Xander gave Buffy a two minute head start knowing that she’d kill everything in her path and that she was right, in her current mindset he’d just be a distraction. It was fairly easy to find how she’d entered the building – he just followed the piles of dust to a side door.
He went slowly, making sure that it was safe as he moved from room to room. The usual bravado that he worked up to compensate for his extremely rational and realistic fear in the face of never ending apocalypses tended to make him somewhat incautious; but he couldn’t afford any mistakes in this, not when it could make the difference in saving Giles.
He might not have ever said it, and goodness knows the poor guy might explode if he’d tried, but Xander truly cared about Giles. He hadn’t had many people in his life who honestly believed in him, and certainly no adults, but for some reason, still unknown to him, the older man did. Sure, he probably spent half his time telling him to shut up, but Xander knew it wasn’t motivated by the belief that he was inferior, ’cause when the chips were down and the very world was at stake, Rupert Giles believed in him, relied on him. So Xander wouldn’t fail him now.
Peering carefully into the next room he saw the watcher and was bombarded with conflicting emotions. He was vastly relieved at finally having found him, but his horror at his condition was immense. Giles was bound to a chair in the middle of the room. His clothes were torn and bloody, obscuring Xander’s view of any major injuries he might have sustained. His eye were closed and his head was thrown back, and if not for the clenched muscles of his jaw Xander would have mistaken his pose of pain and exhaustion for unconsciousness.
Xander rushed to the man who hadn’t even flinched at hearing his voice.
“Giles!” He called out again, gently shaking him.
As Xander frantically began untying the ropes binding him Giles managed, with obvious effort, to raise his head.
The inquiring voice was weak but it sounded wonderful to the concerned young man’s ears. The ropes finally undone, Xander began to give thought to how to get Giles out of there.
“Can you walk?”
Giles peered at Xander for a moment before slowly tilting his head back, once again.
“You’re not real.”
Okay, not what he’d been expecting. “Sure I’m real,” he assured him.
“It’s a trick. They get in your head, make me see things I want.”
Xander realized that Giles must really be hurt because he was usually far more logical. “Then why would they make you see me.”
Giles’ head slowly rose as he considered that bit of sound reasoning. “You’re right. Let’s go.”
Even though Giles groaned as he placed an arm around him to help him rise, Xander found that his relief was beginning to outweigh his horror because if he was able to stand then he might not be as injured as he looked and, frankly, Xander didn’t care for their odds of getting to safety if he had to carry the sizable librarian slung over his shoulder.
Xander tightened his arm as the injured man shook with the first step. But although he was obviously struggling, Giles pushed himself to go even faster.
“We need to get back. We have to begin the spell.”
Seeing what had been done to Giles, knowing what had happened to Cordelia, Xander didn’t feel remotely bad about the truth he had to deliver.
“The fighting’s already started. It’s too late for the spell.”
And so Xander kept his promise to his friend – they ran like hell.
Dark circles of blood colored the stone floor as Angelus turned his attention from Acathla to the slayer.
“I don’t have time for you.”
His tone was bored, dismissive and it occurred to Buffy that they had come full circle, past all of their conflict and turmoil, to a new meeting of the minds. Except for the fact that she was interfering with his plans, he couldn’t care less about her. And finally, if it wasn’t for the fact that he was trying to end the world, she could say the same. This wasn’t Angel; she’d loved the soul. This was simply the body – not deserving of her love, not worthy of her hate.
“You don’t have a lot of time left.”
Her declaration was serious, but simply he smirked at her in a condescending manner as if she were a recalcitrant child. And for once it didn’t ruffle her, didn’t shake her calm. He was a vampire and she was the slayer. It just wasn’t personal anymore.
“Coming on kind of strong, don’t you think?” Angelus made a point of glancing at the other vampires in the room before turning his attention back to Buffy. “You’re playing some deep odds here. Do you really think you can take us all?”
Buffy smirked back. This was, so far, the politest world ending she’d ever attended.
“No, I don’t..”
And then there were still to people in the room smirking, but Angelus wasn’t one of them. While he’d been he’d been posturing before the slayer he’d missed the fact that he’d overestimated his allies by one. A fact which came to life a Spike leapt from his chair and, grabbing a convenient andiron, knocked the older vampire into unconsciousness.
