Author's Note: Dialogue has been taken from the original episode, which, without giving too much away, this does adhere to in some aspects. There are deaths, but then that is natural, as everything dies, no matter how short or long the life is considered to be, it is the way one has lived it which counts. There are also some pop culture references of my own as well as the ones in the original transcript and shooting script, from Star Wars and the X Files. I leave you to try and spot them. Enjoy.
"You can't be serious," Buffy uttered, as she struggled to keep herself from going to place where Angel had just brought her back from. "There has to be some other way than killing Elita. There has to be something we can do. Anything?"
Giles shook his head reluctantly, hating to disappoint her.
"Explain it again," Buffy urged.
Her watcher smiled at her sadly. "There's nothing new to-"
She brushed his words aside. "Go through it again."
Giles sighed before obliging. "The key was ... living energy. It needed to be channelled, poured into a specific place at a specific time. The energy ... would flow into that spot, the walls between the dimensions break down. It stops, the energy's used up, the walls come back up. Glory uses that time to get back into her own dimension, not caring that all manner of hell will be unleashed on earth in the meantime."
Anya raised her hand for a query. "Um, but only for a little while, right? The walls come back up, uh, n-no more hell?"
Willow shook her head. "That's only if the energy is stopped. And now the key is human... is Elita."
Wesley took up the open leather bound volume from the table and read the girl's fate aloud. "'The blood flows, the gates will open. The gates will close when it flows no more.' When Elita is dead."
Silence met the end of his words as every member of the slayerettes contemplated what that would mean. What they would have to do. Watch a girl die, knowing that they could not stop it without launching Armageddon on the world. One life was the cost of saving the world. They were being asked to take the life of a human being. An Innocent. There was no greater sin. Yet was it sin when it would save the world? None of them wanted to be the one to find out the answer to that question, even those who had taken lives before, for they knew the cost more than the others, as well as the guilt that they would carry for going against the most sacrosanct of moral codes.
"I have places to be!" Tara cried, drawing all of their attention to her. Gently Spike took her hands in his, stroking the skin until she calmed again.
"Why blood?" Xander asked softly. "Why Elita's blood? I mean, why couldn't it be like a, a lymph ritual?"
"'Cause it's always got to be blood," Spike replied.
Xander glared at him, misinterpreting the tone in the vampire's reply. "We're not actually discussing dinner right now."
"Blood is life, lackbrain," Spike replied, keeping his voice calm so as not frighten Tara. "Why do you think we eat it? It's what keeps you going. Makes you warm. Makes you hard. Makes you other than dead. Course it's her blood."
"How did we get like this?" Doyle murmured. "Elita's been in our lives for how long? Not even a year. And yet none of us can bare the prospect of loosing the girl."
"Because it means taking a life," Angel added, even though the half Bracken required no answers. "It goes against everything we fight for."
Beside him the slayer sighed. "Pretty simple math here. We stop Glory before she can start the ritual. We still have a couple of hours, right?"
Her watcher nodded. "If my calculations are right. But Buffy-"
She shook her head, rising from her chair. "I don't wanna hear it."
Giles tried again. "I understand that-"
Half way to the shop entrance, Buffy halted and whirled round to face him. "No! No, you don't understand. We are not talking about this."
Giles leapt from his chair. "Yes, we bloody well are!"
The violence of his reply caused everyone to turn to him. Giles calmed himself before he continued. "If Glory begins the ritual ... if we can't stop her..."
"Come on," Buffy remarked as his voice failed him. "Say it. We're bloody well talking about this. Tell me to kill the girl."
"You almost killed Faith," Cordelia pointed out.
"That was different," Buffy replied. She felt her love's eyes on her, and she looked away, sighing. "Okay, maybe it wasn't. Yes, I almost killed her. I was ready to take her life. What's more I was willing, because of how deeply she had betrayed us. And I remember all of you objecting to that. You were horrified at the mere idea of it, even on girl who was our enemy. Now you're asking me to do it again, on a girl we've known for the same amount of time. Well I won't okay?" She sobbed, "I won't!"
Angel rose from his chair and without a word took her in his arms. Silently the Scoobies watched as the two soulmates comforted each other, worrying over what they could do to spare their friend's pain, knowing that perhaps even their attempts might prove useless.
"We'll solve this," Willow promised when they had pulled apart and turned to face the others by the research table. "We will. Don't have another coma, okay?"
Turning round carefully to keep herself in Angel's arms, Buffy nodded.
"If the ritual starts," Giles warned, "then every living creature in this and every other dimension imaginable will suffer unbearable torment and death, including Elita."
Buffy met his gaze. "Then the last thing she'll see is me protecting her."
"You'll fail," Giles replied. "You'll die. We all will," he added, glancing at Jenny and Ellis.
The slayer bowed her head. "I'm sorry," She whispered. "I'll do this on my own if I have to. But I refuse to stand back and let Glory win."
Anya raised her hand. "Okay. All in favour of stopping Glory before the ritual. Suggestions, ideas? Time's a-wasting. Willow. I bet you've got some dark spell a-brewing. Uh, make her a, a, a toad? Little hoppy toad, we can hit her with a hammer?"
Tara giggled. "Hoppy toad."
"What about Ben?" Xander asked. "He can be killed, right? I mean, I know he's an innocent, but, you know, not like Elita innocent. We could kill a ... regular guy." He paused, realising what he had just said. "God, I'm sorry."
