A/N: Sorry to Nevalie that this took longer than I said. But knowing how much you hated to see this end, you'll probably thank me for drawing it out, because this is it!
"This is the one," Giles finally said, in a decidedly unconcerned way while Sarah whimpered and snarled, straining against her bonds. They could have chosen an easier way to identify which type of demon she was, as Wesley had brazenly pointed out, but Buffy had opted for a more painful method.
"What is she?" Angel asked impatiently, only giving the woman a brief glare before he focused on Giles. Sarah had grown silent, waiting for them to figure it out themselves.
Giles turned a page in one of his decrepit texts. "A Mailaeth demon," he murmured, looking over the description. "Similar to a succubus. They feed off of the energy of their victims, attacking them on the spiritual level. They are imitators, supposedly preferring to slowly feed on one victim for a length of time."
"Should've seen it," Angel muttered to himself.
"Well, there's certainly almost no way to notice," Giles objected. "These beings draw off energy. The victims just become weaker and weaker until they die. Why she chose to get close to him is beyond me. She could have been miles away."
"She should have been miles away," Cordelia said, arms folded. "And she could have fed off of any Tom, Dick, or Harry, but she chose the wrong one. Now Buffy's gonna kill her."
"You can't just kill me," Sarah countered, sure of herself. "You're good guys, or as close as it gets. I'm human."
"You only disguise yourself as human," Wesley corrected her. "You're anything but."
"I'm helpless, then. You've got me tied up. As bad as you make me sound, I don't have any cool super powers. It isn't a fair fight."
"Not a fair fight?" Cordelia asked, lifting an eyebrow. "Attacking someone in their sleep isn't a fair fight. Preying on someone who's sick by pretending to be their friend isn't a fair fight. We're way past 'fair fight.' As soon as Buffy says the word, you're history."
"Better not say that word, then," Buffy commented softly from the doorway. "We might need her."
"What happened?" Angel asked her, immediately concerned.
"Galen's getting worse," Buffy told them, trying to keep it simple, but it was obvious that it was tearing her up inside. Her composure remained, regardless, and she gave Sarah a hard glare. "How do we reverse whatever she did to him?"
"There is no reversing it," Giles answered, a bit hesitantly. "She has been drawing energy out of him. With her stopped, he should get better on his own."
"But she isn't stopped," Wesley stated. "As long as she's still around, she can attack him and there's nothing we can do to stop that, unless we-"
"Please, I'll go away," Sarah interrupted, pleading. She struggled weakly against her bindings, finally losing the will to keep up the fight. "I'll leave Los Angeles. I'll never even think about him again. Just let me go."
"And let you hurt other people?" Buffy asked, then shook her head, biting off a bitter anger. "If I could grind you up and feed you to him to reverse whatever you did to him, I would. I'd feel bad about feeding him something so disgusting, but I'd do it. I can't just let you go. Is there any way that we could bind her powers?"
Giles took a breath and removed his glasses. "There's-"
"Do it," Buffy said, turning on heel and leaving them again to go back to Galen's side.
Xander immediately went to the hospital after he got off work. He could barely focus on the job, but it distracted him from thinking too much about Willow. Life had always been chaotic. It kept things interesting. He never liked the moments when his friends were seriously injured, though, but with so many mystical influences in life, it seemed easy. Buffy could come back from the dead, Willow could heal critical injuries. Since it was a mystical coma, he figured that anything could be happening. She could wake up with some neat story to tell about how her house fell on a witch and she befriended a scarecrow and had to find a wizard.
He didn't expect to find Kennedy sitting with the doctor and just looking so shell-shocked. Her eyes were wet, but she just looked angry and refused to speak to him.
"What's going on?" Xander asked the doctor, his voice on the very edge of panic.
"Your sister's condition is worsening," the doctor told him in a soft voice. "Her vitals are dropping, and there is no longer any response to stimuli."
"What does that mean?"