“Painful, isn’t it?” He spat bitterly at his unmoving grandsire. Months of ridicule and helplessness finally found release as he hefted the heavy metal and brought it down over and over again.
But Spike’s catharsis was destined to be short-lived, and a shrill scream rent the air as Drusilla finally clued in to the fact that Spike had aligned himself with their enemies and threw herself onto his back sending them sprawling to the floor. As they climbed to their feet and began to circle each other a soft look filled Spike’s eyes.
“I don’t want to hurt you, baby.”
She growled deep in her throat and lunged at her traitorous childe, catching him by the throat and slamming him into the wall behind. With a sharp lift of his arm, Spike dislodged Drusilla’s crushing hand and with a snap of his right, he drove his fist into her face.
“Doesn’t mean I won’t.”
“God’s bind him. Cast his heart from the…evil…realm.”
Buffy watched with cool detachment as the last of the three minions she’d seen disappeared in a cloud of smoke at the end of her sword. One more and then she could finally finish this. Of course, that was assuming that Spike could hold up his end of the deal and get Drusilla out of the way. From the brief glimpses she’d caught of their battle while she fought her own, she wasn’t sure which way it would go. Not that it mattered. If the dead bitch was the one left standing, she wouldn’t be for long. Nothing would keep her from eradicating the evil she’d oh so unwittingly released all those months ago.
Ducking a clumsy blow, she swung her leg high, her foot slamming into the vampire’s jaw. As he stumbled backwards she followed. An elbow to the stomach. A right cross to the face. A sword arced perfectly to slide through a neck and yet another vampire’s dust rained down around her.
She spun back around, ready for the real battle to begin, only to freeze in horror. Somehow while both she and Spike had been struggling with his followers, Angelus had regained consciousness and was stumbling, hand outstretched, towards the waiting demon. So close, and yet Buffy knew that even with all of her strength, all of her speed, she’d never be able to cross the distance in time to keep his blood from that sword.
“You almost made it, Buff.”
It would have been a taunt if he’d cared; if this had been about her, or him, or them. But it wasn’t, and so it was less of dig at her defeat than it was an statement of his victory.
“It’s not over yet.”
No hate filled, slayer-threat, just a steady declaration of intent.
With a nod to acknowledge that they’d both finally embraced their destinies, Angelus curled his crimson hand around the sword’s hilt. With a sharp tug and a burst of light, the weapon slid free and became a silver blur as he spun around and pointed it towards Buffy.
“My boy Acathla here is about to wake up. You’re going to Hell.”
Buffy watched him as he tested the weight of his sword. She could see that it impressed him. She wondered if he’d be so enthralled if he knew that, while his sword could start this, hers could finish it. She was about to find out.
“Save me a seat.”
“Return. I call on…”
Cordelia watched as the words got more and more difficult for the young gypsy to utter. She could feel the magik building in the room and she was nearly choking on it. Whatever spirits they’d invited in were angry and, although she detested it, her soul whimpered that Angelus would be the focus of so much hate.
At the concern in Matthew’s voice, Cordelia leaned forward to get a better view.
“Are you okay?”
The fear in Willow’s voice told her something was wrong but she knew the spell was working, the force of it was pulsing through her.
Suddenly Jenny’s head jerked back. When it jerked forward again Cordelia could make out the utter darkness that had overtaken her eyes even from where she sat. Cold shivers began to run down her spine as words she’d never heard before boomed out in the small room.
“Te implor, Doamne, nu ignora aceasta rugaminte.”
Sometimes relative sanity had it’s benefits. One of them was knowing that nothing in the universe was more interesting than preserving your own existence.
“Oh…Here he comes.”
Drusilla’s shifting attention showed clearly that soundness of mind was not her forte. And in that brief moment of distraction, Spike made his move. Wrapping a hand in the long, silky strands of her hair, he jerked her head backwards, spun her towards the wall, and slammed her into it face first.
“Sorry, baby. Wish there was another way.”
Lifting her slumping body, Spike turned towards the doorway ready to leave this Hellhole behind forever. A flash of silver caught his eye and he glanced outside in time to see the slayer’s sword fly out of her grip as she fell into a stone table with crushing force.
