raging clouds, lightning thick as rain. Screaming like a wrathful deity. Eyes blazing like portals to the sun.

The caption read ‘Storming the Palace, Rio de Janeiro, A.D. 2015.’ The title was ‘Willow Ascendant.’

“Well?” said Justin. “Is that really how it was?”

Memory took her.

Rain, yes, and lightning. That was all true, more or less. But that’s not what she remembered.

Because in her mind there wasn’t any storm. No palace, no battle, no enemies to kill. No sight or sound, no space or time. No self. Not even magic.

There was only the power, thundering in her veins, begging her not to stop, to let it go on, and on, and on…

She tore her eyes from the picture and looked at the far wall. “No,” she said quietly. “Not really.”

Anne turned it off and shot Justin such a withering glare that even he fell silent.

Willow was still trying to think of a pleasant way to break the tension when the door opened. She stood up and smiled once again, despite her nervousness.

“Hello, Dawn.” She indicated the table. “Biscuit?”

Chapter 6

Dawn Arkley set down her wine glass and dabbed her lips with the cloth napkin. “All right,” she said. “I’ll go with you.”

Willow, sitting across from her at the two-person table, chewed her filet thoughtfully. She did her best to ignore the buzz of conversation and clatter of dishes around them. “You understand, it’ll be dangerous.”

“Not exactly a first, is it?” Dawn brushed a stray hair from her face. All these years, Dawn’s hair had never been anything but long. “If there’s a chance to see Mom, I have to go. Besides, this sounds like quite the Scooby reunion you’re planning. The two of us. Xander. Illyria. And…my sister? Is she coming, too?”

“I haven’t talked to her yet, but I will soon,” said Willow. “What do you think she’ll say?”

Dawn stirred her vegetable soup, which she’d hardly tasted. She was such a serious woman now. Cool blue eyes, stark navy blazer. But then, thought Willow, she had reason to be serious. The divorce, raising two children alone, taking care of Giles…

“I don’t know,” said Dawn. “I don’t hear from her very often, and when I do, it’s usually dangers I should watch out for, trouble spots to avoid. Very practical.”

What would it be like, to lose a sister that way? Willow never had a sister. “She still loves you, you know.”

“She has a funny way of showing it.” Dawn gave up on the soup and went back to the wine. “What about Spike? Any chance this little get-together will draw him out of hiding?”

Willow sighed. “He’s not hiding, Dawn, he’s dead. You know that.”

“Nobody saw him die. Just because he disappeared, and we haven’t seen him in forever…”

“I’ve had my best witches do locator spells. I’m talking really high-end, all-inclusive, multi-dimensional, the works. Spike just doesn’t exist anymore. Anywhere. He’s gone.”

Dawn didn’t answer, just finished off her glass. A few tables over, a young couple was laughing wildly. The waiter came by with the check. Willow took it.

“Well then,” said Dawn, “what about Giles?”

“I’d like to see him while I’m here, of course.”

“No, I mean, what about bringing Giles?”

“Bringing him? To Sunnydale?” Willow blinked. “Dawnie, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”

“Why not?” Dawn’s lips pressed to a thin, obstinate line that Willow remembered well.

“I mean…” Still off-balance. The question had caught her by surprise. “With his…condition, I don’t think he’s in any shape for international travel. And like I said, it’ll be dangerous. Besides, Dawn…would he still recognize…? I mean, would he even understand…?”

“Physically, he’s as healthy as can be, for an eighty-one-year-old,” said Dawn. “He can make the trip. We’ll be there to protect him. And as for his ‘condition,’ he still has lucid moments. If there’s even a chance he could talk to Mom, or Jenny, I think we should let him try.”

Willow rubbed her temple. “I don’t know. I just think, the way he is now…I mean, he’s not even…”

“He’s still a person, Willow!”

Willow stared in surprise. “I know that,” she said coldly.

“Do you?” said Dawn. “This is Giles we’re talking about. He was more of a father to you than your real dad. Remember?”

“Don’t you dare lecture me.” Willow’s growing fury clipped the words tight. “I’ve saved his life in battle a hundred times.”