"It's unclear at this time, but her retrograde is cause for concern. We have her stabilized, and it's still very early to tell, but if her condition doesn't improve over the next few days, the chances will be slim that she'll wake up."
"But people wake up from comas all the time, right?" Xander said. "You can go out one day and wake up ten years later."
"It does happen," the doctor admitted, reluctantly. "Comas rarely last more than a month, and as I said, it's still very early to tell."
"Thank you," Xander said and let the doctor leave. He went to Willow's bedside and stood beside her for a long time before kneeling down. He took her frail hand in his and pressed it to his lips, making a gentle, pleading gesture to some unknown god who might show mercy.
There was no sound in the room except for the rush of air through the machines, and various steady beeps that monitored every failing function in Willow's body.
"She stopped breathing," Kennedy finally said, breaking the long-held silence. "Those machines are all that's keeping her alive now. My girl's a fighter, Xander. She's a goddess. She's better than this."
"We're gonna find out what's wrong," Xander promised her, his voice hoarse. "No matter what it takes. I'll sell my soul for her if I have to. She isn't going anywhere. Not now."
"Nothing's happening yet," Willow muttered to herself, impatiently pacing through the lobby. She watched Fred and Buffy tend to Galen. Buffy refused to let him be taken upstairs again, and instead had him laid out on the couch. Buffy settled down with him, keeping a strict vigilance while her friends dealt with Sarah, the group coming and going quietly at odd intervals.
The phone call came, and a quiet murmur of shock went through the group about Willow's condition. There was an instant change, a switch from quiet anger and resolution to worry and grief. Willow tried not to listen, only allowing the news of her impending death to drive her further into the unearthly world in order to get out. The atmosphere grew heavier when the Scoobies left to see Willow. Buffy was torn, but Angel and Fred swore to look after Galen, and the efforts turned to finding a cure for Willow while Gunn and Angel dealt with Sarah.
They left the Hyperion like a flood that was uncertain of which direction to move. When Angel left with Sarah, it seemed her window of opportunity was wide open. The shadows became pliable to the touch. All she had to do was push and pull the right way. Working with magic came naturally to Willow. It was far easier to tap into the darkness than it was to tap into the light, but she had since learned that if she didn't take the easy route, the light was much more worth it. In the same way, she delved into the shadows, knowing that they worked with the abstract of dreams, but determined not to let them dissolve into nightmares.
The abstract swallowed her until it seemed she was standing in a directionless void. If she focused… light took hold of the space, creating shapes and structure. A luminescence seemed to surround her and followed her while she searched quietly for Galen, knowing that when he allowed it, she would find him.
It was dark, quiet, nice. Painful, but nice. The stillness and the darkness could take the pain away if he sat long enough, but it was almost more than he could take, and every passing moment he wanted to shudder and scream.
The light hurt. It was beautiful. It revealed everything. Things suddenly had shape and form. He was forced to give them meaning. He saw trees, and those were good. He saw the fire on his hands, and that was bad.
"It hurts," he mumbled, aware of the woman who brought the light. He didn't want to look at her, too ashamed of how beautiful she was, and how horrible he was. He felt the blood on him like a weight, and felt the loss of his hands more acutely than the physical mutilation of them. Glass shattered, ripped and tore away at skin. Again and again and again. All his fault. He hid his hands lightly, knowing she'd already seen but unable to bear how her eyes burned him.
"It doesn't have to hurt," Willow answered softly. "It's just a dream."
He shook his head, nearly rolling his eyes, but he didn't want to be mean. "Lesson the first: it's always real."
Willow paused and reconsidered, frowning at how he crouched, his hands shredded, dripping spots of red on the floor. She remembered everything was a metaphor here.
"I know what you must think," she said, unsure if that were actually true, but she was willing to go with it.
"You couldn't," came the timid response.
"Lost," she said simply. "Lost," she repeated, "and alone. Everything is dark here. Everything is bad. It isn't your fault," she added when she saw him cringe. "It's not your fault; it's just all you know. You learned the ugly with the good. Very ugly things. I think you do remember some things, but they're the worst memories, the worst fears. You're worried about what you really are."
