11. Buffy

Light.

That was Xander's first impression when he awoke. He seemed to be floating, surrounded by bright white light.

'Is this heaven?' he asked.

'Aw, Xander, you say the nicest things.'

A shape, no, a figure leaned over him.

'Buffy?'

'The one and only,' she replied. Xander squinted, but he still couldn't make out any more than Buffy's silhouette.

'Where am I?' he asked.

'Hospital,' Buffy told him. 'You've been unconscious most of the day.'

'The car,' Xander said. 'I remember now.'

'I got you out as fat as I could, but' Buffy's voice trailed off. 'I'm sorry Xander.'

'Hey, I'd be dead if it weren't for you,' Xander pointed out, 'and I don't feel so bad.'

'That's because the docs have you doped up so high you're flying with the birds,' Buffy said. 'Trust me, it's bad.'

Xander did not know how to respond to that. He didn't even want to think about it. So he changed the subject.

'What about Drusilla?' he asked.

'It's being taken care of.'

'Yeah? How?'

'Don't worry about it, Xander,' Buffy said. 'It's my problem, not yours.'

'So you're holding out on each other now?' Xander demanded. 'I thought we'd agreed to start trusting each other after, y'know.'

'This is so not about Spike,' Buffy told him.

'Like hell it's not,' Xander replied. 'This has been about Spike since day one. God I hate that guy. Even dead he still finds a way to get at us. So what's the plan to get rid of the Wicked Witch of the West.'

Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but the words wouldn't come. Instead, she began to cry.

'Buffy, what is it?' Xander asked. 'What did I say?'

'The Wicked Witch of the West,' Buffy repeated, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. 'It's only a few weeks until Dawn's play. It'll be her big night and you just know she's going to make us all proud. And I'm not going to be there to see it.'

'Buffy, I' Xander began, but Buffy cut him off.

'It's silly, I know,' she said, 'getting this worked up about a dumb play. I mean, there's lots of things I'm going to miss, lots of really important things. So why am I getting all blubbery over a school musical? I'm supposed to be tougher than this.'

'No one should have to be that tough,' Xander said, 'and if I wasn't hooked up to all these drips and stuff I'd reach over there and hug you, but since I can'twell, can a huge, but unfortunately imaginary Xander-hug cheer you up?'

Buffy smiled and, to Xander's drug-addled brain, she looked even more like an angel than usual.

'Thanks, Xander,' she said. 'It's good to know you'll still be here to take care of her.'

'Hey, what's with all this talk of going away,' Xander said. 'You're not gonna die, okay. It's just not going to happen. Ever.'

Buffy shook her head.

'I've already died twice, Xander,' she pointed out.

'But you came back,' he replied. 'We brought you back.'

'Not this time,' Buffy said. 'What's the phrase? Third time lucky.'

'Three strikes and you're out,' Xander added. 'But come on, there's got to be another way. I mean, it's just Drusilla, right. You've beaten her before.'

'Not like this,' Buffy said. 'She's just so much more powerful. She was strong enough to kill Slayers before, but nowit's like none of the rules apply to her any more. How am I supposed to fight something like that?'

'Then don't,' Xander said. 'Run away. Far away.'

'And leave you to face her alone? Like that's gonna happen.'

'Then go to L.A. and find Angel,' Xander suggested. 'He's her sire, he'll know what to do. Heck, why not spring Faith from jail while you're at it. I mean, she may be crazy, but we can overlook that given the circumstances. And there's always strength in numbers. Call Riley. He and Sam get paid for this stuff. And what about Oz and that Pike guy. Let's have a great big Sunnydale reunion.'

'We're out of time, Xander,' Buffy said.

Xander's mouth opened and closed a couple of times wordlessly.

'What's been happening while I've been out?' he asked at last.

Buffy sighed.

'After I got you to the hospital, I went home to check on Dawn,' she said. 'The place was a wreck.'

'Dru,' Xander said.

