The rain was falling heavy on their heads, soaking their clothes as they made their way down the emptying streets of Cleveland. Angel held Patrice close, unsure if the spell that Pola had performed to bind her wound would protect her from the rain. He continued to follow the faux-Slayer towards the church in silence, neither having spoken since she informed him of where they were headed.
“It is close,” she shouted back at him over the roar of the rain once they had arrived at an intersection of paved road and a dirt path. “Through the trees. Less than mile.”
Angel cradled the injured Slayer even closer as he ran to catch up with Pola, who was walking determinedly fast. “Why did you make us think you were a Slayer?”
Pola shook her head. “I said too much already. We must be safe before I tell you.”
“What about the demon? Can you tell me more about that?”
The witch sighed before she spoke. “Yes. It is reaper, a race of demons that steals power. I believe it took Patrice’s power when it stab her. I guess it thought that the other girl was Slayer, too.”
“Dawn. No, she’s not a Slayer.”
“These demons are everywhere. To be a Slayer is no longer safe. Demons and drugs and magic are all focused on you if you are, and the wolf, ram, and hart will not relent. They will not stop until evil is in power and the Slayers belong to them.”
Angel stopped walking. “Wolf, ram and hart? Wolfram and Hart? They’re behind this?”
“We must stop speaking of this. You will learn more once we are in church. Except…” Pola paused. “You won’t be able to enter. You are demon.”
“Then just tell me everything now.”
“It is not safe. There are spies everywhere, they can hear us.”
“What does Wolfram and Hart want with the Slayers?”
“They want to turn their power into something evil. They want to use them to bring back The First.”
Angel sighed. “Great.”
* * * *
Buffy shook her head. “No. No, this isn’t going to happen. It’s not.”
Althanea regarded her with pity. “I understand your fears, child. But you—”
“Don’t,” Buffy replied, her voice low and even. “This doesn’t even make sense. If this evil power is trying to use the Slayers as a battery to bring back The First, then what good is it going to do to make me The One and Only again? Wouldn’t that just make their job easier?”
“Actually,” Willow began carefully, not wishing to set Buffy off. “The magic I performed unlocked the power within the scythe. If I sent everything back to how it was before the spell, then what Althanea says would make sense. The power wouldn’t be available in the form of all the slayers, it would be protected by the magic that still remains in the scythe.”
Kennedy moved forward. “So what are you saying, Willow? That you’re going to take our power away?”
“I don’t think I’m down with that game plan,” Kennedy told her honestly.
A cry resounded from the corner of the room where an Indian girl was cradled in the arms of another slayer, weeping in fear and confusion. She couldn’t understand what everyone was saying.
“Listen,” Buffy said firmly, gathering everyone’s attention. “When exactly is this battery collection supposed to take place? How do they plan on bringing us all to the Hellmouth to perform this ceremony?”
“Various means,” Althanea replied. “They’ve sent demons after the girls; demons whose specific abilities include the extraction of power. They’re not collecting the girls they’re sent after, they’re collecting their power.”
“So you’re saying we’ve got to worry about power-sucking demons as well as crazy slayers?” Kennedy grumbled. “I’m really glad we came here.”
“The Coven also fears that they’ve managed to create a spell that would draw all the slayers to the Hellmouth. A mass transportation, if you will. We are unclear of how the spell works, or if they’ve even been successful. Our best guess on how is dimensional portals. We’re trying all we can to gather the girls and protect them. Which is why I believe you should stay here,” she said, looking at Buffy. “You’re safer here than out on your own.”
“But nothing gets done if we stay here,” Buffy replied.
“Not if Willow reverses the spell.”
“That won’t happen.”
“It must happen!” Althanea cried, losing her calm for the first time since they’d arrived. She moved closer to Buffy. “You don’t seem to understand. You fear being the sole carrier of a great power, of handling its burden on your own. Imagine if that power was taken away from not only the others, but from you as well. Painfully. Ripped from your body and used to make evil in its purest form more powerful than it has been since its inception. Every child, every man and woman on this earth would be overcome by its power. The First would destroy the world as we know it, leaving but a graveyard for it to reign over.
“Do you want that? Would you rather that happen?”
Buffy watched the woman, taking in all she had said before responding.