“God, he’s gonna kill her.”
Even as he said it Spike was turning again to leave. He’d seen his fair share of slayers in his day; killed a few of them, too. As much as it galled him to admit it, this one was different. She had something he hadn’t seen before. He couldn’t put his finger on it but it made her sharper, better; far more effective than the others of her kind. If this girl couldn’t kill Angelus then no one stood a chance. And whether it would do him any good or not, if she did lose, if Acathla did wake up…well, it might not make a difference but he’d prefer to be as far away as possible when it happened.
“Nici mort, nici al fiintei…”
Angelus twirled his sword as he gazed down at the battered slayer on the ground before him. A few months ago she would have been in this position because she’d had the love of a soul. A few weeks ago because she’d taken the love of a demon. Now she was here merely because she stood in the way of the only peace left to him in this world. With a genuine curiosity he wondered if she knew how irrelevant she was.
“That’s everything, slayer. No weapons…no friends…no hope.”
He pulled his sword back, ready to end this.
“Take all that away and what’s left?”
As he propelled the blade forward for the killing blow he was jolted as the weapon was halted in mid-thrust. With instinct and reflexes that bespoke of her calling Buffy’s hands had snapped together, surrounding the sword and impeding it’s progress. And so she answered his question with both her actions and her words.
“Lasa orbita sa fie vasul care-i va transporta, sufletul la el.”
The fighting had moved back inside, and it was fierce. Buffy had managed to regain her sword, slowing Angelus’ momentum and putting him on the defensive. Now that she’d been able to separate her feelings for Angel from Angelus she was able to let her instinct, rather than her heart guide her. Slayers were stronger than vampires, and that gave her an edge.
However, it was always easier to destroy than to protect. While the fate of the very world rested on her every move, Angelus had had his desires, but nothing of real value hanging in the balance. It was an equalizing situation and she wouldn’t have put money on who would walk away the victor.
The blows were flying fast and furious, movements blurred by speed no human could possess. Spinning, Buffy slammed her elbow into his face and as he stumbled back, pivoted and sliced upwards with her sword.
The blow tore across the skin of Angelus’ hand and sent his weapon skittering off to the side. In his moment of distraction, Buffy’s foot crashed into his chest, sending him to his knees. She raised her sword.
Angelus knew he was in trouble, but that had never bothered him before. Vampires were like teenagers; they couldn’t truly conceptualize their demise and so they tended to dance on the edge of reason more than was healthy. He’d waltzed clean over that cliff a while ago so he never panicked, even when it looked like the end. After all, he hadn’t died yet, and it certainly wasn’t because there were a lack of people trying.
He didn’t look the slayer in the eyes, didn’t watch her face for some sign of her intent. No; he locked his gaze onto her shoulders. Watched the muscles contract as she held her sword a lot. Waited for the slight ripple that would herald it’s decent. That’s when he’d make his move; a sharp roll to the left and he could grab his weapon and be back on his feet in mere seconds. He’d take some damage; it was an iffy plan at best and he didn’t give himself better than one in three odds of success, but it was always his audacity that served him best in moments like these.
He saw the telltale bunching of flesh beneath her skin as the muscles reshaped themselves for the strike. Shifting his weight almost imperceptibly, he waited…waited…just an instant more –
“Asa sa fie! Asa sa fie! Acum!”
Cordelia’s eyes filled with the blinding light filling the orb. This was it. There was no going back. It was finally over.
He let out an anguished cry seeming to almost curl into himself.
Buffy knew that, even backed into a corner, Angelus would have a plan; one last, desperate move. She just hadn’t suspected it would be bellowing in pain and then almost collapsing to the floor.
Watching the vampire warily as his face lifted, she gasped, her sword slowly lowering as an eerie glow filled and then faded from his eyes, leaving pools of fear and confusion in its wake.
He stood slowly, with none of the tightly leased power that had characterized his previous movements. Tears gathered in those wounded eyes but the slayer maintained her defensive pose. This was to important to play a hunch.
It wasn’t her name, said gently – y included, that told her. It was the broken sob that followed, so human in its textured tones of anguish and pain, that convinced her that they somehow managed to do the spell, that it had worked. This was Angel.