“And what about his battle here in London, locked in that room for the past ten years? Do you care about that?” She leaned closer. Scornful. “Willow, do you even love him anymore?”

Willow slammed the table. Silverware rattled, glasses fell over, ice water spilled on her skirt. A teacup dropped to the floor and shattered. She glared at Dawn, grinding her teeth, unable to speak.

Faces turned in their direction. A waiter came over and swept the porcelain shards into a dustpan.

Willow let out a slow breath as he worked. “Thank you,” she muttered, righting her glass and drying her lap with a napkin. “I’m very sorry. Thank you.”

After he left, Dawn brushed her hair with her fingers, got quiet again. “I shouldn’t have said that. I apologize.” She looked away. “It’s just…after Kyle left, I had nothing, except two little kids to raise. But Giles moved me to London, found me a place to live. Pulled strings to get me a job. Helped with the children. He was there for me, Willow. And now, I want to be there for him.”

Willow didn’t answer. Her heart felt heavy. She brushed her skirt again, trying to dry the damp spot. Her legs were getting cold.

“But the truth is, you’re probably right,” Dawn said. “A trip like this, he’d just get confused. Upset. He’d be a liability in battle. And he wouldn’t get anything out of it.”

Willow tapped her thumbs together. How could she decide a question like this? How could anyone?

Unless…

She folded her hands and looked at Dawn.

“Why don’t we ask him?”

[Go on to chapters 7 & 8]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 3 & 4

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.


[Go back to chapters 1 & 2]

Chapter 3

The sun was just burning off the morning dew as Willow walked up the steps to the white two-story house.

It was an odd mix of styles. Round tower-like protrusions beside flat-angled corners. Small balconies. Windows of all shapes and sizes. And she knew for a fact that a spiral slide connected the second floor study to the basement.

Certain people had been less than polite in describing it, but Willow thought it was charming.

The same could be said of its builder.

She rang the doorbell. The woman who answered had long, graying brown hair and a ‘Woodstock 1969 – 2019’ T-shirt.

“Hi, Cathy,” said Willow. She hesitated – hug, or not? What was the protocol here?

Cathy Harris blinked, smiled weakly. “Oh. Hi. Were we, um, expecting you?”

No hug, she decided.

“Surprise visit,” said Willow. “I hope that’s okay?”

“Of course. Come in, sit down. I’ll get Xander.”

Willow surveyed the living room. A decorative white pitcher sat on a shelf next to a statue of Spider-Man. A Van Gogh reproduction hung on the wall beside a battle axe.

An eclectic room for an eclectic life.

“Will!”

He ambled into the room, big as life, wearing leather boots and blue jeans and nothing above the waist. Messy dark hair flecked with sawdust. A grin a parsec wide.

“You might not wanna get too close,” said Xander, “I’m still kinda dirty from working on – ”

Her arms were already tight around him, her head on his shoulder. He wrapped her in a bear hug.

“How long’s it been?” he said.

“Since you came to San Jose to show me the new eye.” She glanced at his left eye, which looked identical to his right. Even the same shade of brown. You’d never guess it was artificial. “Is it crazy that I miss the eyepatch a little?”

“Oh, but that’s the beauty,” said Xander. “I still have it. I can put it on when I’m out cruising for babes.” He winked at Cathy. “And take it off when I want depth perception.”

“I can’t believe it’s been two years,” Willow said softly. “I should never have waited this long.”

They looked at each other in silence.

Cathy cleared her throat. “Please, have a seat. Can I get you something? Iced tea, lemonade?”

Willow sat on the couch as husband and wife disappeared. Xander returned first, wearing a T-shirt now, carrying a wooden chair from the dining room. Cathy came back with three glasses of iced tea.

Willow watched as Xander took a drink. Sober for more than a decade, now.

“So,” he said, “what brings the Wicked Witch of the West to our humble home?”

Willow sipped the tea. A little sweet for her taste. “I was in the neighborhood.”