“So you are one hundred percent certain that reversing the spell will ensure that The First remains incorporeal?”
“I’m certain of it.”
Buffy nodded. The First Evil must never regain power. Of the few things she was certain about at that point in her life, that was one.
“Can it be undone?”
Buffy turned to Willow. “This spell. If you reverse it. Could you do it again if it doesn’t solve our problem?”
Willow shook her head, though not in negation. “Buffy, this spell is heavy. I’m not entirely sure I’ll even be able to reverse it.”
“You have to try,” she said shakily. “We can’t let the First win. Not after all we’ve done to stop it.”
Willow nodded, concern etched on her face. “So you want me to do it?”
“No. But you’re going to.”
* * * *
Xander sat next to Andrew in the hospital waiting room. Dawn was in surgery, and while the doctor hadn’t told them much, they knew it was bad. People were staring at Xander. A few days ago he would’ve thought it was the eye patch, but he knew now it was the blood that drenched his t-shirt and stained his hands that caught their attention.
Andrew shivered beside him. “I hate hospitals,” he said, trying to fill the silence.
Xander didn’t respond.
“Do you think Angel and the witchy girl will be able to find Buffy in time?”
“I don’t know.”
“I mean, they’ve gotta take that girl, Patrice, to where the other Slayers were hiding, so you’d think they’d let Buffy know about Dawn.”
Xander bowed his head and sighed. “I just hope the others are alright when they find them. If they find them.”
“What about Spike?” asked Andrew, suddenly looking alarmed. “My god, he’s out there right now, doing Yoda knows what. What if he’s in trouble?”
“My thoughts aren’t exactly with Spike right now,” Xander growled irritably. “We’ve got enough to worry about without adding him to the mix.”
Andrew frowned and looked away from his companion. “Somebody needs to worry about him.”
* * * *
“Dru,” Spike half laughed, half gasped. “Fancy… meeting you here.”
“It’s not coincidence, my pet,” she replied, stalking closer towards him.
Spike stood abruptly, knocking his chair over. His anxiety grew as he realized that Drusilla wasn’t a figment of his intoxicated imagination.
“I was told you were here. Everybody knows. Such knowledge is common, these days.”
“What?” he asked, whimpering as she backed him into the wall. The empty bottle in his hand fell to the floor without breaking, leaving him with nothing to defend himself.
“I’m here for the party, dear William,” she informed him, touching his face with curiosity. “Hmm, you’re smooth. I thought you’d be scaly.”
“No need to speak, dearest. I can smell your soul. I can feel your heat.” Her eyes widened sadly. “What has she done to you? She’s ruined you. Made you like her, but worse. You’re nothing again, my William. You’re nothing.”
“Stop it,” he begged, pushing at her shoulders. But it was as if Drusilla were made of steel, for she would not move.
“She’s made you hers,” Dru said with a pout, evidence of tears in her eyes. “And you let her do it. She’s painted your heart, but she didn’t let it dry. The slayer’s left an awful mess.”
Spike met her eyes bravely. “What do you want from me?”
Drusilla grinned at that.
“I want to make you mine again.”
* * * *
Connor stood awkwardly in front of one of the boarded windows, peering through the cracks at the rain falling heavily outside.
“So how did this happen to you?” he asked. When he received no answer, he turned to face Illyria, who was standing by the trapdoor, her shocking blue eyes fixed on him. “I know you’re not her. I remember Fred. I just missed the part where Fred ended and became Illyria.”
“My essence consumed her,” Illyria stated simply.
“Then why didn’t Angel kill you?”
“He’s tried, but he hasn’t succeeded.”
“Thanks for clearing that up,” he replied sarcastically. He walked towards her. “I just don’t get you. You look like her. Your hair’s not even blue anymore.”
A hand rose to the dark brown hair resting at her shoulders. “I do not make it so. It is dark without my trying.”
“Does that mean Fred might come back?”
Illyria dropped her hand to her side. “I do not know what it means. But your friend is dead. You should learn to cope with it.”
Connor bowed his head. “I feel like I should feel sadder. About Fred. It’s just… my life changed, and she wasn’t there, and then when everything came back she was gone. I guess it doesn’t bother me that much because I wasn’t there to be bothered. Yet… it bothers me that it doesn’t bother me as much.”