"Shouldn't I be? I've done bad things."
"So have I," Willow said, crouching down next to him. "Things I can never forget, never fully get over, but I have to face them." She gently took his hands, unfolding them to the light. "Things look worse if you keep them to yourself. It'll tear you up inside," she murmured, pausing in pleasant surprise when the wounds on his hands seemed to lessen. She smiled and squeezed his hands lightly, making him grimace slightly and close his eyes, the muscles contorting. "You gotta let it go," she encouraged him. "You're not half as bad as you think you are."
"But I'm still bad," he said, opening his eyes again. "And Buffy… she doesn't… she doesn't deserve that."
"Buffy," Willow repeated. Of course, her inner voice berated lightly. She didn't expect Spike's guilt to be this deep-founded. "This is about Buffy."
He was silent, his hands fidgeting.
"You really like her," she said, almost teasing in a very light-hearted way.
"No, it means everything," Willow insisted, staring into his blue eyes.
There was a short pause, during which Willow could clearly discern all of the pain in him. "She doesn't even see me."
"She does see you," Willow insisted. "Remember when you first came here, and all she did was care about you?"
"And I was such a screw-up mess," Galen muttered with a self-depreciating smile.
"Don't be so hard on yourself. You're still a screw-up mess," Willow smiled in return.
"I could only hope so. She seems to like it," Galen noted softly.
"She likes you, Tiger" Willow emphasized, gently chucking Galen under the chin.
"I can't see why," Galen shrugged softly, his good humor dropping with his mood.
"In case you haven't noticed, you're cute," Willow informed him. "But you're something else, too."
"A train wreck?" Galen asked, attempting humor again, but the pain in him was evident.
"You're strong," Willow told him. "She can see it. I can see it now. There's something about you she could tell from the start. And it's not because you look like anyone."
"It's because I have a tendency to bleed all over the floor?" Galen guessed.
"You're hot and you're cold," Willow said. "You're helpless one second and the next you kick royal ass. You're strong one second, and the next… you're dying."
"There may be some favors that I can call in," Giles began, almost reluctant. "Perhaps some past acquaintances of mine could help."
"No magic," Kennedy said, her words staunch but her voice weak.
"It's mystical," Buffy objected in a low, confident voice. "You know it has to be. One of the spells-"
"One? How about all of them?" Kennedy questioned, raising her voice. "How about every single one?"
Buffy opened her mouth to speak, thought better of it and closed it again, shaking her head. "That's not how it works."
"She used to get nosebleeds," Kennedy said. "How do you know for a fact that this was just because of one incident?"
"Because of what's been going on lately," Buffy said. "This couldn't just happen, not without a reason."
"And what could that be?" Kennedy asked, folding her arms.
"I don't know yet," Buffy admitted. She scowled at Kennedy's glare. "Look, you aren't the only one with problems right now."
"I seemed to notice you're never short of them," Kennedy muttered.
"Galen is getting worse, and that-" Buffy stopped before mentioning Sarah, pausing to think about the woman. It only took a second for her face to become dark and resolved. "She didn't have to prey on just one person at a time," she said, looking to Giles for confirmation. "Willow was more powerful than any of us. Maybe she saw it somehow."
"Saw what?" Kennedy frowned, too confused to focus on her anger.
"Sarah," Buffy said. "She was killing Galen, and he knew what she really was. Willow must have gotten in the way somehow." She shook her head slowly, fists clenching. "I hope Angel hasn't let her go yet, so I won't have to hunt her down." She turned to go when Giles' hand stopped her, his grasp on her arm startlingly firm.
"Buffy," Giles said simply, "There was no spell to stop Sarah. I assure you… Angel didn't let her go. You won't find her."
"I wish I knew how to help," Fred murmured quietly, keeping a close eye on Galen. He was deeply unconscious and hadn't stirred an inch since the others left. At the same time, Willow's health was in decline as well. She knew that each were equally important, but she was equally terrified for both, especially Galen because at the moment she was responsible for him.