“You were in the neighborhood. Of Redwood Falls, Minnesota?” He smirked. “And pray tell, what brings you to this bustling metropolis of ten thousand? You wanted to shop in our store? Maybe dine in our restaurant?”

“I have a fast broomstick. My neighborhood’s pretty big.”

“Broomstick. So that’s what we’re calling the private jet these days.” He leaned back. “Well, tell me everything. How’s life at Hogwarts? Do they still call you the Crimson Goddess?”

Willow went a little crimson herself. “Not to my face, if they know what’s good for them.” He was laughing at her now. “Hey,” she added, “let’s not forget who has a twenty-foot statue in downtown Rio de Janeiro. What’s the inscription say? Something like ‘Herói do Povo.’ My Portuguese is rusty, but I believe that would be ‘Hero of the People?’”

“Well, that’s, uh. They didn’t tell me they were going to…” Xander cleared his throat. “Listen, my granddaughter turned two last month. Isn’t that crazy? She’s already saying complete sentences. I could barely do that in high school.”

“I watched a video. She’s adorable.” Willow found herself giggling. “Speaking of high school. Remember that time you joined the swim team ‘cause they were all turning into sea monsters, and I told you – ”

“Willow,” Cathy interrupted. Loudly. “Are you here on business or pleasure?”

“Oh.” Willow looked from Cathy to Xander. “A little of both, actually.”

“And what would that business be?”

A strained silence. Xander tried to whisper something to Cathy, but she ignored him and kept watching Willow, with an expression just south of friendly.

“Yes, well,” said Willow. “I suppose I can get right down to it. I’d like to talk to your husband, please.” She set down her glass. “Alone.”

Cathy’s jaw worked side to side. She glanced at Xander, who gave a tiny nod.

“Of course,” she said icily. “I’ll be upstairs in the office.”

Once they were alone, Willow moved to sit closer to Xander. Quietly: “Why do I have the faint suspicion she doesn’t like me very much?”

“Yeah, sorry. It’s not personal. It’s just…” He ran fingers through his hair, spilling more sawdust on the carpet. “Cathy stayed with me through the war, the drinking, the assassination attempts. She’s followed me through hell, Willow. And now we finally have a life here. So when she sees you, she just sees someone from the old days. She’s afraid you’re going to pull me into that world again.”

Willow put her hand out, and he took it. She sighed.

“I’m sorry, I really am. But she’s right. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

“Will, what’s going on? You’re getting me worried, here.”

“I have to go back, Xander.”

“I don’t understand. Back where?”

She held his hand tight.

“To Sunnydale.”

Chapter 4

“What?” Xander stared at her. “Sunnydale, as in, the giant hole in the desert? Why?”

Good question.

“Thirty years ago, when Spike’s amulet destroyed the Hellmouth, that was a pretty big deal. Catastrophic. Violent. And not just physically. It damaged the fabric of reality itself.”

“Oh. Bummer.” Xander thought it over. “Well, that’s okay, right? We can get a full refund on the fabric of reality, as long as…uh-oh. You didn’t save the receipt?”

She wanted to smile along with him, but her lips wouldn’t cooperate. “Xander, there’s a rip in the Empyrean Veil.”

“The Empyrea-who now?”

“The barrier between life and death. It separates this world from the next.” She rubbed her palms on her skirt. “We predict that in about three weeks, the soul of every human being who died in Sunnydale will temporarily manifest.”

“Every human…who died in Sunnydale,” he echoed.

In the silence that followed, Willow heard the ticking of a clock. A dog barking in a nearby yard. The pulsing of her own heart.

They were both looking down.

“Manifest,” Xander said finally. “As in…you can see them.”

Willow nodded. “See. Hear. Touch. Talk.”

“So I could see…” He swallowed. “I could see Anya again.”

“Maybe.” Oh, it was hard, doing this to him. “Maybe not. We don’t know how long they’ll appear. Could be hours, could be just seconds. And besides, every human who died in Sunnydale – we’re talking many thousands of souls. Who knows if you could find her in all that crowd.”

“But it’s possible.”

“Yeah.”

“And maybe you could see…”

“Yeah.”