'And I'm betting she wasn't alone,' Buffy said. 'Whatever trick she uses to get in without an invitation, I'm guessing she can work it for other vamps too.'

'As if we didn't have enough problems.'

'It gets worse,' Buffy told him. 'Clem was there. They'd left him alive, but barely. The only thing that saved his life was that they needed him to give me a message. They've taken Dawn and Janice and, if Drusilla's to be believed, they snatched just about every teen in Sunnydale.'

'Why?' Xander asked. 'What does she want?'

'Me,' Buffy explained. 'She wants me to go alone and unarmed to the Bronze at sun-down.'

'You just know it's gonna be a trap,' Xander said.

'Sure I know,' Buffy replied, 'but what choice do I have? There are too many lives at stake and I refuse to have any more blood on my hands.'

'At least let me go with you,' Xander offered.

'The invitation said alone,' Buffy pointed out, 'and you're in no fit state to go anywhere.'

'So I'm just supposed to lie here helplessly while you throw your life away?'

'Sucks, doesn't it.'

'It was bad enough losing Will,' Xander continued, 'but I managed. I coped. And part of that, a large part was because of you, Buffy. I don't know if I could cope with losing you as well.'

'You'll be strong, Xander,' Buffy said. 'I know you will.'

'And that's supposed to make me feel better?'

'It's all I've got,' Buffy replied.

'At least tell me what the plan is,' he said.

'You're not going to like it,' she said.

'Like I could stop you anyway,' Xander replied.

'Point.'

So she told him.

* * *

Despite not having a mirror, I could tell I look a mess because of the way Janice avoided looking directly at my face. I had attempted to examine the extent of the damage with my fingers, but had stopped when the prodding made my head spin. All I knew for sure was that there was a constant pain down the left side of my face and that my head felt like a balloon someone had blown up just short of bursting.

This was what I got for being a hero.

The vampires had come pouring into the room before Janice and I had a chance to react. They grabbed us and I would have bruises on my arms for a week from where the vamp had dug his claws into me. Then Clem had returned from the other room. He took one look at us, then roared and waded in. For a guy who claims to be squeamish around violence, he's awfully good at it when he gets mad. I'd only ever seen Clem gentle as a kitten before now so I guess I must have forgotten just how big he was. And he had the strength to match his size.

Unfortunately, the vampires had strength of numbers.

Once they had Clem pinned to the ground, they began laying in to him, making him suffer for daring to stand up to them. I couldn't just stand by and watch, so I fought back. The vampires decided to 'discourage' me the way they were discouraging Clem.

That was the last thing I remembered before waking up here.

'Here' was the Bronze. Looking around, I could see frightened teenagers pressed against each other, penned in against one side of the room. Many looked as if they had been snatched direct from their beds, others like they'd been at the Bronze when the vampires took over. The vampires themselves were patrolling in front of us. No one tried standing up to them. I suspected that the fight had been beaten out of any dissenters while I'd been unconscious.

'How long have I been out?' I asked Janice.

'Better part of a day,' she replied, showing me her watch. 'It's mid-afternoon now.'

'So it's daylight out there,' I said. 'If we can get outside, the vampires won't be able to follow.'

At least, I thought they wouldn't. Who knew what other gifts Drusilla had given them?

'And how come you know so much about them?' a familiar voice asked.

'Drew,' I said, turning round so I could face him. He looked like I felt and he didn't seem happy to see me.

'What's going on here, Dawn?' he demanded.

'I don't know,' I told him.

He scowled.

'Seriously,' I insisted. 'Most vampires just kill their prey. I don't know why they're keeping us alive.'

'But you do know a lot about vampires,' Drew persisted. 'An awful lot for someone who claimed not to be holding out on me.'

'Can we shelve this discussion for some time less life-threatening,' I said. 'Where's Chrissie?'

I wondered why she hadn't piped up already, but when Drew pointed to her I understood at once. Chrissie no longer had a mouth.

