Part IV

"You remember me--I'm touched, luv." Spike sounded amused, though Buffy noted a hint of stress in his voice that she did not remember ever having heard before. "Have I called at a bad time?"

"Yeah, kind of trying to save the world right now, Spike--can't you bug someone else?" Buffy snapped, and gave Giles a puzzled look. * Why are we wasting time with this jerk? *

"Oh, you mean trying to stop the pint-sized sex kitten with a platoon of killer demons from sucking the world into Hell? Yeah, kind of caught wind of that." The amusement was gone from Spike's voice, and the stress more pronounced. "I don't suppose you'd be interested in some info on that, would you?"

Buffy paled, and counted to five before replying, "OK, Spike--you've got our attention. What do you know, and how could you possibly know it? Last I heard you and Dru were heading for parts unknown."

"Rio, actually. Nice climate, plenty of entertainment, plenty of good eating." Spike chuckled, and Buffy snarled at the tone of the vampire's voice. Spike caught the reaction and decided to move on. "Dru's been having visions--visions of that Tanara bitch and her playmates waking this Acathla thing up to do its Hoover imitation. She's been more coherent lately--maybe getting away from the Hellmouth and that transfusion she got from Peaches--I recognized the location she was talking about." There was a pause, then Spike elaborated, "Angel, it's that old mansion on Ocean Parkway--the one on the sea cliff that you were scouting out before you got all soul having again."

Buffy turned to Angel, who nodded and commented, "It's perfect for their purposes--isolated, big back yard, hard to attack with a large force. There's a tunnel that lets out on a spot overlooking the place--we can use it for surveillance while we get our people into place."

Buffy frowned and nodded. They had caught a break, but she had to understand why. "Spike, why are you calling us about this--are you sure we can't stop it and the thought of us scrambling over there to get our asses kicked just in time to usher in the new people-free world too fun for you to resist?"

The speaker was silent for a moment, and Buffy was about to reach for the disconnect button when she heard the muttered reply: "Listen, Slayer--I wanted you dead, and I'm not going to lose any sleep when you do buy the farm--but I like this world more or less the way it is. Plenty of fun things to do, plenty of food, and not many beings that can tell me what to do and expect to survive the experience. If that Acathla does his thing, the people will be gone and I'm going to be pretty low in the pecking order- -I'd like to prevent that. Dru's always had a soft spot for apocalypses-- that's why she sent for that Judge wanker. I knew that he'd be stopped--a few million people buy it, then the Army boys come in and blow him into flaming chunks. You were just a bit quicker about it than I thought would happen. This time it's different--if you lose, the world is gone. I don't want that to happen."

Buffy scowled at Spike's callousness about the victims of the Judge, then turned to Angel: "Are you buying this?"

Angel frowned, then nodded: "Spike likes his simple pleasures--the new order would deny them to him." He shivered and added, "Be glad that it wasn't Angelus who had this information--he'd have laughed his head off as the world was sucked into Hell."

Buffy echoed Angel's shiver, and turned back to the phone: "OK, Spike-- thanks for the info. I hope you're not expecting a big reward or anything."

"Don't tell Dru, and we'll call it even." Spike replied.

Buffy muttered, "No problem," and was about to disconnect when she heard Spike say, "Buffy?"

Buffy frowned. "Yeah, Spike?"

"Put them in the ground, Slayer--put them in the bloody ground." Buffy heard a click, and after a moment the dial tone came on.

Buffy turned off the phone and walked to where the others had been listening. "All right, Kendra and I will check it out to confirm that Spike wasn't just yanking our chain. Everyone else--get ready. We've only got a few hours to stop this."

* * * * *

"Dru is as loony as they come, but she had this one spot on."