Angel had tried to reassure her that he only needed rest, and Wesley confirmed there was nothing else they could do at the moment, but Fred couldn't shake the cold clutch in her heart. She couldn't escape the feeling that was watching over a dying man as surely as her friends were watching over a dying woman.
The color of life in him seemed to be crushed, replaced only by those dark bruises that made his pale skin even more stark in contrast. He felt cold to the touch, and the best that she could do was cover him and desperately try to think of ways that she could revive him or give him his strength. She was supposed to be a genius at solving problems, but her mind was blank. All she could do was shudder and try not to think about what would happen if Galen let go before Buffy came back.
Maybe it was as simple as that.
"Don't even think about doing anything until Buffy gets back, mister," Fred chided under her breath so that Wesley wouldn't overhear and think she was losing it. "You have to be here for her, too, you got that? You're stronger than this. Maybe you don't think so, but Buffy sure does, and I know you wouldn't want to disappoint her. She's coming back soon, and you've got to be here for her, because she needs some saving, too."
"I'm always dying," Galen said, like it was just a statement of fact.
"What do you mean?" Willow questioned.
"Don't – don't even start that!" Galen wrinkled his nose, disgusted at her. "You've seen it, you've all seen it. I'm always bleeding and vomiting everywhere. I'm so tired and… hungry," he told her. "I feel sick all the time. Half the time I can barely fend for myself."
"I want to help but I don't know how," Willow told him honestly, almost pleading to give her an answer.
"Nobody does," Galen shuddered. "The best thing I've got is-" he stopped short, almost unwilling to say it outloud.
"Buffy?" Willow probed cautiously, watching his almost innocent eyes while he nodded. "She loves you."
"I… love her," Galen said, pausing as if it were hard to get the words out. "More than… I think I even can. She loves me because I remind her of someone."
"If that were true, she wouldn't accept you for who you are," Willow informed him. "She's seen the worst of it already."
"Not the worst of it."
"Trust me, she knows you," Willow asserted, putting her hands on his shoulders. "She knows exactly what you are, and she still loves you. It doesn't get better than that."
Galen tried to avoid her steadfast eyes and nodded nervously. "She's beautiful," he breathed. "She's the best thing I have."
"And she wants you," Willow told him, trying to lift his spirits. "She wants to jump your bones like nobody's business and I think… I think that you could make her the happiest girl."
Galen snorted softly, but it was more of a sad, mocking sound, and he shook his head.
"You can't get your happy ending if you don't just reach out and take it," Willow told him, frowning.
"I don't see it," Galen said, still shaking his head. "Everything hurts. I feel dead and awful inside and I don't know how to make it go away. Did Sarah do this to me?"
"I don't think so," Willow said slowly, her hopes for both of them unraveling. "One of us is dying… or both of us. You have to promise me you'll fight, and I'll fight, too. You've got a beautiful girl just waiting for you to open your eyes, and I've got-"
"You've got a kick-ass girlfriend who thinks the world of you," Galen cut her off.
"Not to mention they're both hot," Willow said, although referring to her best friend that way made her cheeks felt hot. Then her chest felt hot, and she couldn't breathe.
"Smokin' hot," Galen agreed, the bitter agony in his stomach still clutching at him, his body screaming at him for something but he didn't know what to give it. He looked up at Willow, watching the shock and confusion on her face as she tried to endure the rapidly spreading pain. "Are you okay?"
A flurry of alarms shattered the relative silence. There was barely a second's pause before the wing was thrown into turmoil, with nurses racing into Willow room and barking out orders, sending the entire area vibrating with activity. Kennedy was just as quick and flew into the room amidst the confusion.
"She's going into cardiac arrest," a nurse called out after a glance at the shrieking monitors. "Get the crash cart."
"Baby?" Kennedy cried out, trying to get close to Willow, who seemed strange and deathly so separated from her and stuck to machines.