“Wow.” He looked up, ran a hand over his mouth. “Oh, I don’t know, Will. I don’t know. God, it’s been thirty years. It took so long to put all that behind me. And I’m finally happy here. I mean, part of me wants to see her more than anything, but I’m just afraid…you get what I’m saying?”

“Completely,” said Willow. “But, um. This event. It’s a little more than just a reunion.”

He waited.

“Human souls,” she went on, “are a really valuable commodity. Some demons eat them, or drain their energy. Some just sell them to the highest bidder. But souls like these – pristine, full of heavenly energy, free of their bodies for so long – they’re worth a thousand times more. This event, it’ll be like it’s raining diamonds.”

Xander got up, paced a few steps around. “There’s going to be a battle.”

“Count on it. And if we lose, these people will be dead. Not just their bodies – I mean really dead. Gone for all time.”

He was absently opening and closing his hands. Did he seem a little older than last time she saw him? A few more lines around the eyes?

“I’ll be there,” Willow continued, “with as many witches as I can bring. And Illyria’s coming. But I don’t know if that’ll be enough.”

Xander nodded, sat down again. “I still have some contacts on the Watchers’ Council. I can’t promise anything, but maybe they’ll send you some Slayers.”

She touched his arm. “Thank you.”

He leaned in close and whispered, as if sharing some terrible secret. “What about Buffy?”

“I’m going to talk to her,” Willow said firmly, with more confidence than she felt.

“You sure that’s a good idea? The way she is now…”

“We need her help. And…” More quietly. “In spite of everything, she’s still my friend. She deserves to know.”

“You’re right. You’re right.”

He reached for his glass of iced tea, took a long drink.

“I want to come,” he said. “But you have to understand, I made a promise to Cathy. That the old days were over. No more demons. No more battles or magic. No more nights of her wondering if I would come home.”

Willow nodded, taking his hand gently. “It’s okay. You don’t have to explain. It’s your choice to make. No matter what happens, we’ll always be – ”

“I love her. I made her a promise.” Xander’s voice was unsteady now, his eyes searching, his fingers rough and tight. “Do you think she’ll forgive me, Will?”

[Go on to chapters 5 & 6]

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 1 & 2

“The Witch and the Dragon” is Buffy fan fic, 28,000 words, over a quarter the length of a typical novel. I finished it in sixteen days. The story grabbed me, demanded to exist, and practically wrote itself. For those two weeks, I was obsessed, working on it every free moment, thinking about it every non-free moment. (Ask Betsy if you don’t believe me.) It was about the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything.

Finally, on February 12, came the moment of truth. Betsy sat down to read it.

When your wife says your story is good, you might wonder if she’s just being polite. But when she reads 28,000 words in a single sitting, without even getting up, you dare to hope that you’ve got a winner. (I later made some more revisions based on her feedback.)

So here it is. I’ll probably post it in two-chapter chunks, one every Monday. [Update: entire story now available online.]

The story’s set in the year 2035, thirty-two years after the end of the Buffy TV show. Why so far in the future?

I was inspired, in part, by the Babylon 5 series finale “Sleeping in Light,” which similarly takes place twenty years after the main arc has ended, gathering the divergent threads of the characters’ lives and weaving them back together one last time. I love the idea of looking ahead, seeing how time and circumstance have changed everyone. How have they matured, and how are they the same? What’s been broken, and what’s been fixed? What’s the fallout of the story you fell in love with? Who are these people, really?

Also I wanted to write a big-ass battle scene, because those are fun.

The story draws on Buffy as well as Angel, so ideally you’ve seen them both in their entirety before reading this. If you’ve only seen Buffy, you can probably get by okay. If you haven’t seen either, you’re welcome to read, but I can’t promise it will make sense. In any case, there are major-league spoilers for both shows, so consider yourself warned.

In terms of continuity, I have (mostly) ignored the comics. I did this for several reasons, not least because I (mostly) haven’t read them yet. Just pretend that only the TV shows are canon.

In terms of content, I’d call this PG-13 for language, violence, and some sexual references. Overall, a little tamer than the shows.