Buffy and Kendra were crouched in the thankfully dry opening of a sewer drain. A small ledge was about ten feet below them, but after that it was a three hundred foot drop to the rocks below. They were about three hundred feet from the edge of the property they were observing and a hundred feet above it--they could see the entire place from their perspective, while the nearest houses were thoroughly out of sight from either the pipe or the house. The Slayers could clearly see Apocalypse demons moving around in the house, carrying large objects out into the back yard.

Buffy pulled out the cell phone in her purse and hit the speed-dial button. Giles answered, and Buffy reported, "Spike called it right--the Sisterhood is moving furniture and getting things ready. Figure that they'll need another two hours to get the ritual area ready, then however long it takes to sacrifice the Sisters to scare up the mojo. Get everyone ready--it'll be dark in half an hour, and we can start moving into position."

The line was silent for a moment, and Buffy tensed before Giles said quietly, "We'll be ready," and broke the connection.

Buffy turned to Kendra and inclined her head at the tunnel and whispered, "Let's go." Kendra nodded, and they walked along the tunnel in silence for a few moments before Buffy commented, "We've got a shot--I'm just deeply annoyed that it was Spike who gave it to us."

Kendra shrugged. "Fate's twists are a hazard dat we all must deal with, Buffy." Buffy nodded, and Kendra added, "Even if we strike at de most opportune moment, de odds we face are grim, Buffy. We will undoubtedly suffer substantial casualties."

"I know," Buffy said quietly, fidgeting with a stake as she walked along. She stopped and turned to Kendra, looking into her eyes as she said earnestly, "I know we're going to beat these bastards, but if I don't make it, could you look out for my family and friends?"

Kendra blinked and replied softly, "If you were to die, I am certain dat the Council would want a Slayer to watch de Hellmouth."

"I know that," Buffy replied softly, "and you'd do a good job of protecting it. I'm asking you to take care of the people I love--the way I would if I was still alive to do it myself."

Kendra blinked and looked away from Buffy as she whispered, "No one could do dat, Buffy--but I will try. You have my word."

Buffy reached out and took the younger Slayer's hand, squeezing it as she said simply, "Thank you." She released Kendra's hand and said in a cheerful voice, "Now let's go kick that bitch out of our town."

* * * * *

"GO!"

Xander's voice crackled over the cell phone, and Buffy echoed it: "GO!! Everyone move in!"

Buffy kicked down the side gate on the left side of the house, and at the same moment Kendra kicked a hole in the fence on the right side. Buffy moved into the yard with Giles and Zabuto, while Kendra moved in with Angel. Xander was acting as the spotter from the sewer tunnel, while Jenny and Willow stood next to him--they had special assignments during the assault.

Both squads burst into the backyard--where they beheld a large ritual circle piled high with the corpses of the Sisterhood of Jhe, surrounded by various urns and other artifacts glowing with power--and the silent stone figure of Acathla. Four of the demons remained, along with a visibly amused Tanara. "So, you did find us before the festivities really got started--good for you. You get to die before things really get unpleasant." The demons stayed where they stood, and Tanara chuckled and said, "Well? Go on and kill them--you know you want to."

The Sisters snarled and charged forward. The Slayers, Giles, and Angel drew broadswords, and Zabuto brought out his cane as the battle was joined. Tanara sat back and watched the fighting, ignoring the dark cliff behind her.

A flash of light came from the cliff area, and Tanara flinched when a bolt of red light flew by her and shattered an ancient Greek urn that had taken her months to find. She snarled and turned in time to see a second bolt shatter a crystal vase full of unholy water. The sorceress quickly recognized the magic being used and wove a protective spell to shield the artifacts against destructive energy. There were still enough of the artifacts left to complete the ritual with some difficulty, as long as no more were destroyed. The spell she had just cast was powerful and exhausted her momentarily, but when she got her strength back those snipers would pay dearly--

From a hundred yards away, Xander smiled at the infuriated sorceress and aimed the crossbow. * Time to pray for a good shot * He aimed, held his breath, and pulled the trigger cleanly.