Wesley shook his head. "It's doubtful he'll surface again this close to the ritual. We can expect it's Glory we're dealing with."
"We don't have to kill her," Cordelia remarked. "We just have to stop her from doing the ritual. I mean, there's only the one time that she can do it, right?"
Spike nodded. "Yeah. We get her on the ropes, we just gotta keep her occupied till it's too late."
"Okay," Anya agreed. "But I'm still not hearing enough ideas. She's a god. Let's think outside the box."
"Why don't you go think outside the bleeding box," Spike growled.
"Yes, Anya," Giles added, for once in agreement, "apart from your incredibly uninfectious enthusiasm, have you anything else to contribu-"
"The Dagon sphere!" Anya cried, cutting him off.
Giles blinked. "Sorry?"
"When Buffy first met Glory, she found that magical, glowy sphere that was meant to repel Glory," Anya reminded them. "We've got it in the basement. It might drive her away or hurt her." She glanced around, then jumped up from her chair. "Ooh! And Olaf the troll god's enchanted hammer. You wanna fight a god, use the weapon of a god."
Spike shook his head as Buffy left Angel's arms to take the weapon. "Uh, nah, that thing's too heavy to," he broke off as the slayer lifted weapon as easily as any other that might have been resting on the shelf. "Yeah. Good."
Buffy nodded. "I like this. Thanks."
Anya smiled. "Here to help. Wanna live."
"Smart chicks are soooo hot," Xander added, his eyes gazing fondly at his girl.
Willow sighed. "You couldn't have figured that out in tenth grade?" she teased.
Giles put his glasses back on. "Well, we have some ideas, if we could actually get Glory on the run, but, um.."
"But, we still have no idea how to find her," Buffy finished.
"Big day," Tara cried. "Oh, it calls me! I have to be there!"
Everyone glanced at her once more.
"Big day!" Tara repeated.
And then enlightenment dawned.
Elita raised her head from its place on her knees between her arms as the door of her prison opened. Since Ben returned her to the warehouse she had been left alone in her grief, the perfect time to escape.
If only she possessed the means to do so.
Ben entered holding a pile of clothing. "They, uh ... said you have to put this on ... for the ceremony."
Elita glanced at him with tearful, desperate eyes. "What if I don't?"
The former intern sighed. "Come on, just-"
"What if I don't like the colour?" Elita queried.
Ben looked at her sadly. "Look, I ... I wish there was another way."
"And I wish you'd fall on your head and drown in your own blood," Elita shrugged, "so I guess we're both disappointed."
"I think ... it'll be quick," Ben offered consolingly.
The minion behind him shook his head. "Actually, sir, the bleeding is quite a slow process to give the portal time to-"
Ben turned to glare at the lackey. "Thank you for the information." He turned back to the sacrifice. "I'll do what I can to-"
"Change," Elita interrupted.
"What?" Ben asked, confused.
"Change," Elita repeated. "Be her. I don't wanna look at you. At least she's honest about wanting to kill me."
The boy shook his head. "Elita, I don't think you wanna-"
She cut him off. "Be Glory. Be Glory. Glory! Glory! Glory!"
"Will you just stop shouting already?" The god asked.
Elita fell silent, waiting.
"So, what's the hubbub, bub?" Glory asked her, taking a seat. "What do you got against old Benjy?"
"He's a monster," Elita replied. "At least you're up-front about it."
Glory picked at the hemline of the dress in her arms. "Don't be so hard on the boy. He just wants to live. Most guys would do the same. Besides, he's probably the reason the slayer and her little cartoon pals are still alive. That little nagging pinch of humanity that makes me go for the hurt instead of the kill. Lowering myself to trade blows with the Slayer when I should have just put my fist through her heart." She rose from her chair and let the dress unfold, examining the garment. "It's gotta be Ben."
Elita smiled. "Or maybe you just can't take her."
Glory threw the dress to her. Elita caught the end, and the god used the grip to pull the girl to her feet. "Hmm, funny thing. You've been here for a few hours now, and I haven't seen her galloping in to save you. She probably knows what a terrible mistake that'd be."
"She's not afraid of you," Elita replied.
The god smiled. "Oh no, sweetie baby. I'm talking about the ritual. 'Cause you know I bleed you, the portals open, but once you die they close. The faster you die, the better for your sorry species." She placed her hands either side of the girl's head. "I'm betting Buffy knows that. Since you're not really human, I'm guessing she isn't gonna show. And if she does, it might not be to save you."
She shoved the girl to the floor and left the room.
Elita stared through the metal bars of the grating before her eyes, wishing the opening was large enough to crawl through to escape.
"Buffy," she whispered in despair.
Angel entered the workout room at the back of Magic Box, closing the door behind him. He watched his beloved pounding away at the punching bag, alternating hands and strike, maintaining a regular rhythm. Barely hours ago he had been in her mind, trying to persuade her to come back to the world. Watching her now, he almost wished that they returned too late to save Elita, so he could spare her the pain of killing the girl. Suddenly he paused mid-thought. Perhaps he could spare her.
"If you think I'm going to stand back and let you take a life, you've got some domestic violence coming your way," Buffy uttered, ceasing her attack on the punching bag.
He held up his hands in peace. "I have done it before," he reminded her. "Even after I got my soul."