Illyria stared at him. Connor blushed.
“I promise I really am in college.”
“It troubles me that I took her place,” Illyria confessed, averting her blue eyes.
“Does it?” Connor replied dubiously.
“Yes. Wesley loved her so. He felt great sorrow when she died. It grieves me. I wish he hadn’t felt such pain.”
Connor nodded. “I understand that.”
Illyria regarded him skeptically. “You understand me?”
The boy shrugged. “I understand what you feel.”
“Are my emotions so diminished that they are familiar to mortal sentiments?”
Connor’s brow furrowed in confusion before he nodded. “Yeah.”
Illyria stared at her hands, turning them over and examining them as if they had turned another color. They were still blue, though. “Yet you are not human.”
“No, not exactly. I’m not quite sure what I am. I guess I’m a demon, since all these anti-demon spells work against me, and it would make sense since my parents are both vampires. Although that doesn’t really make sense…”
“I cannot hear them,” she interrupted, her eyes falling to the trapdoor. “If they battle, the rain drowns the sound of it.”
“I guess we could take that to mean they’re still alive.”
Connor and Illyria both turned at the sound of the door creaking open, both prepared to defend themselves. They relaxed slightly when they saw Angel.
“Dad?” Connor greeted in confusion as he watched his father rush inside behind a red haired woman.
“They just showed up out of nowhere,” he replied hastily. He dropped the girl he was holding to the floor so that she stood on her feet before quickly handing her to the redhead. “I’ll stay behind. Warn the others.”
“Our shield will protect us,” she replied. “But you are not safe.”
“What’s going on?” Connor asked.
Down in the basement, Buffy and several others looked up as dust fell from the cracks in the floor above them.
“We’ve got company.”
Pola appeared at the bottom of the stairs, carrying a very injured Patrice.
“They got her,” she said, quickly but gently placing the wounded girl on the floor beside the woman who was still chanting the protection spell. “She is not dead, but I believe she has been stripped of her power.”
Buffy stared at the girl with wide eyes. How had that never happened to her? Why had no one else thought to send a power sucking demon after her? She was grateful that they hadn’t, but her curiosity was natural.
“We should keep her here until we are sure,” Althanea told the young witch as she approached Patrice, kneeling beside the girl. “If her Slayer abilities are still intact, she could still be in danger.”
“Whoa,” said Faith, staring at Pola. “You speak English?”
“You bound the wound well,” Althanea commended Pola, ignoring Faith’s comment. “But she requires more healing than we can give.”
Everyone looked up as the sound of wood breaking and demonic growling seeped through the ceiling.
“The demons found us,” Pola informed them. “The vampire Angel and the others are above, but they are outnumbered. Some took the other girl to the hospital, so there are only three.”
“Which other girl?” Buffy asked.
Pola looked at her sympathetically. “Your sister.”
Buffy went pale.
It was in that moment that it became too much, too fast. Her life was about to change, again, and she was faced with more chaos than she could process. So she didn’t think as she ran up the steep staircase, Faith, Kennedy and Amy following behind. When she arrived in the sanctuary of the church she came face to face with an ugly, scaly green demon that resembled nothing she’d ever seen before, aside from the skewer that was reminiscent of a Polgara. She quickly sliced its head off with the blade of her scythe before moving onto the next demon. She heard the others fighting around her, but all she saw were blurs of colors moving before her. Black, brown and green swirled around her in a bloody mess as she took out each demon she came across, nearly decapitating Connor in the process.
It wasn’t until she felt a sharp pain shoot through her that she stopped.
* * * *
Buffy opened her eyes, squinting at the bright light that met them. She touched her head, wincing as the pain in her stomach protested the movement. There was an IV hooked to her arm and she could feel the cheap cotton hospital gown against her skin. Her bed was surrounded by a blue curtain, blocking her surroundings. Yet no matter how hard she tried to move, the dull ache in her stomach and the weakness caused by the drugs the doctor’s must’ve given her prevented it.
Her voice was hoarse, but she called out again hoping someone would hear her. She heard footsteps behind the curtain and soon it was pushed aside, revealing a middle aged nurse in pink scrubs.
“Miss Summers, you’re awake! How are you feeling?”