Enjoy!

Table of Contents

[Chapters 1 & 2] [Chapters 3 & 4] [Chapters 5 & 6]
[Chapters 7 & 8] [Chapters 9 & 10] [Chapters 11 & 12]
[Chapters 13 & 14] [Chapters 15 & 16] [Chapters 17 & 18]
[Chapters 19 & 20] [Chapters 21 & 22] [Chapters 23 & 24]
[Chapters 25 & 26] [Chapters 27 & 28] [Chapters 29 & 30]
[Chapters 31 & 32]

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.


The Witch and the Dragon

Chapter 1

Willow strode into the high-walled grassy courtyard with a sigh of relief.

A two-hour personnel review, another hour of budget revisions with the Board, a telecon interview with the San Francisco Journal of Metaphysics, half an hour to scarf down lunch – and somehow it wasn’t even noon yet.

Running the San Jose College of Witchcraft left precious little time for witchcraft. But that was about to change.

She kicked off her shoes, savored the cool grass on her bare feet. A breeze played with her short hair, and the California sun warmed her face.

Hello, world. I’ve missed you.

“Dr. Rosenberg?”

The voice belonged to a lanky, blond-haired boy who barely looked old enough to drive – not that anyone drove much anymore. He got up from his wrought iron chair and crossed the grass to meet her, a gray backpack slung over one shoulder, textbook in hand.

“You must be Marcus,” she said with a smile. He shook her hand vigorously.

“It’s such an incredible honor to meet you, Doctor. Um – should I call you Doctor or President?”

The way he talked to her, like she’d stepped out of a myth, made her feel every bit of her fifty…great Gaia, was she really fifty-four?

She didn’t feel any different. Was it possible the students were getting younger?

“Willow is fine,” she said lightly, sitting down on the grass.

“Oh, uh. Yes, ma’am.” He hesitated, then sat down facing her, depositing his stuff to one side. “Should I take off my shoes, too?”

“Only if you want to.” Willow reached into a blouse pocket and fished out two acorns. “Marcus, I try my best to meet every freshman one-on-one. I want all my students to be excited about magic. But I want them to be careful, too.”

She handed him one acorn and held the other in her open palm. He mimicked her.

“To levitate this,” she continued, “I don’t have to lift it. I just have to weave a gap in the earth’s downward pull. Then, with the slightest push, the acorn will rise on its own.”

She demonstrated, letting it rise a few inches. He did the same, grinning at her.

“It’s a subtle difference, but important. I’m not imposing my will on the universe. I’m finding a way to align its will with my own.”

The acorns fell.

“So many students think magic is about controlling things. That’s absolutely wrong.” She locked eyes with him, gentle but firm. “Magic is about self-control. Do your part, and the universe will do its part. Fail to control yourself, and the results can be devastating. Understand?”

“Yes, yes.” He was nodding. “That makes sense. Um…do you think you could show me with something bigger?” He picked up the textbook. “Like this?”

More. Bigger. Faster. That’s what they all wanted from their magic.

But then, she’d been the same way, at their age.

“I’m afraid acorns are about as big as I can go, these days.” She smiled again, trying to put him at ease. “I hope you’re not disappointed.”

“Oh, no ma’am, not at all. Everyone knows you’re still the greatest witch in the world, even after your…” Suddenly his ears turned red, and he fell silent.

“After my burnout?” said Willow.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean to…”

“It’s all right,” she said honestly. “That was over fifteen years ago. I’ve moved on. Besides, you can do a lot, even with very little power. For instance – ”

Willow cut off as she noticed her secretary approaching. She frowned. “Margaret, can this wait till after the lesson?”

Margaret knelt beside her and whispered in her ear.

Her skin went cold.

“Please reschedule this young man for another day,” she mumbled, and sprinted back to her office, still in her bare feet.

Chapter 2

Willow reclined in the chair, drumming her fingers on the armrest as she tried to think. “And you’re certain of all this?”

On the rectangle of light floating over her desk, a blue-eyed, blue-haired woman tilted her head. “I am not. It is possible my calculations are in error, or that I am misinterpreting the results.”