"Get her out of here," someone said, and another nurse pushed Kennedy back to the door with hurried apologies, shutting Kennedy outside as soon as they were in the hallway. The others had been held up at that point already and were left watching through the glass while the mortal battle played out.
The lobby had grown strangely chilled to the point where Fred shuddered and held herself, wishing sorely that Angel would return sooner. Wesley was absorbed in books at the office and the silence was deafening.
Fred murmured softly to herself, trying to keep up positive thoughts in the bleak face of reality. She'd mentally gotten on to how Angel would save the world and kill anything big and bad that tried to cause trouble when a small jerk of movement went through Galen's body.
She stirred, intuitively apprehensive as she scrutinized him. "Galen?" she asked, no sooner getting out the name before he seemed to gasp softly and choke up, drawing no more air. Fred rushed to him, lifting up his head, but the movement was gone even as her hands shook fiercely.
"Galen," she repeated, then waited, watching him desperately for any reaction.
His breath slowly left him, and as it did so did all of the tension in his body. He settled into an unnatural stillness, and didn't breathe in again.
Her hands were tremulous when she reflexively tried to wake him up. There was no reaction, as she knew there wouldn't be but vainly prayed for. Fred pressed her fingers to his neck, searching for a pulse but only feeling a coldness that made her shudder.
"No, no, no," Fred muttered softly between urges to cry. She picked up his hand and looked for a pulse again. It proved to be futile and she was left clutching his hand, trembling, wondering what she was going to tell Buffy, or even Angel. Her mind blanked out at the very idea, unwilling to accept such a sad, mortal thing. She didn't realize until many second later that she was still holding onto his hand, as if frozen in that one point in time
His skin was almost chalk white, she noted, devoid of any flush of life or other colors aside from the dark bruises that were still barely faded. She turned his wrist over, then withdrew and examined him overall. He appeared gaunt and sickly, and Fred briefly recalled the past days and weeks. She sniffed and covered her face with a tremulous hand, then fled.
Wesley hadn't noticed the happening until Fred nearly ran through him, her panicked actions instantly driving up his concern. "What's happened?" he asked, standing up while Fred ravaged the fridge, seeming unaware of small noises of fright that she made.
"Galen's dead," she told him, grasping bags of pig's blood in her hands.
"He-" Wesley shook off the news, more rattled by what she was doing. "Fred, what do you-"
"I'm going to save him," Fred said immediately. "I know how."
"Y-yes, but that isn't the-"
"I know what I'm doing," Fred said, her voice sure but at the same time small and a bit afraid. She brushed past him again, this time with Wesley hot on her heels, although he hesitated and watched when she knelt at Galen's side again.
The first bag was torn up furiously, the second momentarily forgotten as it hit the floor. She grabbed his head even as the first drips of blood hit his face, then held him up to feed. To Wesley's amazement and horror, Galen moved, choking and swallowing under the stream of blood. She waited for a second for him to respond and then let him continue. He fed ravenously, then weakly tried to clutch at the bag. Fred shuddered and let him have more, but didn't let him grab onto the bag. When it was empty, Fred moved away, then Wesley grabbed her quietly and pulled her back from Galen. To his uneasy disbelief, Galen merely wiped the blood from his face slowly, again and again in a daze.
"He doesn't know," Fred whispered, vocalizing what Wesley barely wanted to even suspect.
Kennedy felt a pang in her heart when she watched Willow jerk again under a jolt of electricity. As soon as the jolt passed, she lay lifeless again, the machines still blaring out a solid note that set a knot in Kennedy's stomach.
The commotion in the room slowed down, staff glancing at each other in the heavy atmosphere. Nobody wanted to say it, but too much time has already elapsed without any response.
"Call it," Kennedy heard someone say dimly from within the room. Inside she was urging them to keep going, unwilling to accept defeat.
