I slept. Blessed sleep, dreamless sleep. The sleep of the dammed.
When I woke, the sun was turning a violent red. Wrapping the afghan around me I watched my final sunset creep along the floor of Rupert's house.
His deserted house.
He hadn't come back. He wasn't going to come back. I had seen him for the last time, and the knowledge was like a fist around my throat. Like a bruise on my soul.
My beloved was gone.
All that was left was the battle.
The light was finally covered in silky blackness. Hefting the sword the Rupert had given me, I grabbed my bag of supplies and walked out the door.
Everything was as it had been before I arrived. Nothing out of place, no tell-tale bags of blood in the fridge, no dirty dishes in the sink. You couldn't even tell someone had been there.
That was the point.
Striding out into the night, I didn't look back. I couldn't. One can only take so much emotional drama before they curl up in a corner and have to be force fed chocolate.
I pointed myself towards town. Perhaps there was a late-night parish that wouldn't be opposed to blessing my sword. As long as nobody got too free and friendly with their cross and holy water, this should be a quick errand.
Eleventh rule of Slaying - Nothing is ever as easy as it should be. The little wise guy in the corner will, inevitably, be the hardest to kill.
So, come to find out, Sunnydale is absolutely lousy with churches. Trouble is, most are empty. Guess the Hellmouth isn't good for business.
I finally found a tiny church near the center of town that had a few lights on in back. And heavy duty bars on the windows.
Didn't see that back in my day.
After knocking for a good twenty minutes, a scared looking guy in priest's garb opened the door.
"May I help you?" He only stammered a few times, so I had to give him credit. Anyone cruising the streets of this town after dark carrying a big-ass sword probably wasn't selling Girl Scout cookies.
"I hope so," I smiled, and held the sword handle out towards him. "I need some help with this."
"Oh," the priest squeaked, "we're pacifists. We don't exactly do weapons here. So sorry, but have a good night!" He tried to slam the door shut, but I was quicker. With a swift turn I was past him and inside the church.
Taking great care to avoid any basins of water or holy symbols in general, I moved towards the alter at the front of the sanctuary. The priest followed after me, making spluttering noises of protest.
"Listen," whirling around, I pointed the business end of the sword at the man, "I don't want to hurt you. But I will. I need your help and I don't have a lot of time left."
His eyes were darting around and his mouth forming soundless prayers. Great beads of sweat were dripping down his face, his knees knocking in panic.
What had I become?
"Do you know what I am?" The whispered question was out before I had thought it.
The priest hesitated, his eyes tracking the sword inches from his neck. He nodded.
"You're," he licked his lips, "you're a vampire. One of the cursed."
"Yes," he said. "Soulless. You fear God's holy things because all that is given to man to respond to such has been stripped from you."
I moved close to him. His eyes focused on mine. I could feel his panic. But underneath was...
Peace. He feared the pain, but only that. I could do nothing to him that he was not equipped to endure.
For an endless moment we stood face to face. The sword hung limply from my hand, all but forgotten. The priest's eyes searched mine, looking for a monster; I searched his, wondering if he could see.
"Do you," I rasped, "know what I am?"
The priest took a step back, a shuddering breath. He passed his hand over his eyes.
"No," he said finally. "You are what I thought, but you have something..."
He paused, then reached for the sword I still clung to.
"What did you need from me?" he asked, breaking my trance.
I handed Rupert's sword to him. "I need this blessed, Father."
"Is that all?" He examined the sword, feeling it's weight. "This is a good weapon."
"Yes," I said.
He looked at me, his brow knotted inquisitively. "And what are you going to use such a weapon on, my child?"
It was my turn to hesitate. This man was obviously knowledgeable about the 'other side' of Sunnydale; facing evil was an occupational hazard. But more information that was necessary could be dangerous for him.
"Evil, Father," I said.
He nodded, then placed the sword on the alter. I stepped back, out of the way of the drops of holy water the priest sprinkled on the blade of my weapon. He muttered prayers of blessing and protection, the litany blending into a music of sorts.