“But you’re pretty sure?”

“I estimate the likelihood at over ninety-nine point nine nine nine nine nine– ”

Willow chuckled. “Forgot who I was talking to.”

“I am Illyria Burkle. For a thousand aeons, my armies laid waste to gods and mortals. Now, I conduct physics research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

“Thanks.”

Illyria claimed all remnants of the Fred persona had vanished decades ago. That she had taken up her surname and profession to honor a woman who no longer existed.

But Willow couldn’t believe that. She’d only met Fred twice, but she had seen too much humanity in Illyria to accept that Fred hadn’t made a mark.

“Was I correct,” said Illyria, “in assuming that this information would interest you?”

“Yes. Absolutely. Thank you.”

“Then may I ask if you have formulated a course of action?”

She glanced up at the framed diploma on her wall, which assured her that one Willow Danielle Rosenberg still had a PhD in computer science.

“I’m a doctor,” she said. “It’s time to make some house calls.”

[Go on to chapters 3 & 4]

Alvennore (part 4 of 4)

Warning: strong language.

That night I played Vivaldi on my violin, No. 8 in G Major, one of the few pieces I could remember that I had never played for Dana. Over the strains of the instrument I heard the rumblings of the coming storm, the wind rattling the steel sheets that covered my compound’s windows. All sensors agreed it was going to be a bad one, maybe the worst in a decade. I worried about Hook’s safety. I had turned the forcebeams to maximum, and between those and his rock walls, he ought to be sheltered from the worst of the wind–or so I told myself.

Besides, the storm did have one major benefit. It was already impossible to move around out there. I had a reprieve for tonight.

But what about tomorrow?

I thought again about the guy she had shot.

The more I considered it, the clearer it became that giving Hildy some sort of accident was the only clean solution. I couldn’t kill her outright; I wasn’t capable of that, wouldn’t want to be capable of that. But were there other options? Might I drug her somehow, imprison her? And then what–keep her captive for the next fifty years? No, impossible. There was no way to incapacitate her without…without doing what I would never do.

But what did that leave?

Suddenly, over the screaming storm and the weeping of Vivaldi, I heard a loud banging on the door. A voice shouted my name. I froze in astonishment. “Rogan!” she shouted again, and there was no doubt it was Hildy. “Let me inside!”

I couldn’t believe she had gotten to me through the storm. She must be out of her mind.

Letting her inside right now was the last thing I wanted to do, and it occurred to me then that it would be very easy to just do…nothing. Leave her out there. I hadn’t heard her voice; I hadn’t heard anything. The problem would go away all by itself.

A neat solution to a messy problem. Except, as I’ve said before, I’m not a murderer.

I slipped a chem-pistol into my jacket pocket.

“I’m opening the door!” I called. “Get inside quick!”

I could barely get the door open because of the raging wind. Dust blew into my eyes and swirled into the compound. She slipped inside and I shut the door behind her.

She wore thick goggles and a breathing mask over her mouth. When she took these off, the skin there stood out much lighter than the rest of her face, which was caked with dust. She took her gloves off and removed her hood. Streaks of blood marred her face, places that pebbles had struck her. She was shivering.

“You might have opened a little quicker,” she muttered.

“You might have waited until tomorrow.”

“We said tonight.” Her voice was soft. She wouldn’t meet my eyes. “I’ve waited three years. I don’t want to wait any longer.”

I took her cloak and gloves and led her down the hall, into the main body of the compound. The first room we reached was the kitchen. She looked around curiously. “I haven’t seen this place in a long time. You never invited me over.”

“You’re here now.”

“She didn’t like me, did she?” Hildy tossed her hair. “She felt threatened by me. Well, that’s all right. She should have.”

“It’s still two hours till midnight, Hildy.”

She laughed. “Still worried her ghost is going to watch us while we do it? Come on, Rogan, you don’t believe in that stuff.”

“You believe in it.”

“I don’t care,” she said fiercely, looking at me for the first time. “Not anymore. I’ve waited, and now it’s time. We’re going to be together.”