'What happened?' I gasped. 'Who did this to her?'

'One of your freaky friends, that's who,' Drew explained. 'That one that runs the magic box.'

'Anya?' I asked. 'But she wouldn't? She couldn't?'

'I was there, okay,' Drew said. 'I saw her.'

'Then she must have been forced,' I insisted. 'She wouldn't have done that willingly.'

'Look at her!' Drew demanded, pointing at Chrissie. 'Do you really think that matters?'

There wasn't a lot I could say to that. Fortunately, I didn't have to.

'Where do you get off blaming Dawn for everything?' Janice asked. 'Look around you. Which side if the fence is she on, here with us or out there with them?'

'She knows what's going on,' Drew retorted. 'She's always known. She just didn't think it worth warning us there were monsters out there.'

'She was trying to protect us,' Janice said. 'She wanted to shield us from all this.'

'Well she should have tried harder,' Drew shot back. 'We didn't ask to be involved in her life.'

'Didn't you, Drew?' I asked. 'Weren't you trying to find out my secret. That was going to be the big one, wasn't it? The story that got you noticed.'

'I didn't know what it was going to cost,' Drew said quietly, looking meaningfully at Chrissie.

I looked away, thinking of Willow and Tara. I'd tried to protect them, to keep them out of my other life, but I'd failed and then some. And whatever happened next, it was going to cost us and I knew better than anyone how much.

* * *

Anya jumped out of her chair when she heard the knocking at her front door. She was sitting by one side of the bed. Halfrek was sitting opposite her. Trix was curled up above the covers. His skin was pale, but was hot to the touch. He shivered violently, but at least he had stopped screaming.

The knocking came again, louder this time.

'Well, aren't you going to answer it?' Halfrek asked.

'Do you think I should?' Anya asked.

More knocking, much more forceful then before.

'If you don't want to have to replace that cute door of yours then hell yeah,' Halfrek responded.

Anya got up and walked cautiously from the bedroom.

'Who is it?' she called out.

'Anya, it's me,' Buffy replied. 'We need to talk and there isn't much time.'

Anya flung open the door and wrapped her arms around Buffy.

'Buffy, I'm so glad to see you,' she said.

'Um, sure,' Buffy replied dubiously as she peeled Anya's arms off her. 'I get the feeling I've missed a chapter somewhere.'

'It's Trix,' Anya said. 'I think I've killed him.'

Then she burst into tears.

Buffy put a comforting arm around the demon.

'Show me,' she said.

When Buffy saw Trix curled up on the bed she had to fight to keep herself from turning away, but she knew she had to be strong and if she couldn't stand up to this challenge, how was she going to survive the rest of the evening?

'What happened?' Buffy asked.

The question was directed to Anya, but she was crying too much to speak so Halfrek explained.

'Drusilla is out for vengeance,' she said. 'That means she can claim the power of the Wish for herself.'

'If Drusilla really had control over the Wish, none of us would be here,' Buffy pointed out.

'We fought back,' Halfrek explained. 'We're justice demons, not vengeance demons. Drusilla's claim isn't just so we should be able to fight her.'

'Should?'

'Honey, this isn't an exact science,' Halfrek replied. 'Justice isn't one of nature's fundamental forces. Hate and desire, on the other hand, are.'

'But you managed to stand up to her,' Buffy said.

'Once,' Halfrek replied, 'and not before she'd forced Anya to do some terrible things.'

Buffy chewed her lower lip thoughtfully.

'Drusilla's taken Dawn,' Buffy said slowly. 'She's terrified my sister, hurt her for, as you put it, her unjust desire for vengeance. Does that make me a 'wronged woman'?'

A smile twitched across Halfrek's lips as she realised what Buffy was getting at.

'You know, honey,' she replied, 'it just might. It just might at that.'

Buffy turned to Anya.

'Anyanka,' she said, 'I need you to listen to me. I have been wronged and I wish make my rightful claim to the power of the Wish.'