Tanara heard a hissing sound coming out of the darkness. If she had been at full strength, stepping in front of it and snatching it out of the air would have not presented much difficulty. However, she was slowed by her exertion and disoriented enough not to realize where the missile was going until it was too late.

The crossbow bolt sailed past Tanara and headed directly for the grotesque figure of Acathla, shattering on its stony chest. Holy water from the tiny compartment in the arrowhead trickled over the dark stone, and the blessings bestowed on the missile by the Gypsy Cyberpagan and the Bad-Ass Wiccan caused the ritual circle to crackle with dark energy as it was disrupted, consuming the bodies of the Sisters and causing the artifacts to explode into fragments--leaving Acathla alone and inert for the foreseeable future. Tanara was knocked to the ground by the force of the blast, and it took a moment before she rose to her feet--her eyes literally flaming in rage. She wove a spell with the last remnants of her magical power and threw it across the chasm at the sewer opening, but no one was there when the fireball lit up the night and consumed the tunnel opening--the attackers had fled. The sorceress closed her eyes and screamed, "NO!!! You've ruined everything!"

"Not yet." Buffy had dispatched her Sister, and she stepped forward as Giles and Zabuto continued to struggle against their remaining opponent. The Slayer smiled coldly as she raised her bloody broadsword and added, "But the night is young--and your head would look good in my trophy case."

"So eager to die, Slayer? I don't need magic to kill you." Tanara snapped, pulling out a long blade made of dark metal. She screamed and attacked Buffy, with the sounds of their blades clashing intermingling with the continued sounds of fighting in the yard.

It took Buffy only a few seconds to realize that she was in the fight of her life. Even with all of the power that had gone out of her, Tanara was lightning fast and stronger than Buffy. The Slayer was forced onto the defensive, holding her blade with both hands to help her absorb the shattering force of the dark blade in the sorceress' right hand. She forced herself to remain calm--Tanara was visibly furious, and it might cause her to make mistakes that Buffy could take advantage of.

After a minute of grim fighting, Tanara left an opening in her defenses, and Buffy attacked, slashing Tanara's arm. She smirked. "First blood, bitch."

Tanara snorted. "Enjoy it--it will be your last." The sorceress redoubled her attack, and Buffy went back to defensive fighting as the two of them came perilously close to the edge of the cliff. Buffy's back was to the cliff, and she swallowed hard and started to press back--she had no choice.

Buffy saw another opening in Tanara's defenses in the same place as before, and attacked again. Her eyes widened in horror as Tanara's hands came together on the hilt of her blade and swung upward, knocking Buffy's blade free and over the cliff into the darkness. The force of the impact knocked Buffy to the ground, supine, and stunned her. When her vision cleared, Tanara stood over her, her blade inches from Buffy's heart.

The sorceress smiled. "Not bad, Slayer--you saved your world for now. But you're going to die, and I'm just going to try again in a few years. Life's just unfair that way sometimes, isn't it?"

Buffy steeled herself against the deathblow, and was about to close her eyes when she saw a blur of motion behind Tanara. Tanara started to turn, but was only able to grunt as Kendra hit her with a flying tackle, propelling the tiny woman over Buffy and over the cliff, with Kendra sailing over the edge with her.

"NO!!" Buffy leapt to her feet--throwing off the dizziness she still felt-- and moved to the cliff edge. She could only watch in horror as the two women fell into the darkness and out of sight. She felt an irresistible urge to run after them--there was a narrow path leading down to the bottom of the cliff, and she could--

* No * She looked back and saw that Zabuto and Giles were still struggling with the remaining Sister. She ran over and leapt onto the Sister's back, holding on with her legs while she slit its throat with a dagger. The Sister gurgled and dropped.

Zabuto sighed in relief, then noticed that Buffy was alone. His eyes widened in concern, and Buffy nodded grimly and turned to where Angel had almost finished off the Sister. She whispered, "Help him," and ran off, scrambling down the narrow, crumbling path at a dangerous pace.