"And how did you feel when you took it?" Buffy asked. "When you drained the life out of them? When you stared down at their corpse knowing you were responsible for their unnatural end?"
He flinched at her words and the tone behind them. But his eyes never left hers. "That's why I don't want to put you through it."
Buffy sighed. "You're wrong, Angel. I go through it everyday. Every time I stake a vampire, I take a life. My ancestor was right when she said death was my gift."
"She was wrong," Angel corrected. "Everytime you stake a vampire, you save a life. That's the true meaning behind her words. Your gift saves lives."
"It won't save Elita's life, will it?" Buffy countered.
Angel shrugged. "Maybe you're not meant to."
Buffy frowned. "Why else did the monks send her to me?"
"She had an unnatural beginning," Angel replied. "Maybe she should have an unnatural end. Maybe that's why the monks sent her to you. Because whatever happens, you always do the right thing."
"How can it be right to take a life?" Buffy asked him.
"Would you chose one life over thousands?" Angel countered. "I know you, Buffy. You save the world everytime."
"At what price?" Buffy replied. "Angel, I killed you to save the world, remember? I love you with every fibre of my being. And I had to send you to hell. Do you think I could do that again? Even with a girl I've barely known a year?"
"I came back," Angel pointed out. "You did the right thing, and the Powers That Be rewarded you for it. Maybe Elita will be saved."
"How can I believe that?" Buffy asked him.
You can't," Angel replied, surprising her. "No one knows what will happen when Elita dies, for good or ill. It's her choice in the end. And you have to let her make it."
"That's the problem, Angel," Buffy returned sadly. "She never had a choice to begin with."
At the warehouse Elita folded her clothes in to a neat pile and carried them to the chair. The ritual gown clung to her body, the material heavy to both to her mind and her touch. She was resigned to her fate now, unable to bring herself even to the point of hope for salvation. That she would receive in death, if she was lucky enough. Kneeling by the chair she recalled what she felt when she slashed her wrists, horrified at the truth of her origins.
Strangely the only sensation she remembered was numbness; an almost powerless feeling of watching the world fade slowly away. No pain, no guilt. Only a feeling of peace, something she had never known for a moment in this world. Suddenly she wondered why she had been fighting Glory all this time. All the god was doing was putting her to use. She was energy, existing only to be used. Free will never came into it.
She looked up as the door opened and a monastic minion trotted over to the god, who was writing at the desk. The demon whispered something to her, making her stop.
"Okay, campers, it's almost stab time," Glory remarked, smiling. She gestured at two lackeys standing by the door. "You two, get her."
Elita let them take her arms and drag her outside.
Glory was still smiling. "See you in a few."
The first thing which caught her eye was a large scaffolding tower, the end result of the mental patients' work. Elita peered up into it's heights, descrying the long mental walkway which stretched out from the topmost platform.
She was going to walk the plank to her doom. Only no water or sharks would be waiting her.
Only the gateway to another world.
The minions urged her forward.
She reached the base and began to climb.
At the Magic Box, Giles called down the stairs leading to the basement, where Xander and Anya were searching for a certain crystal ball. "Any luck? Have you found the Dagon sphere?"
There was some rustling, while the former patron demon of scorned women emerged from behind the staircase, hurriedly covering up her chest with her blouse.
"Um, I'm sure it's here, just be a minute!" She called out.
Xander emerged from behind her, fastening his pants. "Yeah, we're on it! Let's look over here, where we didn't look yet."
"Time is a factor," the watcher reminded them.
"Yes," Anya replied. "Yes. Not to worry."
The door closed and they turned to face each other.
"So, are you more, uh ... relaxed?" Xander asked her.
Anya began actively searching for the crystal ball. "No."
"No?" Xander echoed. "I mean, it sounded like you, uh ... arrived."
Distracted, his girlfriend answered in the negative. "No. Yes. Um, I had the pleasure moment, and the blissful calm that comes right after it. But that only lasted a couple of seconds, and now I'm terrified again."
"Well, you don't have to be," Xander assured her.
"Don't have much of a choice," Anya replied. "Ahh!" she cried suddenly. "God, who, who would put something like that there? Is this supposed to be some sort of sick joke?" She pulled out the toy bunny which had scared her. "I mean as if things aren't bad enough! This is an omen."
Xander came to stand behind her, rubbing her shoulders comfortingly. "Hey, hey, shh, shh."
"No, no, it's an omen," Anya repeated. "It's a higher power, trying to tell me through bunnies that we're all gonna die. Oh god."
Xander shook his head. "No it's not." He watched put the toy back in the box, then wrapped his arms around her. "It's okay."
Anya sighed. "No, you see, usually when there's an apocalypse, I skedaddle. But now I love you so much that instead I have inappropriately timed sex and try to think of ways to fight a god ... and worry terribly that something might happen to you. And also worry that something will happen to me. And then I have guilt that I'm not more worried about everyone else, but I just don't have enough! I'm just on total overload, and I honestly don't think that I could be more nervous than I am right now."
"Care to wager on that?" He asked her softly, bringing his hands to the fore front of her vision. Silently he opened the small box within them to reveal a jewel encased in a circle of precious metal.
Anya stared at the ring as he let go of her, turning to face him.
Xander looked at her bowed her head tenderly. "Anya ... you wanna marry me?"
She slapped him across the face.
"Can I take that as a maybe?" Xander asked.