“Bad,” she replied, wishing she didn’t have to speak to this woman. Where were her friends?
Suddenly she remembered what had happened, and that they might’ve been killed. Buffy began to have trouble breathing.
“How did I get here?” she asked breathily. “My friends, are they okay?”
“Relax, Miss Summers. You’ve been with us for two days, now. I should let the others know you’re awake.”
“What?” she replied weakly as the nurse left.
She’d been there for two days? That couldn’t be right. The First had obviously not been brought to power while she’d been out, or if it had, its rebirth had been subtle and understated.
She doubted that.
But where were her friends? What about Dawn? What happened to the girls who had been hiding in the church basement? Were they safe?
Tears burned in her eyes as she began to panic. What was wrong with her? She felt strange, but not because of the drugs. She felt a weakness that she couldn’t begin to describe, since it had nothing to do with her muscles.
It’s gone, she realized, looking at her hands. “Oh god…”
Xander quickly appeared at her bedside, wrapping his arms around her as he sighed with relief.
“I’m so glad you’re okay. Willow said…”
“Willow? Is she okay?” Buffy asked as she gently hugged him back. “What about Faith? Angel, a-and Connor? Where is everyone?”
“Most of them are here, but some went back to the hotel. So much bad stuff has happened, Buffy.”
“Dawn. Is she okay? I heard she was hurt.”
“I just came from seeing her. She’s a little worse off than you; her liver was damaged, but the doctors have fixed her right up. She’s just a little behind in the healing, but you’ll both be okay, Buffy. God, if we could all just stop getting stabbed and sliced open...”
“Xander,” she whispered, catching his gaze.
The hopeful little smile he’d donned while speaking before quickly disappeared. “I know, Buff. Will told us about the demons. We weren’t sure if you’d… Willow did a spell or something to check if you…” He bowed his head. “God, this is hard.”
“I’m not the slayer anymore.”
Xander wouldn’t look at her, and not since the Cruciamentum had Buffy felt so naked. For as long as Xander had known her, she’d been the Slayer. How would he see her now? Would he still love her? Would her friends care what she had to say now that she didn’t have the power, that she didn’t have the control? Would she even be able to help?
“What about everyone else? Giles, Angel? Andrew?”
Xander looked at her, surprised that she was asking about everyone else considering what had happened, but then again, not surprised at all. “Everyone’s okay. Angel’s a little cut up, but he’ll be fine. He went back to the hotel. The doctors would’ve asked too many questions if they’d seen him.”
Buffy’s heart broke at the look on Xander’s face. There was so much pity and sadness in his expression, reflecting the helplessness that she now felt. An uncomfortable silence settled over them until Xander spoke.
“Do you want me to get the others? Giles, maybe Willow?”
Buffy shook her head. She didn’t want him to leave her alone.
“I’m so sorry, Buffy,” he said earnestly, touching her face.
Her eyes slammed shut as she attempted to block the tears from falling. She had fallen a warrior. And now…
Xander’s head came to rest on her shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. “But we’ll fix it. We’ll find the demon that attacked you, and Willow will do a spell or make a potion or something—”
“If that girl can nearly destroy the world, I’m sure she… huh?”
“Oh,” he said stupidly after a long pause. “I guess this is what you’ve always wanted.”
“No one wants to be stabbed, Xander,” she replied, despite the fact that she knew his meaning. Buffy couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d lost, but she didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t know how.
“Buffy, you don’t want us to do anything?” he asked incredulously.
She shook her head, frustrated that he couldn’t read her thoughts. “There’s so much going on right now, Xander. I can’t expect everyone to bend over backwards just for me. Although,” she began, trying to find some good in her situation, “at least I don’t have to worry about being the Chosen One anymore.”
Xander frowned. “You don’t sound happy about this, Buffy.”
“That’s because I’m not. God, this must be how Spike feels.” She met his eyes. “Where is Spike?”
“I don’t know, Buff. We haven’t seen him since you two had your fight back at Faith’s.”
“Did anyone try to find him?” she asked sharply.
Xander bowed his head. Buffy closed her eyes, filled with shame and regret.
“He could be dead, Xander.”
Her eyes flew open. “Then why isn’t anyone looking for him?”
“We’ve had to take care of ourselves,” he replied defensively. “You and Dawn, and then there’s that other slayer, Patrice, who died before we could help her.”