'What is your desire?' Anya asked. Her voice was resonant, formal, completely at odds with her tear-streaked face.

'I wish that all those wishes you have granted Drusilla are undone,' Buffy told her.

And now a smile appeared on Anya's face.

'Wish granted,' she said.

Trix stretched, cat-like, and sat up.

'Like you couldn't have done that sooner?' he asked.

Anya threw her arms around him, climbing onto the bed beside him.

'I thought you were going to die,' she said. 'I thoughtI though I'd killed you.'

'Hush now,' Trix said, brushing a stray strand of hair out of her face. 'You can't get rid of me that easily.'

'Everything's a joke to you, isn't it,' Anya said, anger mixing in with the relief.

'Not everything,' Trix said, leaning closer so that he could kiss her.

'Cute, isn't it,' Halfrek said to Buffy.

'That's one word for it,' Buffy replied. 'I'm just going to wait in the next room. You'll let me know when they're done?'

She was sitting in the other room, thumbing through a TV guide when Trix and Anya came up for air.

'Um, sorry about that,' Trix said, rubbing the back of his neck.

Anya had her arm around him and she was grinning broadly, completely unapologetic.

'Whatever,' Buffy said, waving Trix's apology away. 'You guys should enjoy each other while you can.'

'Anything good on?' Halfrek asked, pointing to the magazine.

Buffy shrugged, replacing the TV guide on the table.

'Nothing I'm going to get to see,' she replied.

'Another late night, huh?' Halfrek deduced.

'Later than you might think.'

'So, when do we saddle up and get some payback?' Trix asked.

'Isn't that a bit direct for you?' Buffy asked. 'What happened to the laid-back demon we've all come to know and'

'Love?' Anya offered.

'Speak for yourself,' Buffy replied.

'The old Trix is still in here somewhere,' Trix told her, 'but having an insane vampire turn your blood to something nasty, that tends to piss a guy off a little.'

'I can imagine,' Buffy said, 'and in answer to your first question, we aren't going anywhere. I'm going alone.'

'You have so got to be kidding,' Halfrek said.

'Can you promise me you won't fold if Drusilla tries to use your powers again,' Buffy asked, 'honestly.'

Halfrek looked away.

'Thought not,' Buffy continued. 'Besides, there's something I need you to do for me. I want you to go to the hospital and guard Xander.'

'Xander's in hospital?'

Anya's arm fell away from Trix and she took a small step to one side. She probably didn't even realise she was doing it, but Buffy noticed. And so did Trix.

'There was a car accident,' Buffy said, cutting off Anya's squeals of concern. 'He's going to be fine. But Drusilla's already gone after him once and I'll feel better if I know someone's gonna be watching over him.'

'We're there,' Trix said. 'And in the meantime, I suppose you'll be taking the fight to the crazy-lady herself?'

'Soon,' Buffy assured him, 'but there's one more stop I need to make first.'

* * *

I didn't even see it happen, but one moment Chrissie had a smooth area of flesh where her mouth should be, the next she broke into a relieved smile. She poked and prodded her face with her fingers.

'Is everything okay?' she asked.

'You look back to normal,' I said.

'You look great,' Drew added.

'What do you suppose happened just now?' Janice asked.

I had no doubts.

'Buffy,' I said.

'Your sister?' Drew asked sceptically.

'Seems Buffy's more than just a sister,' Janice told him.

'So she's prepared to tell you what's going on, just not the rest of us,' Drew declared hotly.

'It wasn't like that,' Janice replied.

'No?' Drew asked. 'Because it sounds very much like the two of you have been talking behind my back.'

'Will you cut it out,' Chrissie snapped. 'Dawn's our friend, or had you forgotten that part.'

'I just' Drew began. 'Seeing you like that'

'Nice as it is to know you care,' Chrissie replied, 'it's hardly Dawn's fault. Don't you think I wish she'd have told us about all this stuff rather than keeping secrets? Sure I do. But I trust Dawn and I know she had her reasons. And, be fair, would knowing this stuff really have helped us last night?'