After a couple of minutes, Buffy reached the bottom of the cliff and saw that it was strewn with large, jagged rocks. She saw Tanara's body and grimaced in revulsion: she had been impaled and her skull crushed, killing her instantly. She looked around for Kendra's body, and quickly discovered a trail of blood leading away from Tanara's body and toward the surf. Buffy ran along and found Kendra lying on the sand, only a few feet away from the water. She was very pale and her legs were visibly broken. Buffy knelt next to her and saw that her eyes were still open and moving. Buffy forced a smile and whispered, "Hey--that was a good takedown, but that pointy thing in your hand could have done the job, too."

Kendra's mouth twitched, and Buffy listened intently as the younger Slayer rasped, "Had to be sure. Couldn't let dat thing win. You gave me de chance to finish her--and I did."

"Yes, you did--you did good, Kendra." Buffy blinked, and tears fell as she pleaded, "Hold on--the others will be here soon, and we can--"

"No, you can't, Buffy." Kendra gasped, reaching out for Buffy. Buffy grasped her hand gently, and Kendra squeezed softly before locking eyes with Buffy and whispering, "Buffy--dank you for all you tried to teach me. I wish dat I could have tried--" Her voice trailed off, and her eyes went blank.

Buffy reached out and checked her pulse, and felt that it was gone. Desperately, she pushed Kendra onto her back, and started CPR. * It has to work--it has to! * She kept at it frantically, repeating the sequence she had been taught with robotic, tireless precision. She ignored the sounds of motion near her, and almost flinched when she heard Xander say softly: "Buffy."

"Don't bother me--I'm trying to work here." Buffy replied tersely, continuing chest pressure and leaning down to breathe for Kendra.

Buffy felt a hand on her shoulder, and saw that Angel was standing there next to Xander--and that both men had tears in their eyes. The vampire shook his head sadly and said, "Buffy--she's gone: I'm so sorry."

Buffy looked and saw the same verdict in Xander's eyes. She mechanically got up and walked away from Kendra, seeing Giles and Zabuto walk over and witness the scene. It was Giles who held Buffy as she sobbed uncontrollably, and Zabuto who carefully lifted Kendra into his arms after gently closing her eyes and carried her back up the cliff, to where the others were waiting for the sad news.

* * * * *

The corpses of Tanara and her Sisters were carted into the house, which was then burned to the ground. Kendra had been the only fatality in the group, while several of the others were wounded. The authorities had no record of Kendra being in Sunnydale, which made private, discreet arrangements easier to pull off. The body had been cremated, and the urn given to Zabuto--who would return the ashes to Kendra's parents.

A small, private memorial service was held at the Summers' house three days later--in the evening, so as to accommodate the mourners with daylight issues. Zabuto gave the eulogy, speaking of Kendra's courage and dedication to the cause, and the grim determination that had allowed her to sacrifice her life without hesitation. He had invited others to speak after him, and a few of the others had taken the opportunity. Buffy was not one of them--she sat silently in her chair, her eyes red-rimmed and blank with grief, and she was oblivious of the concern in the eyes of her friends as the service concluded.

Zabuto had collected the urn and was saying goodbye to Giles and Angel when Buffy walked up to him. She started to speak, then closed her mouth before opening it and whispering, "I'm sorry." She turned and fled, running up the stairs to her room and slamming the door.

The others reacted with apologetic expressions and concerned looks at Buffy's door. They did not see Zabuto glance at the closed door with an unreadable expression before he bade the others goodbye and headed out for the sad journey home.

* * * * *

AUGUST 12, 1998

Buffy looked up and saw that Xander was still watching patiently, ready to help or just wait. She felt a moment of warmth, and whispered, "Xander--I know I'm screwed up over this, and none of you deserve the crap I've been putting you through." She turned to the window, and stared as she added quietly, "I just don't know if I'm going to be able to get past this."