Anya was stunned. "You're proposing to me!"
"Yes..." Xander confirmed, confused.
"You're proposing to me 'cause we're gonna die!" Anya cried. "And you think it's romantic and sexy and, and you know you're not gonna have to go through with it 'cause the world's gonna end!"
"I'm proposing to you, Anya, because it's not," Xander replied.
She looked him in the eye. "You can't know that."
Xander shook his head. "I believe it. I think we're gonna get through this. I think I'm gonna live a long and silly life, and I'm not interested in doing that without you around."
"Oh," Anya uttered softly. "Okay."
His eyes went wide. "Okay?" he echoed uncertainly.
"Yes," Anya answered, a small smile gracing her face. "I mean, yes."
Xander returned the expression as he removed the ring from the box. He reached out to place it on her finger, but she stopped him.
Xander stilled. "No?"
"After," Anya replied. "Give it to me when the world doesn't end."
He smiled at her as she wrapped her arms around his neck, before bending his head down to meet her lips with his.
Buffy emerged from the workout room and walked up the research table where her best friend was examining books. "Will, what do you got for me?"
"Some ideas," the redhead replied. "Well, notions. Or, theories based on wild speculation. Did I mention I'm not good under pressure?"
"I need you, Will," Buffy replied. "You're my big gun."
Willow shied away in alarm. "I'm your - no, I-I was never a gun. Someone else should be the gun. I, I could be a, a cudgel. Or, or a pointy stick."
"You're the strongest person here," Buffy revealed. "You know that, right?"
Her best friend frowned. "Well ... no."
"Will, you're the only person that's ever hurt Glory," Buffy pointed out. "At all. You're my best shot at getting her on the ropes, so don't get a jelly belly on me now."
"Well ... I," Willow stammered, touched by her friend's confidence of her. "I ... do sort of have this one idea. But, last few days, I've mostly been looking into ways to help Tara. I-I know that shouldn't be a priority..."
Oz clasped her hand. "Of course it should," he assured her.
"Well, I've been charting their essences," Willow continued. "Mapping out. I think ... if I can get close enough, I may be able to reverse what Glory did. Like, take back what she took from Tara. It might weaken Glory, or ... make her less coherent. Or it might make all our heads explode."
"Buffy," Giles uttered, calling her from across the shop floor. She looked up to see him with Xander and Anya.
"I'll try to work it," Willow promised.
Buffy nodded and rose from the stairs leading to mezzanine floor, making her way across the room.
Spike turned to the redhead. "Thankyou, Willow," he uttered softly.
The wiccan smiled at him. "I'm doing this for her as well you know," she added.
"I wouldn't ask for you to do it for anyone else," Spike replied. He turned to girl resting in his arms. "Don't worry, luv. It won't be long."
To his surprise Tara slapped him across the face. "Bastard! I'm supposed to work on the factors!"
Instead of lashing out, Spike just gazed at her tenderly, until the anger passed and she returned the glance anxiously.
"I'm, I'm not ... I'm not..." the words failed her. She fell into his embrace and cried.
His heart aching for her salvation, Spike could only hold her. "I'm gonna bring you back, luv," he whispered to her. "I have to, or nothing's worth living for."
Across the room, Buffy was smiling at the trio of watcher, boy and former vengeance demon. "No. No, no, that's good. That could be pivotal. Thank you guys."
"Well, you're gonna need some-" Giles began but she cut him off.
"Way ahead of you," Buffy replied. "We have time?"
Giles nodded. "Yes, if you hurry."
"Okay. I'll grab some weapons too," the slayer replied.
"I'm looking for something in a broadsword," Xander mused.
"Don't be swinging that thing near me," Spike remarked from behind them.
Xander looked at him, insulted. "Hey, I happen to be-"
"A glorified nightclub owner?" Spike mocked.
"I'm also a swell bowler," Xander countered.
His girlfriend nodded. "Has his own shoes."
Angel smirked. "The gods themselves do tremble."
"I think Glory would if she saw a giant bowling ball coming towards her," Cordelia mused, causing all of them to smile slightly.
"Come on, Angel," Buffy remarked, heading out of the shop. "Let's lock and load."
After she reached the top of the tower, the minions tied Elita to the edge of support rails with strong thick rope.
"She will come to you soon," one of them declared before walking away.
Elita nervously contemplated the drop waiting for her at the end of the walkway, a small part of her wondering what would happen if she anticipated the ritual's end and jumped now. She remembered reading somewhere in one of Giles' books, to never look into the abyss, else you let the abyss look into you, to awake the spirit of reason and fight, the monsters within and without. She had tried, so hard to keeping fighting, but the abyss was before her now, staring back at her, a dark facade of monsters concealed behind the seemingly clean night sky. Hiding the face of hell. She knew that she should feel scared of what was to come, but strangely a mysterious calm had settled upon her, slowing the frantic beating of her heart, healing the once rising panic within her mind. Consciously her thoughts dwelled not on the unknown which awaited her after death, or the possibilities of afterlife which humans fed themselves to calm their fears, but on resolutions and thoughts that she did not remember ever forming. Was this what the monks created in her mind when they enchanted her from the ball of energy into flesh and soul? She had doubted they had the time to finish what they intended to do in protecting her, yet a part of her now felt certain that this was indeed their design; to grant their enemy a seeming glance, a mere taste of victory, only to snatch it away for themselves and the world at the end.