'I guess not,' Drew admitted reluctantly.

'Keep the noise down back there,' one of the vampires called out.

He walked over to us.

'We've got ways of keeping you quiet,' he said. 'Permanently.'

His hand shot out and grabbed Drew by the throat, hauling him off of the ground.

'Do you really think we need this many hostages?' The vampire asked, baring his fangs.

'Enough!'

Drusilla glided into the room, her black dress trailing like shadows.

'You've been a very naughty boy,' she said. 'Did mummy say you could feed? Did she?'

'But I'm hungry,' the vampire whined.

'No one eats anyone until I say so,' Drusilla told him. 'Do you understand?'

'I understand,' the vampire said, meekly. He let go of Drew, who fell to the floor, gasping for air.

'Good boy,' Drusilla said, stroking the vampire's face and his hair. 'You'll all get to feast on the cattle later and you wouldn't want to spoil your appetite before then, would you?'

'No, mistress,' the vampire agreed, eyes down, submissive.

'That's my boy,' Drusilla said.

Then she tore off his head.

'Does anyone else want to argue with mummy?' she asked.

* * *

The basement apartment was reached by a flight of stairs at the side of the building. Buffy jumped down the stairs and kicked the door open.

'Do you mind?' Jonathan complained. 'Who's gonna pay for a new lock?'

'Sorry,' Buffy said, not sounding very sorry at all. 'I'm having a bad day.'

'Well, I appreciate you sharing your pain and all,' Jonathan replied, 'but try not to share it with my furniture.'

'I'll take it under advisement,' Buffy said.

Jonathan was sitting at his computer, the screen angled away from Buffy.

'Working on anything interesting?' she asked, trying to sneak a peak.

'None of your business,' Jonathan insisted, hurriedly turning off the monitor.

'I'll take that as a yes then,' Buffy said, 'but I'm not here to pry into your dirty secrets.'

Jonathan swung his swivel chair round to face her. He overestimated, though, and ended up spinning further than he intended. He thrust out his feet to try and stabilise himself.

'S-so why are you here,' he asked as he managed to bring the chair to a stop.

'Are you still serious about wanting to make up for what you've done?' Buffy asked.

'Well, yeah. Sure,' Jonathan said. 'What did you have in mind?'

'I need you're help to defeat Drusilla,' Buffy told him.

'I'm, well, I'm not really good with all that fighting stuff,' Jonathan admitted.

'Don't worry,' Buffy said, 'I'm not asking you to come with me. I just need a little magical assist.'

'Even there,' Jonathan said, 'I don't do much in the way of combat magic. That's not how my powers work.'

'So what can you do?' Buffy asked. 'I've seen you work some really bad mojo before, Jonathan. There must be something you can do.'

Something crossed Jonathan's face.

'Sorry, can't help you,' he said hastily. 'Wish I could. Do you best to close the door on your way out.'

'Jonathan,' Buffy warned, 'you've thought of something, haven't you?'

'Uh uh. No way,' Jonathan replied. 'Absolutely not.'

'Jonathan,' Buffy said, 'don't make me have to hurt you.'

'It's just a theory,' he whined, 'an idea I had for beating vamps. I don't even know if it'd work.'

'Who's up for a little experiment?' Buffy asked rhetorically.

'You don't understand what you're asking,' Jonathan pleaded.

'I think I do,' Buffy said. 'I think I know exactly what I'm asking.'

'Don't make me do this. Please.'

'You owe me, Jonathan,' Buffy said.

'No way I owe you that much,' Jonathan replied.

'Then don't do it for me,' Buffy said. 'Drusilla's holding a bunch of kids hostage, including my sister. If I can't save them then they'll all die. And I can save them, but only with your help. I know your conscience is bugging you. That's why you offered to help in the first place. Imagine how much worse it'll be when you're responsible for all these deaths.'