When he was finished, he tore the bottom off a banner that decorated the front of the podium and wrapped the now blessed sword in it. Handing it to me, he gave me a sad smile.
I turned towards the door, the fabric protecting my hands from the burning holiness of my weapon. My hand on the knob, I turned back to find the priest still at the alter, watching me.
"Father," I said, "may I ask you something?"
"Yes," he moved towards me. "I thought you would."
"Why did you let me in?"
He looked taken aback. "I suppose because," he shook his head ruefully, "because you can't spend your entire life barring the door against the world. Evil might get in, that's true. But good comes in the same door. You just have to be prepared to fight the first, and hope for the latter."
Turning back to the door I said, "Thank you - for hoping."
"To be honest," said the priest, "that's not what I was expecting you to ask."
I paused, waiting.
"I assumed you'd ask what I was going to say earlier. When I said you were what I thought."
My eyes met his again. "But you said I had something. What?"
The priest stepped closer to me, laid a hand against my unbeating heart. "Something I honor."
Desperate, I searched his gaze for meaning. "What do you honor, Father?"
"Humanity," the priest said simply.
My throat constricted. This man of God, this person of faith, had every reason to see only the monster. To see only my evil, the demon clutching at my soul. Yet he could - he chose - to see beyond the tattered shreds of dispair into what I was. What I could become.
Just as Rupert had done.
Holding the sword tightly, I nodded and slipped out of his grasp and into the night.
I barely heard his voice as the door shut behind me.
"Go with God."
Making my way through the streets, I find a seedy little dive. "Willy's" or something equally prosy.
A few quick inquiries made, three or four drinks of indeterminate nature bought, and a brief discussion in the back of the bar concluded my business in the town of Sunnydale.
It's amazing what a few bucks can buy you from an obliging demon. Of course, the threats and Slayer name-dropping might have had more to do with the fellow's acquiescent nature than the hundred bucks I had lifted from Spike's wallet over the past week.
Oh well. Either way the task was complete.
I glanced quickly at the clock on the wall as I left the bar.
Only two more hours to complete the spell and make my way to Laalym's warehouse. The chances of being interrupted at my crypt were too high, so I had to find another deserted, quiet place to make some magic.
I remembered seeing a couple of deserted-looking houses on my way into town the first night, so I started in that direction.
Fifteen minutes of quick walking and I had completed my last act of breaking and entering. The house was creaking and squeaking, rife with dust and critters, but it would do for my purpose.
Setting the sword down in the corner, I poured a circle of binding sand on the floor. I brought out the eight fat white candles and began arranging them in the circle, then lit each.
I grabbed the book and took my seat in the middle, Lethe's bramble in my lap.
Closing my eyes, I prepared myself. Simple spell this wasn't, and even though it might be considered the easiest of the memory spells I was no witch. Messing with the mind always brought consequences.
But it was the only way.
I lifted the book and began to read.
"Vestri memoria mei
Your memory of me
"Est tantum poena
Is only pain
"EGO precor is absentis
I beseech this to be gone
"Per incendia of meus alica
May the very fire of my spell
Bring you peace.
My hand shook as I held a cluster of Lethe's bramble to the first candle.
I could see her, lying in her bed, reading under the covers. Her hair caught the beam of her flashlight, sparkled.
I could feel the spell working, erasing me from her memory.
The ex-demon was asleep, her dreams full of comforting violence and vengeance. A world of black and white where she was Justice.
I was slipping away from her memories.
He was sleeping next to her, his arm draped comfortably over her shoulder. As I drifted from his recollection, he muttered and pulled her closer.
The witch was awake, getting ready for bed. She gave a little shudder as the spell worked through her mind.
She had just gotten into her pajamas, just laid her head on the pillow. The spell jerked her back awake with a ghostly touch. With a quick glance around the room, she shrugged and pulled Tara into bed.
Just a bad dream.