“Damn it,” she muttered.
Nothing was familiar anymore. Her body, her life, her friends… but she wouldn’t let it control her. She had to fight the pain and confusion she was feeling and put everything back the way it should be. Which meant that she had to help Willow with the spell, find out who was trying to bring back the First and take them out, and, most importantly, find Spike.
She’d never forgive herself if he was dead.
* * * *
Water was dripping from somewhere above.
Drip… drip… drip…
Spike opened his eyes. His head was killing him and he felt fuzzy, like he was a blur of energy instead of a man. And his neck hurt.
He was in the sewers; the smell alone tipped that off. When his eyes adjusted to the dim light he could see Drusilla standing against the opposite wall, a frown marring her features.
“The flood has stopped, yet here you are. Still flowing,” she said with a sigh.
Spike raised a heavy hand to his neck, feeling the crusted blood over the wound there. Wide eyes met Drusilla’s.
“I suppose you’ve noticed you’re not dead?” she asked almost impatiently.
“How?” Spike asked simply.
Drusilla narrowed her eyes and crouched before him. “You were supposed to drink. Mummy’s milk was supposed to cure you. But you wouldn’t, not like before. You’re supposed to die without it. They’re still on fire, Spike!”
He sat up, feeling notably less afraid, but even more intoxicated, than during his last confrontation with Drusilla. They had been in the bar, and somehow they’d ended up outside, in the rain. That’s all he remembered. Plus something about baby fish that was vaguely familiar…
“You didn’t kill me.”
“No. But I tried.”
Drusilla closed her eyes before falling to her knees, shaking with hysterics.
“I came for you!” she shrieked. “I was to make it right, but nothing will ever be right again! And you,” she added in a calmer tone. “You can’t rip your sorrows apart anymore.”
He’d lived with Dru too long to take her words lightly. “What does that mean?”
She looked at him triumph in her eyes. “Your slayer is dead.”
It was as if she’d kicked him, knocking all the air out of his lungs. He’d forgotten what that felt like. “No.”
“The others are there, though. Dancing and prowling and hiding their buttons…”
“No, she can’t be dead.”
“But she is!” Drusilla cried, her mood swinging up and down, yet it stayed in the range of madness. “It’s been years, Spike, and you’re still on about her! Forget the bloody slayer! She brings you rain disguised as sunshine, and it burns you. You were happier with me, my love,” she said, crawling closer to him. “You should come back to me.”
“Buffy…” he gasped, still unable to grasp onto the idea of her being gone.
“You should be mine forever.”
Spike closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and then faced her. “I won’t.”
Drusilla sat back. “Just because it doesn’t rhyme doesn’t make it false.”
“Buffy,” he whispered, tears stinging her eyes. If it were true, than this time was worse than the last. This time she died hating him.
“I don’t have the heart to kill you now, my Spike,” she confessed, standing. Her skirt was soaked with mud and filth, but she didn’t seem to notice. “I couldn’t watch as your light went out, knowing it’d never burn again.”
She started to back away, her mad eyes focused on him as the darkness of the tunnel consumed her.
“Where… where are you going?” he called.
“Too weak to move, you are,” she replied. “You’ll be late for your lesson. Never catch up.” He heard her laugh. “Never.”
He couldn’t see her anymore, and the only sound was that of the water dripping nearby. Spike tried to sit up, but apparently two days of lying unconscious in a sewer drained of nearly all of his blood wasn’t good for him.
Tears rolled down his face as he wept, his heart breaking as he remembered the day Buffy had fallen, the way she’d lain so peacefully in death.
He should’ve stayed with her. He should’ve been the stubborn git he was supposed to be and followed her to wherever it was that she’d met her death, so he could at least be there. So he could’ve seen her one last time…
It was an hour before he became calm enough to think of himself. He couldn’t lie in that sewer forever; he had to get out. He saw a ladder leading upwards a couple of meters away.
Dru had left him to die, but he wouldn’t let her win. Buffy had broken his heart, but he wouldn’t let her win. A Mohra demon had made him mortal, but he wouldn’t let that stop him. He had to get out of there. He had to find the others.
Even if they wouldn’t want him anymore now that Buffy was gone.