* * *

Janice was looking at her watch.

'Sun'll be down soon,' she said. 'Do you think you're sister will come for us.'

'I'm sure of it,' I told her, 'but I'm praying she won't.'

'What do you mean?' Janice asked.

'Look at them,' I said, indicating the vampires. 'There are so many of them. Buffy's good, but'

'She's here,' Drusilla shouted.

A moment later, Buffy kicked the door open.

'You know,' she said, 'this is probably the first time I've been on time for anything. I'm alone and unarmed, just like you asked.'

'Search her,' Drusilla ordered two vampires.

'Why don't we just kill her?' one of the vampires asked.

'I'm here to talk,' Buffy said.

'And there's much to talk about,' Drusilla said, 'so many words written on the air waiting to be spoken. It would be a shame of you were to die before I'd had a chance to share them.'

'But' the vampire continued.

Drusilla glared at him and he recoiled. Then she turned back to Buffy.

'If you do not let my children search you I might have to hurt one of the poor humans,' she said, 'but if they try to do any more than hurt, well, I can always make more.'

Buffy stood rigidly to attention while the vampires searched her for weapons. One vampire was particularly thorough in his search, but eased off when Buffy glared at him. The other vampire screamed when he found the cross hanging round Buffy's neck. He backed away, clutching his smoking hand.

'Take it off,' Drusilla said.

For a moment, I thought Buffy was going to argue, but then she shrugged, removed the necklace and threw it out of the door behind her.

'Now can we talk?' Buffy asked.

'That's your sister?' Chrissie asked.

'Mm hmm,' I agreed, torn between pride and fear.

'Wow.'

'I can taste the fear in the air,' Drusilla purred. 'It's all tingly, like the air before a storm.'

'Good choice of words,' Buffy remarked.

'Are you afraid of me, Slayer?' Drusilla asked. 'Yes, yes, you can't hide it from me. I can see it, you know. It's like dozens of fireflies crawling across your skin. You're afraid of me.'

'Yes,' Buffy said. 'I've seen what you can do. I have a right to be afraid.'

'And yet still you are here,' Drusilla said. 'I wonder why.'

'I came to stop you hurting these kids,' Buffy explained.

Drusilla shook her head.

'Now, now, tell mummy the truth,' she scolded. 'You wanted to run away, but you couldn't. You could feel the pull, couldn't you, the tug of my vengeance, drawing you back. Justice will be served.'

'The only reason I ran away was to prevent you from hurting anyone else,' Buffy replied. 'That's also the only reason I came back.'

'Believe what you wish,' Drusilla said. 'Doesn't make it true. I can here the Fates calling to me, singing their sweet lullabies. They are marking out the span of your life, ready to act out punishment for what you've done. The span of your life is oh so short now.'

'What's she talking about?' Janice whispered to me.

'I don't know,' I replied, but I was afraid that I did.

'You took him from me,' Drusilla continued, moving slowly forward, writhing sinuously like a serpent hypnotising its prey. 'You killed my precious Spike, my love. That was bad.'

'What do you care?' Buffy asked. She shifted her legs, spacing them further apart in a loose fighting stance. 'You left him as I recall.'

'But I never stopped loving him,' Drusilla snapped. 'We were meant to be together forever, but even from the first you poisoned his mind. You took him from me and then, when you were done, you destroyed what was left.'

'I never wanted him,' Buffy insisted. 'He was the one that came after me.'

'Liar!' Drusilla shouted. 'You bewitched him. You used him for your pleasure than spat him out, twisted and broken.'

'That's so not how it happened,' Buffy told her.

'You took from me the one I loved,' Drusilla said. 'It's only fair that I do the same to you.'

She snapped her fingers and a vampire walked other and plucked me out of the crowd. I tried to struggle, but he was built like a professional wrestler. He threw me onto the ground at Drusilla's feet. Before I could stand, she had crouched down and had wrapped her arms around me, stroking me with those long fingernails of hers. I tried to pull away, but her arms were in constant motion, hemming me in.