The chosen warriors returned the Magic Box.
"Are we on schedule?" Buffy asked.
"Yes," Giles replied, "it's time."
Buffy turned to the unsouled vampire. "Spike?"
He turned to his love. "Tara, baby? Is there somewhere you should be?"
Tara turned to the slayer. "They held me down."
"No one's holding you," Spike assured her. "It's the big day, right? Don't you wanna go?"
Tara turned anxiously from the slayer toward him, then back again, before rising to her feet and walking towards the door. As she passed Giles, in the midst of retrieving a sword from the weapons bag, she pointed to him and said. "You're a killer. This is all set down."
Giles froze as she continued to walk towards the shop door, silently considering her words. Then he caught sight of a hand clasping his shoulder and he turned to face his wife.
"Be careful," Jenny pleaded, for she was staying behind with Ellis until it was over.
"I love you," he uttered, before pulling her into his arms. They kissed briefly, and then he parted from her, following the others.
Buffy clasped Spike's arm as he walked past her. "Stay close but don't crowd her. We'll follow in a minute."
He nodded, and she turned round to face the others. "Everybody knows their jobs. Remember, the ritual starts, we all die. And I'll kill anyone who comes near Elita."
Spike stilled by the door he had opened to let Tara through. He glanced at the Watcher. "Well, not exactly the St. Crispin's Day speech, was it?"
"'We few...'" Giles quoted, gathering up a bag of weapons. " 'We happy few.'"
"We band of buggered," Spike parodied before walking out.
Angel picked up the other bag and one by one slayerettes followed.
Buffy was the last to go, her gaze silently meeting Jenny's before lowering to the sleeping form of her godchild in the mother's arms.
"If I don't come back," she uttered, "tell my Mom that I love her, and that I'm sorry I never said goodbye."
"I won't need to," Jenny replied. "Because she already knows. Just like I do."
They made an unusual procession, nine people following a troubled girl, every one of them armed to the hilt. Around them the streets of the hellmouth stretched out deserted, mocking the determination inside the slayerettes, by refusing to let their heroism go noticed.
As usual they were carrying out their good deeds in the dark, saving the world for a universe unaware of their fragile existence. Tomorrow morning these streets would be crowded, filled with citizens, milling about their lives and businesses.
Then again, maybe not.
"What is that?" Anya asked as they came upon the scaffolding.
Giles gazed upwards. "The portal must open up there," he reasoned.
Buffy turned to her best friend. "Will, you're up."
Willow stared at the tower solemnly.
"Need anything?" Wesley asked her.
"Could use a little courage," she replied.
Doyle stretched out his hand before her, revealing a flask.
"The real kind," Willow corrected. "But thanks."
"Good luck," Oz offered.
She smiled at him then followed Tara into the warehouse.
Tara pulled the cast off her wrist and tossed it aside. Mumbling to herself she walked towards a pile of bricks and picked one of them up.
A hand grabbed her shoulder and spun her round.
"You," Glory recognised her. "What are you doing here?"
"She's with me," Willow replied, grabbing the god's head. At the same time, she took hold of Tara's too, blue lightning flickering into life around them.
The god and the girl screamed as the light travelled from one to the other.
Abruptly a surge of power threw them apart, sending their bodies flying in different directions.
Glory struggled up from the concrete in shock. "What the fricking hell did that bitch do to me?"
The minions who had rushed up to her, now clustered around their god helplessly confused.
"You look fine. Truly," one assured her.
Glory clutched her head. "She made a little a hole. Uh, I need a brain to eat."
A minion prostrated himself before her. "Oh, take mine, oh groove-tastic one!"
"I said a brain, you worthless dirt!" Glory replied, rising from the ground and walking away. Behind her, the minions trotted in her wake. "Big day. I got places to be, big day. Need a brain." Glory halted, and scoffed at the sight before her. "Suppose I could always use yours."
"Okay then," Buffy replied. "Come and get it."
Glory smiled at her, then tilted her head, clutching it as the nerves inside her screamed in pain.
"You don't seem very well," Buffy commented innocently.
Glory moved her hand to her robe. "Your little witch bitch ... gave me kind of a headache there." she removed the garment. "But if you think this is gonna last more than eight seconds-"
"I noticed you're talking," Buffy pointed out, "whereas in your position, I would attack me."
A minion stepped from the crowd clustered around the god to come before his divine mistress. "Oh, most sweaty-naughty-feelings-causing one, should we..."
"Go guard the girl," Glory commanded. "This is a ... this is a, a..."
"Diversionary tactic?" A minion offered.
"Go guard!" The god yelled.
The minion scurried away, ushering a group of disturbed works to stand and guard the base of the stairs at the foot of the scaffolding.
Buffy smiled. "It's strange, you're not as blurry with speed as usual either."
"The witch.." Glory began, only for the slayer to cut her off.
"It's not her," Buffy replied as she brought her hands out from behind her, revealing the object within them. "Might be this," she added, as the god looked at the Dagon Sphere, alarmed. "I heard it's supposed to repel you. So my guess is ... you probably shouldn't touch it, either."
She tossed the sphere to the god, who caught it, causing the crystal ball to light up in her palm, seemingly distorting everything around her. Glory frowned in pain, dropping her hand to her side.
Her fist tightened, crushing the sphere.