The vampire was walking through a graveyard, making his way towards the Slayer. An unlit cigarette hung from his lips.
The spell blew through his mind, rifling through his memories and pulling me out. He whirled around, searching for the sound he imagined, and dropped his cig. Finding no one there, he swore as he searched the ground for his last smoke.
The Slayer was fighting a newly awoken vamp as the spell took me away from her.
She dusted him and moved on. On a mission.
Seven candles were out, seven charred flowers in a circle around me. One more candle, one more cluster and I would be gone.
I would die alone. Unmourned.
It was for the best.
Selfishly, I had left him for last. I didn't have to go through with it. If I went to him, explained, he would keep my secret. He would hold my memory.
That knowledge made it easier to lift the Lethe's bramble to the last candle. To say his name.
I had caused him too much pain already. To ask him to take on more, alone, would negate all that I was fighting for.
In order to complete this, I had to disappear. Their lives must go on without me.
The bramble had caught fire.
"Rupert Daniel Giles."
He was sitting in his living room, on the couch. A glass was in his hand and a Pink Floyd record was playing.
He was thinking of me.
The spell began working on him. It rifled through the last week of his memory, extracting me bit by bit.
When I first walked through the door of The Magic Box, he had helped me because I reminded him of his first love. When I told my story, he had to remember to breathe.
The night that Spike had carried me, unconscious, into the shop, it had taken all his strength not to go and dust every vamp that might have harmed me.
He had to stop himself from kissing me in front of Tara and Willow.
Whenever I laughed, he wished that he could stop time and live forever in that moment.
Even now, he was planning ways to finish off Laalym and live happily ever after.
But slowly I began to disappear.
I watched his face, my tears falling unheeded, as the spell worked.
Suddenly he looked up. A dawning recognition crossed his eyes.
It couldn't be stopped. Even if I had wanted to, the spell was in motion. As the last memory was taken from him, a single tear traced his cheek.
Then I couldn't see him anymore. I was back in the dusty old house, surrounded by eight burned-out candles and the ashes of flowers.
It was done.
I motored through the streets, the bag banging against my leg and the sword dragging my arm down. Leave it to Laalym to pick a spot for our final galactic battle all the sodding way across town. Now my bouncy hairdo would be all flat-like.
There had been one small thing I had lied to Rupert about. The information I had gathered from various lowlifes and bloodsuckers had, indeed, pointed me towards an abandoned warehouse outside of Sunnydale. But the night that Laalym had planned our little rendezvous was not tomorrow. It was tonight.
I had received the summons. Now I was responding. Alone.
This would be a surprise for Laalym. He expected a repeat of last time - me marching in with my army, proverbial guns blazing. An easy feast for him, a predictable downfall for me and those who fought by my side.
He didn't plan on me throwing out the rules.
I was a Slayer. I should focus on the mission, at any cost. Any price.
He would be waiting for my troops, waiting to play on my pride. He didn't know what I knew.
I was going to win. Because I wasn't willing to lose everything. My life wasn't important to me anymore, and I wasn't bringing the people - the person - I cared most about along on this bloodbath.
It was very important to Laalym that both he and I stayed undusted during the course of our encounter.
That's where he was going to lose. Because I very much wanted dusting to happen. And the fool who's willing to die is usually the fool who gets their wish.
The rusty scent of apathy assaulted my senses. Dilapidated buildings surrounded me. It was like everyone decided to leave work at once, and no one ever came back. I could sense that most of the structures stood empty, but a coiling sense of smooth power was beckoning from the building directly in front of me.
I had found Laalym.
With a swift kick I sent the metal door flying into the dark maw of the warehouse.
"Honey," I called, "I'm home!" Walking confidently forward, I ignored the glowing yellow eyes all around me and focused on the raised dais in the middle of the room.
His skin was pale and putrid, pulled back into wrinkles and crags. Yellow eyes were rimmed in black, and his fangs overlapped cherry red lips. Laalym wore a black cape over a purple robe. The nightmare king.