'Leave her alone!' Buffy shouted.

'Do you feel it?' Drusilla asked. 'Do you feel a fraction of the pain I feel?'

She rang her finger along my cheek, opening up the wound that I had suffered back at the house. The blood felt warm against my skin.

'I said leave her alone!' Buffy started forward, but four vampires moved to block her path.

'Don't you want to watch, little girl?' Drusilla purred. 'Don't you agree that it's my right to hurt you the way you hurt me?'

Buffy took a deep breath.

'What if I could offer you an alternative?' she said.

'What could you possibly offer me in exchange for the life of my beloved Spike?' Drusilla demanded.

Buffy's eyes met mine.

'No!' I shouted, as I realised what she was going to say. Buffy's voice, however, was louder, resonating around the room.

'Me,' she said.

'You?' Drusilla laughed. 'We already have you. I will make you watch while I torture your sister and then we will kill her and all these cattle. And then, when you are finally broken, we will feast on your heart. You see, you have nothing to offer me.'

'That's not what I meant,' Buffy said. 'I'm offering myself as a replacement for Spike. I'm prepared to let you sire me.'

'You would do that?' Drusilla asked, eyes alive with interest.

'Willingly,' Buffy said, 'as long as you spare their lives.'

'What makes you think you are worthy to replace my Spike?'

Buffy sneered.

'What makes you think I'm not?'

Drusilla cocked her head to one side.

'I turn them free and I get to turn you?'

'That's the deal,' Buffy said.

'I could always turn you through force,' Drusilla replied. 'I could make you become one of us.'

'It wouldn't be the same, though, would it?' Buffy told her. 'I soul that chooses the darkness of its own free will is always that much sweeter. Isn't that what Angel said?'

Drusilla licked her lips.

'Let them go,' she commanded her vampires.

'But' one of them began.

Drusilla rounded on him.

'Don't make me repeat myself,' she said.

The kids began to stream towards the exit. I felt Drusilla's hand on my shoulder.

'Run,' she whispered in my ear.

I ran.

I only stopped when I reached the door. My heart was pounding in my chest. I was trembling. But my sister was about to throw her life away and I wasn't about to let her. Not this time.

I started back into the Bronze.

Janice grabbed hold of me and pulled me back.

'Like where do you think you're going?' she asked.

'I'm going back to get Buffy,' I told her. 'Either help me or keep out of my way.'

Janice let go of my arm and smiled.

'Well, if you put it like that,' she said, 'then I guess I'm going in with you.'

'I'm coming too,' Chrissie said.

'No, you're not,' Drew told her.

'What do you mean I'm not?' she demanded.

'We didn't ask to get involved in this,' he replied. 'I say get out while the going's good.'

'You run and hide if you like, Drew,' Chrissie replied, 'but Dawn's my friend and that means I'm going to stand by her no matter what.'

The three of us stepped back inside.

I glanced to my right. Drew was there, too. I smiled gratefully at him. He ignored me.

Well, time to get this over with.

'Buffy!' I shouted.

She turned and looked at me.

'Get out of here, Dawn,' she said, 'it isn't your fight.'

'Like hell it isn't,' I called back. 'We're here to help you. We're ready to fight our way out if we have to.'

'That isn't the way this is going down, Dawn,' Buffy said. 'If we fight them we'll die. This way, the rest of you get to live. That's the thing about being the Slayer. It's not about the slaying at all. It's about the saving.'

'Buffy, don't do this,' I begged.

She turned her back on Drusilla.

'Trust me,' she said.

Then she winked at me.

I turned to my friends.

'Let's get out of here,' I said.

'But Buffy' Janice began.

'Buffy trusts me,' I told her. 'The least I can do is trust her.'

And I walked away, but I paused in the doorway - half in, half out of the club - and couldn't go on anymore.