Destroying the light.
Glory glared at the slayer. "You're gonna wish you-"
Buffy punched her in the face. Surprised, the god stumbled backwards, while the slayer advanced, kicking and punching, again and again, in the regular rhythm she had delivered upon the bag in the workout room.
At the base of the scaffold the minions called the suffering workers to order.
"Stand fast!" One urged aloud. "Kill anyone who dares approach! This will be our day of glory!"
"Well punned," another complimented.
The minion shrugged modestly. "Well, it just called out to me."
A arrow point merged from his chest, causing him to fall to the floor. His companion turned to see a large crowd of people before them, one with bleached blond hair holding a crossbow.
The slayerettes rushed into the melee, while Spike hung back, covering them with his weapon as they launched themselves at the demons.
Xander stabbed one with his broadsword, while Anya swatted another with her baseball bat.
Cordelia swung her blade into one holding a quarterstaff, while Doyle let loose his Bracken heritage to strike another in the face.
Giles and Wesley worked in tandem, fighting two minions at once, while Oz battled another.
Above them the candle of hope inside Elita flickered into life as she caught sight of battle being waged beneath her.
Buffy flipped Glory over to send her into a pile of bricks. She followed with a punch, but the god rolled away, causing her hand to hit the bricks. Buffy tried again, but the god grabbed her arms and threw her across the room.
"Spike?" a voice called out, causing the chipped vampire to turn round. He dropped his weapon and rushed to his love.
"Tara!" He cried, taking her gently into his arms.
"Spike," she uttered softly, "... I got so lost."
He smiled at her. "I found you," he replied, raining kisses on her face before pulling her close. "I will always find you."
Buffy jumped to her feet and readied another punch.
"You know what?" Glory queried as she grabbed the fist. "I'm feeling a little better. And now? I'm a little bored."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Buffy apologised. "'Cause you're about-"
Glory raised her own fist, prepared to cut her off, only for her arm to be wrench behind her back. She turned to find a dark haired man smiling at her, as he swung the large hammer he was carrying into her face, sending her flying across the room, into a wall.
"You're not the brightest god in the heavens, are you?" Buffy remarked with a grin.
"Buffy!" Elita screamed. "I'm up here!"
The slayer looked to her soulmate.
"You go," he replied. I'll take care of this one."
"Buffy!" Elita cried.
The slayer ran towards the scaffolding, leaping over piles of bricks and dodging minions and Scoobies to reach the stairs.
"Oh no you don't!" Glory declared.
"Haven't you heard?" Angel asked as he hit her with Olaf's hammer again. "Nobody messes with my girl."
"Buffy!" Elita screamed. "I'm up here!"
The slayer sprinted up the stairs, her past history with the tracking sport coming to hand as she strove to climb the scaffold to the top. She could hear the sound of her friends fighting the minions below, and her soulmate pounding the living daylights out of Glory with Olaf's hammer. She caught sight of the duel as her journey took her to the edge of a tower floor. Her vampire had not dropped an ounce of his fighting skill since his reversion to half human. It was at times like these that she often wondered what would have happened if he had fought Acathla like Whistler told her he was meant to.
Or perhaps he did, she realised suddenly, from a certain point of view. Just as her ancestor's words could also become true if viewed from another angle. After all, everything was about meanings in the end.
Below her Angel continued to swing the hammer, the weapon striking the god time and time again.
Abruptly Glory grabbed the handle and wrenched it from his hands, tossing the giant weapon aside.
"You lost your hammer, sweet cheeks," she mocked. "What are you gonna hit me with now?"
Angel declined from answering her. Instead he directed his gaze to the wall which the god was standing before.
Glory followed his gaze in time to see a wrecking ball break through the barrier and into her body. The ball took the god with them, sending her into a second wall before releasing her to the asphalt on the other side.
"Whatever's handy," Angel replied, inclining his head in salute at the driver.
Inside the vehicle Xander returned the motion and the sentiment behind it before shutting down the engine.
"The glorified nightclub owner picks up a spare," the boy murmured to himself.
Anya straightened up, pausing her fight. "Has anyone noticed we're going backwards?"
Cordelia ducked as brick attempted to hit her head again. "It's crossed my mind."
Beside them Giles panted for breath. "As long as ... Buffy can keep Glory down ... long enough, it doesn't matter. There's only a few minutes left to start the ritual."
Xander joined them, followed by Angel.
"How we doing?" The former asked.
"So far it's a tie," his girlfriend replied.
"We haven't got up to Elita, but then neither has anyone else," Wesley added.
Angel gazed up at the scaffolding. "Someone's up there," he corrected.
En masse they raised their eyes towards the tower, but the angle was too steep for any human to get a clear look at who had joined Elita at the top.
"Okay, we gotta charge or something," Xander decided.
"We tried that," Anya reminded him.
"Angel," Willow said suddenly, inside his head. "Can you hear me?"
The souled vampire frowned, staring across at the wiccan as she sat up from the pile of wood Glory and thrown her into. "Yeah, loud and clear."
"Is there someone up there with Elita?" Willow asked him telepathically.
"Yeah, can't tell who," Angel replied.
"Are you talking to us?" Xander asked him.
"Get up there," Willow ordered. "Go now."
Angel rose up from the cover and ran towards the tower.