I took a deep breath.

“No,” I said. “We’re not.”

She was shaking her head, starting to laugh. “You don’t understand. This is it. There isn’t any other option.”

“Look, I can imagine how you feel–”

She cackled wildly, spinning around. “I’m glad! I’m glad! I thought nobody else woke up and wanted to die and ate breakfast and wanted to die and repaired the thermal processor and wanted to die and went to sleep and wanted to die every day for fifteen goddamn years. I’m so happy I’m not alone in that, because I felt very, very alone.”

Gradually she went still, and the wild grin slipped away. “But you need me now, Rogan. You can’t survive on your own. Not without Dana–not out here. You need me, and you’re going to give me what I want.”

I put on my best poker face. If only I’d spent a little more time playing poker. “I’ll just have to manage the best I can without you.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I figured you’d say that.”

She reached into a hip pocket and dropped seven or eight small objects on the kitchen table. Metal cylinders, each about the size of my thumb. It took me a moment to realize what they were.

The batteries to Hook’s forcebeam generators.

I stared.

“I couldn’t figure out why you needed the spanner,” she said. “You were obviously lying about your foot being hurt, but with your old bitch dead, I couldn’t imagine who else you could use it on. Actually I figured you had some other woman–just shows you how crazy I am. So I followed you back after you left my compound.” She shrugged. “Would’ve just shot the damn thing, except my last chem-pistol jammed about a year ago…”

I pulled out my own pistol and aimed it at her. She only laughed again. “I’m crazy,” she said, advancing on me slowly as I retreated, still aiming at her. “I know I’m crazy. But I’m not stupid, Rogan. I know you don’t love me. I know you don’t like me. I know this will never work, but shit, there’s nothing else and I can’t take it anymore.”

In the end, I couldn’t make myself shoot her. I decked her across the face, and she fell, unconscious. I grabbed the batteries and ran out into the storm.

The cage was only fifty meters away from my compound, but in the hellish wind, it seemed I would never get there. Freezing air tore through my cloak, and grit slashed at my cheeks. Once, a golf-ball-sized rock hit my left shoulder and sent me sprawling. I could barely see a meter in front of my face. But I pressed on. Eventually I reached the cage.

The forcebeam generators were dead. I began searching for Hook, not bothering to put the batteries back in until I found him. “Hook!” I called, over and over, though I could barely hear my own voice over the wind. There was no sign of the beetle.

A rock in front of me suddenly melted. I whirled around and saw Hildy behind me, my own chem-cannon on her shoulder, hunting me as I’d hunted Hook that first day. I dove behind a nearby boulder, drawing my own pistol, and returned fire. We both missed by meters. The wind made it almost impossible to aim. But Hildy was closing the distance fast. I did my best to keep her at bay, firing again and again. A distant part of my brain was relieved that I’d finally found a situation where my conscience would let me out of my dilemma–assuming she didn’t kill me first.

“You’re crazy to come out here!” Hildy called. “The storm’s gotten him by now! There’s nothing you can do!”

“You don’t know that!” I shouted.

Another blast from her, and a droplet from the chem-cannon impact splashed on my hand, making me lose my pistol. She was towering over me now, weapon pointed at my heart, fierce and triumphant.

“Rogan–” she began.

But I wasn’t looking at her. I was looking to my left, at something I’d just noticed. Words, scratched on the rock. At first I couldn’t make it out through the swirling dust, but as I squinted, it became clear.

The original mark the beetle had made was not just a scratch. It was a letter: the letter “I.” The whole thing read:

I AM DANA

I stared in shock.

She was starting to say something else when Hook jabbed its claw into her from behind, the tip protruding through her shoulder. Her mouth opened wide, a thin line of spittle crossing it. A strange transformation took place on her features. Her eyes and lips moved as if she was figuring out how to use them all over again.

Finally the claw pulled out, and the beetle collapsed, never to move again. Hildy smiled gently in spite of her still-bleeding wound.

“I am Dana,” she said.


 

Re-reading it now, I’m much less happy with it than I was originally. But c’est la vie.