"Kennedy," Dawn whispered, wishing that the slayer would scream or cry or show some other emotion than staring steadfast at Willow. "I'm sorry," she managed to say, but Kennedy wasn't listening at all. She shivered and looked at Giles, who was just as resolute if not for the fine mist in his eyes.
"Come on, baby," Kennedy said, barely audible. She pressed her fingers against the glass, brushing them over Willows' heart.
There was a single beep from the monitor, then Willow sat up, as one might from a bad dream. Kennedy took one gasp of relief and went back into the room while Willow dazedly began to strip off different wires stuck to her body, and the astonished doctors and nurses admonished her to keep them on and lay down.
"Goddess," Kennedy said to Willow, expressing complete faith. Willow leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Kennedy, yanking at various cords in the process, but refused to let go of her.
Dawn squealed when she came in and tried to join the hug, babbling to Willow about how afraid she was and what they'd tried to do to help. She finally left him be and went to stand beside Giles, who was trying to calmly sort a few things out with the doctors.
Willow murmured into Kennedy's ear, and then saw Buffy over Kennedy's shoulder. "Did Galen make it?" she questioned.
"Were you the one who turned him?" Cordelia asked, giving Angel a disbelieving look. Angel glanced at her, then turned his eyes down and remained silent. "When were you going to tell us?"
"Angel didn't turn him," Fred interrupted softly. Angel looked up again for an explanation, as surprised as the others were, but for reasons that that only he and Buffy knew. "He was a vampire from the start."
"No," Buffy said. She shook her head. "No, Angel would have known. I would have known. We would have known that."
"I don't think you could have," Wesley said. "Wolfram and Hart was doing something to him. He wasn't turned recently. Even he isn't aware… of what he is."
"How do you know?" Buffy asked quietly, almost dreading the answer.
"I had to find a way to keep feeding him," Fred explained slowly. "I mixed the blood into a pudding cup. He said it reminded him of what he used to eat at the hospital."
There was a long silence, in which Buffy slowly wrung her hands and stood up. "I guess we're back to square one. Do we tell him, or not?"
"We can feed him, keep him calm," Angel said. "There's no reason why he has to find out."
"What if he just starts going crazy?" Cordelia asked.
"He has a soul," Angel pointed out calmly. "I'll keep an eye on him. If it starts getting bad, I can help him. Now that we can feed him regularly, he'll even get better than he was before. Much better."
Buffy heard a small commotion in the lobby and stepped out of the office for a moment. Galen was stroking a German Sheppard, grinning madly when he gave the dog a hug.
"Where the hell have you been, G?" Rachel demanded to know.
"She's been going crazy with conspiracies," Eamon explained, offering a hand to help his friend to his feet and then swearing softly when he saw the fading bruises on Galen's arms. "You look like hell, mate."
"I was abducted by aliens," Galen said dryly, then with real apprehension added, "How can I be sure you're both really you?"
"Shut up," Rachel retorted. "You disappeared off the face of the planet. You're gonna have to answer to us, not the other way around."
"Oh yeah, that's Rachel," Galen muttered. "What about you, Eamon?"
"Finding you isn't enough to put an end to my torment?" Eamon questioned.
"Shut up and kiss him already," Rachel urged. The complacency to the command she received and the voracity with which the command was fulfilled made her shriek with laughter. Galen himself burst into laughter when the kiss stopped, though Rachel continued to try to press them back together. There was a babbling of their arguing and laughing in the air, and Galen began to explain to Eamon in a conspiring tone how he had found himself a girlfriend.
He started to tell Rachel details about his new love with almost mythical descriptions. Buffy smiled to herself a little bit and returned to the office with their conversations and bickering behind her.
"We can't tell him," she told her friends. "But I think he'll be okay." She glanced down for a second, uncertain even as she considered it, but could still hear him talking and laughing. Nothing pleased her more, and she smiled at the thought of hearing that for the rest of her life.
Thank you to everyone who has been very loyal over the past two years I spent writing this. The story will eventually be revised and a final version posted, but that's unlikely to happen soon.
Please R&R and look forward to a sequel!