Behind him Tara joined the redhead while Spike left her side to help his grandsire. Willow took Tara's hand in her own, and the minions parted before the vampire's path, like the tide before the sand.
Elita sighed in relief as a kindly looking human appeared before her. "You. You can help me. Untie me. Please. Help me, she's coming."
The man smiled at her. "Well, it seems she's running a bit late, is the thing. And, uh, if her Splendidness can't be here in time to bleed you..." he let the sentence fade away, as Elita's face crumpled with despair.
"Hey, kid!" he whispered. "Wanna see a trick?"
From nowhere a large dagger appeared within his grasp. He smiled as he raised the weapon to his face.
Elita felt all the air leave her mouth in a soundless scream of terror.
Doc examined his pocket watch. "Well. What do you know? It's just about that time."
"Spike!" Elita cried as the vampire appeared behind the demon.
"Doesn't a fella stay dead when you kill him?" Spike asked the demon before him.
"Look who's talking," Doc returned.
"Come on, Doc," Spike smirked. "Let's you and me have a go."
Doc tapped the dagger against his hand. "I do have a prior appointment."
"This won't take long," Spike assured him.
Doc nodded. "No, I-I don't imagine it will."
Spike leapt forwards. The Doc dodged his lunge, took the vampire by the neck, and thrust the knife into his back.
Buffy reached another level of the scaffolding only to be suddenly confronted by the god. She halted with frown. "Didn't my boyfriend tell you not to mess with me?"
Glory shrugged. "What can I say? I'm a god. We don't obey vampires. Even the souled ones."
Suddenly a hammer flew through the air, causing the god to duck, letting the weapon sail into the slayer's hands.
Buffy smiled as a figure rushed past her. "Thanks honey," she uttered to Angel's disappearing form, as he rushed past them ascend the tower, trying to rescue Elita, before striking her opponent with Olaf's hammer.
Glory looked at the slayer in anguish. "You're just a mortal. You couldn't understand my pain."
Buffy readied her weapon. "Then I'll just have to settle for causing it," she replied before swinging it into the god.
Glory reeled away under the impact, but only took a moment to recover.
"You can't kill me," she remarked.
"No," the slayer agreed. She raised her arm. "But my arm's not even tired yet."
The hammer pounded on Glory again.
Spike reached behind him and pulled the knife out of his back, before putting himself between the demon and the key. "You don't come near the girl, Doc."
Doc looked at him with a frown. "I don't smell a soul anywhere on you. Why do you even care?"
"I made a promise to a lady," Spike replied.
"Oh?" Doc queried, before unleashing his tongue, causing the vampire to duck and cover. He dropped to his knees, pull the vampire's feet from under him, sending him to the floor. They wrestled upon the platform for a moment, until the demon struggled to his feet, taking the vampire with him, pining the undead's arms behind him.
"Then I'll send the lady your regrets," Doc remarked.
"No," Spike uttered.
Doc pushed him over the edge of the walkway.
"Aah!" Elita screamed. "No!"
Spike fell to the ground, his living corpse hitting a pile of bricks and broken concrete. He struggled up with pain on his face, while Tara rushed to his side.
Glory fell to her knees. "Stop it."
"You're a god," Buffy replied, hitting her again. "Make it stop."
Glory fell to the floor, and Buffy pounded the hammer into her again and again and again, until the beast transformed into another.
"I'm sorry," Ben apologised.
"Tell her it's over," Buffy ordered. "She missed her shot. She goes. She ever, ever comes near me and mine again..."
Ben shook his head in firm denial. "We won't. I swear."
The slayer dropped the hammer and ran for the stairs to the next level.
Ben coughed, flinching from the pain such a violent exhale caused. "I guess we're stuck with each other, huh baby?" he mused to himself.
Giles kneeled beside him. "Can you move?" He asked.
"Need a ... a minute," Ben replied. "She could have killed me."
The watcher shook his head. "No she couldn't. Never. And sooner or later Glory will re-emerge, and ... make Buffy pay for that mercy. And the world with her. Buffy even knows that and still she couldn't take a human life."
He paused to retrieve his glasses from his pocket and put them on.
Ben patiently waited for him to finish.
"She's a hero, you see," Giles continued. "She's not like us."
"Us?" Ben frowned.
Giles put his hand over the boy's nose and mouth, forcing the orifices shut. Beneath his firm hand the boy struggled helplessly, until his life was no more.
The silence which once settled over the battlefield was now brought to an end as the key screamed in pain.
"Shallow cuts..." Doc murmured to himself as he cut Elita's skin, "shallow cuts..."
Elita screamed at each and every fresh wound.
"Let the blood ... flow... free," Doc continued.
Red red drops fell between them into the air.
"Elita," a voice called out.
"Angel!" the girl cried. "Buffy!"
Doc whirled round to face the souled vampire and the slayer.
The chosen warriors ventured forward.
"This should be interesting," Doc murmured.
Suddenly Angel broke into a run, sending his hand right into the demon's chest, pushing him off the walkway to the pile of bricks and concrete below.
Buffy went to Elita. "Here," she uttered, trying to shush the girl.
Elita flinched in pain. "Buffy, it hurts."
"I got it," Buffy assured her. "Come here. You're gonna be okay."
Red red drops of blood met an invisible doorway in the sky. A circle of bright white light appeared, rapidly expanding.
Buffy untied the girl's bonds and helped her back to the scaffolding.