"Still with your quips, young one," he shook his head sadly. "Still here, at the end, you don't realize the gravity of your situation."
Laalym strode forward, his feet seeming to skim the floor. He stopped a scant few feet from me. Just out of striking distance.
"I would have thought that the memory of what happened last time you were arrogant enough to challenge me would give you pause." He gestured me towards a chair, invited me to sit. Invited in the sense that fifty of his muscle-bound flunkies started to crack their knuckles when I hesitated.
I sat down as graciously as I could under the circumstances. All due respect to the manners-conscious of the world, but sitting on a rough wooden chair in a warehouse surrounded by vampires is not the occasion for demure ankle crossing and hand folding.
Circling my chair like some swollen bird of prey, Laalym mocked me with his smile, his easy gate. He should be dust under my feet. Instead I had to sit silently and take his lashes.
"Foolish child," Laalym crowed, "unwilling to capitulate before your inevitable fall. I really did think, though, that seeing the wreck of a man your beloved Daniel had become would force you to face reality."
My anger burned when he mentioned Rupert. The hand clutching the sword tightened around the hilt. But it wasn't the time yet.
"Did you see the fear in his eyes, Slayer? Did you sense his hatred of what you've become? What you are? Did he turn you away? Is that why you're here alone, then? He refused to touch you, couldn't stand the stench of your filth."
Laalym bent my head to the side, exposing my neck. His long fingers brushed the scar left by his teeth. I couldn't repress a shiver.
"I can't blame him, really," Laalym said. I could smell blood on his breath. "No one likes sloppy seconds."
A ripple of dull laughter echoed around the room. The vampire army moved around me, a faceless sea of undead warriors.
His cape whirled around him theatrically as he took a step back, examined me. He folded his arms, cocked his horrific head to the side.
"Why did you come alone, Slayer? It is most unlike you. Very rude to not bring snacks to the party."
If my heart had been working, it would have been thumping frantically. "I chose to come."
Laalym studied my face, searching for signs of weakness, of deception.
"Why should I believe you?" The Vampire moved closer, his eyes boring into mine. "I wouldn't hesitate to strike should the situation be reversed. What is different?"
I looked at him, at my sire. All the frustration, all the rage and emotion and pain of the last week suddenly boiled to the surface.
I exploded to my feet, kicking the chair into the crowd of vampires. I grabbed Laalym by the throat and shoved him against a wall. One hand was pressing his skull into the solid metal, the other was still clenched around the fabric-draped sword.
My face was fully vamped. Leaning close to Laalym I inhaled the heady scent of his fear. His eyes were dilated, his mouth open in soundless panic. I put my mouth next to his ear and whispered.
Then I released him, letting him sag to the ground as I picked up my chair and sat back down. The sword was cradled in my arms.
Laalym stood slowly, straightened his cape and brushed dirt from his robe. Then he looked around at the circle of vampires surrounding me.
This was my moment of truth. If Laalym believed me then my plan had a chance of success.
However, if he knew I was lying, I would be dead before I got close enough to destroy him. I was banking on his arrogance, on his blind faith in his master plan.
For one stomach churning moment Laalym paused. It took all my willpower to keep my hand from trembling.
Then, he laughed. As one voice, his army laughed with him. Laalym clapped his hands and two flunkies escorted me up onto the dais.
"My faithful ones," he shouted to the crowd, "our wanderer has come home!"
All around me vampires gave a great roar. Fists were shook in the air, feet were stomped, and the sound of their homage shook the rafters.
"Now, my little one, I will complete your transformation and allow you to take your place by my side. We will spill the blood of the earth, bathe in rivers of destruction." His eyes flashed and a crazy grin crossed his face. "All that is left is to feed your Hunger."
Three of the throng appeared close to the edge of the dais. Between them they carried a young man. His face was bruised and bloodied. Hanging limply in the arms of his captors he appeared unconscious.
"Bring forth the sacrifice," said Laalym. The boy was flung onto the dais before my feet.