It wasn’t a question of his identity, but rather a breathless exclamation of wonder at the rebirth of this soul. She reached her hand towards his face, needing tactile proof that this was real, but before she could touch the face once again so dear, her hand was grasped in his.
Everything was so foggy, so muddled that, at first, Angel could only focus on one thing at a time. Buffy. He was with Buffy. As he grew more sure of that fact he allowed himself to really look at her. He could see that she’d been in a fight; she was hurt. Maybe he’d been hurt to. Maybe that’s what was causing his confusion and this heavy feeling inside that something wasn’t right.
He stepped forward as she did and their arms slid around one another. The disquiet inside of him grew. He rested his forehead on her shoulder. He was so tired.
“I…I feel like I haven’t seen you in months.”
As Buffy felt his heavy form lean into her she refused to think that it was finally over. If she thought about the nightmare being finished then she’d have to face that it had happened. She wasn’t fool enough to believe this moment would last forever; hat it would push away those less pleasant. But right then it was just the two of them with no vendettas, no bloodshed. They could just hold each other, and he didn’t need to kill her and she didn’t need to –
It was the slight, crackling sound that caught her attention, that pulled her out of her thoughts and opened her eyes.
She wouldn’t believe it. They wouldn’t do this to her. Whoever called her, whatever chose her as the slayer, there had to be some small mercy in them. How could they ask this; expect this? When was it enough? Was this cold, hard world with its relentless anguish and death really worth protecting if it wouldn’t even allow her this brief moment of joy?
Minutes ago she would have cringed in shame at her next thought, but that was when she had believed in compassion, had faith in grace; now those seemingly childish ideals lay shattered around her like the pieces of her heart. Angelus might have been right. If this world could be so cruel, then why should she care if it existed?
And then Whistler’s words came back to her.
“In the end, you’re always by yourself. You’re all you’ve got. That’s the point.”
Buffy thought about her life. How it was before Sunnydale; how it was now. She pictured her friends’ faces and could hear the whispers of their laughter. She remembered an existence of popularity, but not acceptance; where shallow threads of meaningless interactions were all that bound her to the people in her life.
And then she knew. She knew that Whistler hadn’t understood at all.
Yes, she alone was the slayer. But that didn’t mean that she, as the slayer, was alone. If there was only herself to consider at this moment, she would sink into Angel’s embrace and let fate do it’s damnedest. She’d steal these all too short seconds of happiness in a world that had never offered her anything more.
But this world had offered her more. When she had felt lost, it had given her Giles; and so she had guidance. When she had felt vulnerable and alone, it had given her Xander and Willow; and so she had friends. When she had felt cheated that her life would most likely end before she’d ever gotten a chance to live it, it had given her Angel; and so she had love. And when every accounting for a thousand years demanded that she walk this path alone, this world had given her a family.
So in the end, her actions wouldn’t be motivated by her duty to the world, but rather by her place in it.
She could see the vortex spilling from Acathla growing larger.
“Buffy, what’s happening?”
She cradled his cheek in her hand and ran her thumb gently over his lips.
“Shh. Don’t worry about it.”
Leaning up she pressed her moth softly to his in a tender caress.
“I love you.”
There was a flicker in his eyes; a swirl of turmoil that she knew hinted at the conflict that would erupt within him given time. But as he refocused on her face it slipped away from him and she knew that, in his shock, he could only manage one thought at a time. She hoped that would make it easier for him.
“I love you, too.”
She wondered how something could feel so good to say but so bad to hear. How could she ever have foreseen longing for Angelus’ scorn.
She had to do this but he didn’t have to see it coming. She’d give him this one final moment of peace.
“Close your eyes.”
Trusting her to guide him through his haze, she watched his lids fall without a second thought.
She couldn’t be sure if an eon or an instant had passed; but when time regained it’s natural pace her sword had found its place in Angel’s chest as he stumbled back into the sucking void behind him.
In the stillness of the mansion all that could be heard was a broken sob.
Miles away, in a small, unassuming house the same fractured sound fell from another’s lips.
And in this dimension, Angelus – in all his incarnations, ceased to exist.