"Maybe I can help," replied Xander. He pulled out a letter-sized envelope and handed it to Buffy, who could see "Miss Buffy Summers" written on it in neat handwriting. Buffy stared at it, and Xander elaborated, "Mr. Zabuto sent a box with stuff in it for all of us--I got a signed photo, and you got this letter."

Buffy's hands began to shake, and she closed her eyes and handed the letter back to Xander: "I can't, Xander." Xander frowned in concern, and Buffy shivered and asked, "Could you read it to me?"

Xander hesitated, then nodded. He carefully opened the envelope and pulled out the letter, scanning it briefly. A touch of sadness entered his eyes, and Buffy tensed as he cleared his throat and began to read aloud:

"Dear Buffy,

I am sorry that events did not allow us to converse more while I was in Sunnydale. Aside from the world-threatening danger that brought us together, I would have liked to have more time to speak with you about your life here in Sunnydale. From what I have seen, you are a credit to your Calling and a fine young woman.

I regret that I was unable to help you with your obvious grief at Kendra's death. It may not have been obvious from our interactions in your presence, but Kendra was as dear to me as if she had been my own daughter, and her loss was devastating to me--it made me rather insensitive to the needs of others during that time. If my inability contributed to the problems Mr. Giles has informed me you have been having in recent weeks, then I can only tender my most sincere apologies and hopes that you will overcome this tragedy and continue to pursue your duties with the vigor and competence that you have demonstrated previously.

I also hope that you do not hold yourself responsible in any way for Kendra's death. Your conduct in engaging a vastly superior opponent in single combat in order to buy the rest of us time saved all of our lives, and gave Kendra the opportunity she needed to remove the threat. Were your positions reversed, I have not a doubt in the world that you would have acted as she did, leaving Kendra in the position of mourning that you find yourself in now. Kendra would not have blamed you for her death, and I would implore you not to do so--such sentiments are pointless, counter- productive, and detract from the sacrifice that Kendra chose of her own free will to make.

Buffy--I became a Watcher after my family was killed by vampires, and after circumstances took me away from a career path that was rather more mundane. Both circumstances drove me to perfectionism, and I fear that the demeanor that you found so off-putting in Kendra when you first met her was due to my influence. I trained her mercilessly, with the sincere belief that doing so would help keep her alive for as long as possible if she was Called. For the most part, it worked--she was a dedicated student and a fearless opponent of darkness. However, your belief that isolating oneself from emotion and human contact in the course of duty ultimately lessens a fighter's ability to face opponents is valid, and I was pleased when I observed the changes that her first visit to Sunnydale had wrought in her. Her ties to this place helped her in her final battle, and I take great pride in the fact that she did not merely die in the course of doing her duty and saving the world--she died helping to protect people she loved. That is a gift which you helped her obtain, and I will be forever grateful to you for that.

I will be assigned to different duties now, but Mr. Giles will be able to contact me if the need arises. Please feel free to call on me in time of need--in memory of Kendra, and because you are a worthy ally, who merits every bit of assistance that can be directed to you.

Warmest Regards,

Samuel Zabuto"

Buffy stared at the letter in Xander's hand as he finished reading, and her whisper was barely audible: "I made a difference in her life."

"Of course you did, Buffy--how could you ever have doubted that?" Xander moved next to Buffy, and the Slayer leaned on his shoulder as he held her and added, "You kind of make an impression on people, Buffy. How many Slayers get to have a role model who knows what the life is like? You gave her a new way of looking at things, and it made her life better--all the way to the end."

Buffy nodded, and looked at Xander for a moment before starting to sob again. Xander tensed, but quickly noticed that the sobs had a relieved sound to them--as if a barrier had been broken. Xander sighed in relief and held Buffy as the afternoon lazily passed on. Outside the door, Joyce sighed in relief and went down to fix dinner.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.