"Now," Laalym crowed, "drink. Drink and become!"
I moved towards the boy. So young. He stirred a bit, his eyes widening in fear. I bent down, my fangs so close to his neck. I could feel his blood flowing.
"Shh," I whispered. Laalym's flunkies had started a chant and he was basking in their adoration. I had a few seconds. "It's all right. I'm going to get you out of here, but you have to do exactly as I say, Ok?"
He nodded. His eyes were hazel, watching me with fear and trust. A lump rose in my throat and I had to force my attention back to the task at hand.
"I'm going to smear some blood on your neck. Just act like I'm draining you, then go limp. Whatever you do, don't move until everything goes quiet. Understand?"
The boy nodded again. Leaning down, I quickly sliced my hand on one of my own fangs. My blood flowed out and onto the boy's neck. I smeared some on my mouth and threw the boy gently from me. He landed near the wall and out of the way of trampling feet.
I stood, the blood around my mouth catching the light of a thousand candles. A mighty cheer went up from the crowd, then a sudden hush.
Laalym walked slowly up to me, turned me to face him. The sword was lying just in reach, unheeded on the ground, still wrapped in the banner.
"How do you feel?" His eyes were eager.
Slowly I smoothed my features back, beat the demon into submission. I wiped the blood from my face. Deliberately, never breaking eye contact, I reached down and grabbed the sword.
"You forgot," I said, holding the covered hilt of the sword in one hand and grasping the loose edge of the fabric in the other.
"Forgot what?" Laalym was waiting for the demon to arrive, for his key to breaking open the Hellmouth to emerge from the human wrapper.
I almost hated to disappoint him.
"The twelfth rule of Slaying." I braced myself, still holding his eyes with my own. "Never forget what's important. Never loose sight of what you're fighting for."
With a great pull, I removed the Blessed Sword of Destruction from the fabric. Both my hands gripped the handle. The pain almost made me black out; I could see my flesh smoking.
With a yell I plunged the blade into Laalym's heart. I didn't stop until the hilt met his breastbone. He screamed in agony as the priest's blessings worked like acid on his body.
Tears were running down my face. The holiness of the sword, the very thing that made it such an effective weapon, was like poison to me. Already my vision was blurry and the skin on my arms was black.
"Burn in hell, Laalym," I spat. With a heave I pulled the sword out. As he collapsed to the ground I whirled the sword over my head and chopped off his head with one smooth stroke.
Somewhere, my Watcher, Elizabeth, was applauding.
Laalym burst into dust at my feet.
The vampire army was gone - whether into dust or simply bailing on a fallen leader I didn't know. Pain, pure agony, had overwhelmed me at last. I fell to the ground, the sword clattering at my side.
Red heat was coating my body. A thousand knives were assaulting my eyeballs.
"So this is how it feels," I thought absently. "In the end, this is what it's like to die."
Then everything seemed to fade away. The pain was there, important, shouting for my attention - and then it melted off of me. Slid away from my body.
Memories of what I was leaving flashed in my mind. Rupert, laughing. Making tea. Touching my hand.
The hunt, the slay, the indescribable high. The feel of grit on my face after a night of patroling.
The sun. The warmth, the liquid sensation of heaven.
The night, cooling and smooth.
But then I shook my head. My Watcher always told me that the most important rule of Slaying is the thirteenth: Never look back.
Behind you is a place you can never be, full of things you can never touch.
So I stepped forward.
Into the Light.
Disclaimer: All of this belongs to Joss Whedon. All hail the great Joss-ness.
A/N: Here we are at the end. Thank you for staying with this! This is the first real fiction I've ever written - not to mention the first fanfic. It has been an amazing journey.
This fic was inspired by Evanescence's song "My Immortal".
Much love and huggles go to Mermaidrain for her beta reads and encouragement.
Review, like always, are met with singing and dancing and huzzahs.
Love to my plot bunny, Hubert. He says hello.