"Go!" She urged.
Elita froze. "Buffy, it's started."
As her desperate frenzied rush up the scaffold came to an abrupt halt in the death of the demon who sought to aid a victory for his god she just ordered to flee, Buffy was struck by the ugly symmetry between the desolate reality before her now, and the memory of three summers ago, when she held Angel for what she believed to be the last time, allowing herself the brief selfish indulgence of a farewell kiss before sending him to hell to save the world, one in which she could not contemplate living without him. Then as now, she held before her one person whom she loved, though not to the same degree, while behind them the barrier between dimensions was slowly tearing itself apart due to the blood which was spilt. Then as now, she had gone into battle with the intention of saving Elita and or preventing the apocalyptic ritual from taking place. Then as now, actions and events culminated into forcing her to kill someone she loved to save the world. Then as now, she wanted time to stop, for someone to intervene and free her from the burden and responsibility of what she had to do now. Back then she had been alone, unwilling to connect or depend on friends who mistrusted Angel and her judgement when it came to those she cared about. Now she had friends with her, although she wasn't sure how some of them felt about the battle tonight, or about what she had to do next. As for herself, she knew Angel was right when he told her in the training room that whatever the consequences, she would always choose to do the right thing, and save the world.
She looked at the girl in her arms, knowing that this time, she could not keep them ignorant of the end which was to befall them. "I'm sorry."
Elita just smiled. "It doesn't matter."
Lightning flashed around them, causing the slayer to catch sight of something emerging from the gateway. A beast of fabled times, when crusades ruled the will of the people, slayed by saintly hands, a male alternative to her destiny. Inwardly she wondered if the myth had some basis in history, if centuries ago a watcher had asked one of her ancestors to be St George. The dragon circled the tower, then flew away to explore this strange new world which he had entered.
"Buffy, you have to let me go," Elita continued. "Blood starts it, and until the blood stops flowing, it'll never stop. You know you have to let me. It has to have the blood." She stepped forward and placed a hand on Angel's chest.
Angel met her tearful gaze with his own. "I'm so sorry," he whispered.
"I'm not," Elita replied, surprising them, "I know now what I was sent here to do. I'm a key. And keys can open doors. Or they can close them. You just have to know how."
She let her hand fall from Angel's chest and walked away, causing them to turn, watching her as she reached the end of the walkway.
Elita turned as she came to stand before the precipice. "I looked up my name once," she informed the couple. "It means chosen." she smiled at them, "like you two. Take care of each other and the world."
The slayer and her angel watched as the girl leapt into the gateway, her small body glowing as she hit the circle of the light. Unseen below them, the battle had stopped, the minions having fled when the watcher killed their god. While the farewell had been taking place above them, they were gathering in twos, surveying and treating wounds, afraid to air thoughts as to what might happen once the gateway between worlds opened. They saw the dragon fly away, a part of them wondering if they would have to become St George during the summer, another hoping that it would become someone else's problem. The god had taken a toll on them, they needed time to reflect. Time to mourn, they realised as they watched the girl who had been with them barely more than a year, yet dear to them any friend or lover they stood or knelt beside now, take her final leap in this world to pass into the next. Glorificus' wishes were being answered, but not in the way she had desired. Keys could open doors, true, but they could also close them, by simply turning in the lock.
Buffy watched Elita as she leapt over the precipice, wrapped in the arms of her angel, who held her partly out of comfort and partly out of a fear that she might follow the chosen one to her death with a last ditch effort to save the girl's life. She remained in his arms however because she felt if she tried to leave them, she would collapse under the weight of grief and guilt consuming her. Those feelings matched the intensity of what she had felt three summers ago, when she wished that she could have taken her beloved's place, to rescue him from what he would endure in hell, and she hoped when he returned that she would never have to feel their like again. Another hope also entered her mind as she watch the chosen girl jump, that Elita would return to the ball of energy described by Tara, that her existence would not be brought to an end by these actions.
Elita was chosen however, one girl in all the world, to do what no one else could. Her blood ceased to flow, sealing the barrier once more, preventing the dimension from breaking down around the hellmouth, saving the town and the slayer from more deaths and possible heartache in what might prove to be a ceaseless battle. But while her soul left her body to travel to a better place, the form which the monks spent the last desperate seconds of their lives creating, ended its days on the pile of unused bricks lying below the edge of the plank, waiting for the family she left behind to gather, coffin and bury.
Angel heard the horrible sound which signalled Elita's end, and forcibly turned the woman in his arms around, burying her face on his chest, protecting her eyes from the sight which he knew awaited them, until she had the strength to face it without wishing she could have taken the girl's place. He had the will to die to save the girl in his arms, but not to watch her end her life in vain, nor go on without her.
He remembered the sorrow he saw in her dark eyes three summers ago as she did what she had to do to save the world, and hoped to spare her what pain he could now that moment was repeated again to some degree. Tenderly his hands caressed soothing circles to her skin through her layers of clothes as her tears began to soak his own. As he bent his chin to rest on her blond tresses, he was surprised to feel some slide down his face too.
Crying was not an alien emotion to vampires, he had felt them when he returned from hell, but the hurried breath emerging from deep within him was. Barely able to believe what he felt inside him, he lifted his head to let Buffy meet his gaze, before she managed a small smile, as she pressed her ear against his chest to listen to the beating heart within.
To Be Continued In.