Buffy turned back to Drusilla.

'Well?' she prompted.

'Do you give yourself up freely and of your own will?' Drusilla asked.

'I do,' Buffy replied, tilting her head to expose the creamy white flesh of her neck. She grinned cheekily. 'Bite me.'

Drusilla's human guise fell away as she morphed into her game-face. Then she sunk her teeth into Buffy's throat.

Buffy extended her arms out to her sides and other vampires gathered, sinking the teeth into her wrists and her forearms. Still others gathered at her feet, feeding from the arteries in her legs. There were too many vampires to all crowd round at once and latecomers tore others of their kind off of her in order to take their turn. One was so desperate that she ignored the prime feeding sites and instead sunk her fangs deep into Buffy's side.

Buffy's eyes rolled back and her eyelids fluttered. She gasped, though I couldn't tell if it was in agony or ecstasy and, to be honest, I didn't want to know. I wanted to turn away, to look anywhere, but at Buffy. But she was my sister and I refused to turn my back on her. She had never let me down and I owed it to her to be just as strong. But to see thosethose animals drinking from her

I threw up on my shoes.

My head was spinning and I reached out for the doorframe to steady myself. And I wasn't the only one going week at the knees. One by one the vampires staggered away from Buffy, weaving drunkenly through the Bronze.

A male vampire with a goatee raised his arm and I could see the flesh boiling away from his arm, exposing the bone. He screamed and the burst in a cloud of green dust.

Around the room other vampires began screaming as their flesh began blackening and blistering, their pain only halted by the deaths.

Drusilla staggered away from Buffy. Her flesh was falling from her face in chunks.

'You did this,' she said, pointing a bony finger accusingly at Buffy.

'Gotcha,' Buffy said, weakly.

Drusilla burst into flame and her wailing lingered in the room long after her body turned to ash.

Buffy lay on her back, staring at the ceiling. She didn't have much time left. There was blood on her fingers. Was it her own or did it belong to one of the vamps? Just maybe, this was her last chance to prolong her life.

Slowly, with the last of her strength, Buffy lifted her hand to her mouth.

I grabbed her hand and pulled it to her side before her fingers could touch her lips.

'No,' I said.

Buffy managed a weak smile.

'Thanks, Dawn,' she whispered. 'I think you may have saved me.'

I knew we weren't talking about her life.

'Buffy, what happened?' I asked. 'What did you do?'

'Jonathan,' Buffy wheezed, coughing up bile. 'He spiked my blood. Only way.'

'No,' I cried, 'no there must have been something else. It shouldn't end like this.'

'Not end,' Buffy told me. 'Beginning. For you. Zauriel said. I've been holding you back. You're going to do great things, Dawn. If you're strong.'

'How can I be strong?' I wailed. 'I don't want to be alone.'

'You won't be alone. Never alone.'

'But I want you, Buffy,' I told her.

'I want to stay,' Buffy replied, 'but that's not how it's gonna be. Don't cry. You've got to be strong now, Dawn. You've gotta be strong for all of them. Promise me?'

I sniffed.

'Promise,' I said.

'Tell Giles,' Buffy began, 'tell him I hope I made him proud. And tell Angeldon't tell Angel anything. He'll understand.'

'Buffy,' I cried, tears flowing freely. 'Don't die. Please don't die.'

'Not got a lot of choice,' Buffy murmured. 'Just remember something, Dawn. Helping to raise you was the best thing I ever did.'

'Buffy!'

'I' But whatever she had been about to say was lost. She no longer had the breath in her body to form words. Slowly, gingerly, I reached forward and closed her eyes.

Outside the rain began to fall, the sky's own lament.

And across town, in a cold bathtub, Helena's eyes snapped open.

I clutched Buffy's body to mine, trying to trap the last of the fleeing warmth as we rocked back and forth. I didn't know where we were going to go from here, but I did know one thing for sure.

Her death was going to change everything.

The story continues in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Prelude.