Notes: This is the final chapter and I'd like to thank everyone who read and commented on this tale from the beginning. Its almost been a year but The Lost Mistress is complete at fifteen chapters. My goal was to write a appropriate and interesting sequel to Porphyria's Lover which I hope I succeeded at. Please let me know if I did. My dream is to become a Urban Fantasy novelist and I will always appreciate how this series has helped hone my writing skills. All reviews are welcome and encouraged so I can improve on the next book. Willow and Angel will return for a final installment in the Aurelius Rising Trilogy. This fic wouldn't be possible (or as readable) without my magnificent beta, olansamuelle! Thank you for all your criticism, suggestions, and cheerleading and allowing me to drag you into the Buffy fandom. I hope you have all enjoyed my work. Thank you all again!
Buffy waited until Xander had shimmied through the small window, hidden by weeds, that led to the small interfaith auditorium basement before looking to see if anything had followed them. They weren't far from the old cemetery and she hoped that Willow and Ms. Calendar could get their spell together in time. If Buffy could have cursed without the Mayor's vampires, skulking by the front, hearing her, she would have been cursing her timing. They had gotten lost in the church before they found a small flier taped to a meeting room door inside the Unitarian church that read that the Sunnydale Survivors had been told to move their meeting. No location listed. Thankfully, a man in the Alcoholics Anonymous group that had taken over the Survivors' room for the night told them where the new meeting place was. He probably wasn't the only one with overlapping ties between the two groups. Buffy slid through the window and landed next to Xander in the darkness. "Let's go."
They walked through a dark basement and finally found the stairs. Their mission was to lead people out. They found themselves in a hallway that came to a stage that looked out over a hundred seats. Buffy remembered being forced to attend a Christmas play here. A dozen or so people rushed around blocking the doors. She saw Willow's mom, standing a circle, of seemingly the only calm people in the building, listening to a tall African-American woman give orders. Buffy waved.
Mrs. Rosenberg stared at her, before putting her chained glasses on, and gasped. "Bunny?"
"Its actually Buffy, but close." Buffy shrugged, trying to be light despite the knowledge that there were too many people and not enough doors without vampires behind them. They had made barricades on the doors but now, their discipline had broken down as the demons growled outside. She could only count a few people keeping their heads as the crowd milled around the stage. That was was of bad. Frantic people made stupid mistakes. Mistakes that could get them killed. One or two scared people could be contained, a dozen were much harder to herd. "We've come to get you guys out of here, but everyone has to stay calm."
The woman that Buffy took to be the leader nodded. "There is a exit by the maintenance room that leads to a side door. Its hidden by the memorial garden." She locked eyes with another support group member in a faded uniform with a delivery company logo on the breast pocket. "Antonio, try to get people together and ready to leave in a group. No breaking away. Divided, we're easy prey." She smiled at Antonio before nodding a dismissal and turning to Buffy with her hand outstretched. "I'm Yvette Stevenson. Pleased to meet finally you. I've admired your work for awhile."
"Likewise. " She returned the smile and handshake as she thought fast. Willow's plan was solid if vague on the number of vampires that the Mayor would have in his guard. Buffy had already seen more along the perimeter than she could tangle with at once and protect hapless townsfolk at the same time. Either they needed to escape or they needed to fight. She already knew which one she would prefer. They might be decent people but she didn't want to see what would happen if they went up against vampires with prop swords and bibles. "I didn't see any vamps on that side." Buffy looked to Xander.
He shook his head as he shrugged his quiver higher on his shoulder and loaded an arrow into a wide crossbow. "Nary a one, but we had better move fast. The memorial garden isn't far from a Catholic church either so we can rush everyone to sacred ground."
"Then we can get a priest to bless water by the bucket load before giving them a holy shower from the balcony seats." Buffy added with a grin.
"It would be a better place for a fight. Our backs are exposed here." Xander returned the smile even if his words were grim.
Buffy nodded. It was as sound of a plan as they had beyond stalling as Willow and Ms. Calendar set up their spell. Their first plan, which depended on being in the Unitarian church, went the way of the dodo when they found out they had switched meeting locations. They both knew that their job would be easier without so many civilians in the way. Staying penned in on the stage wasn't an option she wanted to explore. "They'll be safe at least from the vampires in there."
"Everyone listen up because we are taking the first group out." Yvette called out and repeated the plan to get to the safety of the church. "Hustle, folks. You drop your wallet, you leave it. All you need right now is yourselves. When we say go, go."
Xander gestured to the hall. He gave Buffy another quick smile that reached his eyes to mingle with the sadness, fear and resigned understanding that he might not come back.
Stalwart old Xander, he was scared but friendship pushed him on. Buffy loved him even if it wasn't the way that he had once wanted. He knew that but she'd have to tell him again after they won. Buffy grabbed his hand and squeezed for a moment.
"Come on. I'll take them." Xander volunteered as he adjusted his quiver on his shoulder.
Three people walked towards him and they left in a tight pack with Xander at the head with his crossbow ready. Buffy watched them out with a smile that felt like a frown. She knew if he was killed tonight,he wouldn't come back like Willow had. "Now, everyone just stay calm. We have to make sure that the coast is clear before everyone can go." Buffy said in a calm tone that belied her thoughts.
It felt like forever as so many adults stared at her expectantly when Xander came back with the first group. His worried features told her the news before his mouth even opened. "They're at every exit now."
* * *
The wind stirred the cottonwoods as Jenny and Willow had made the circle, stepping through the brush, and chanted. The oak wreaths that they had out on their heads itched but Willow forced herself to ignore it. The burning sage sachets would have been overwhelming when she was a human, but she wanted to gag with her vampiric senses now. That too she made herself ignore. All she concentrated on was the spark that she hoped still remained strong inside her. Raising her voice, she followed Jenny's lead as they dropped the other's hand and walked around their small circle of thistles and marigold petals. Flat lava rocks marked the four directions. Willow knelt when Jenny did before clasping hands again. They nodded before Willow reached for the ceremonial dagger and cut herself on the palm, sprinkling the blood around the purple candle in the middle. She raised the blade to the four directions before handing the dagger to Jenny who did the same.
Willow reached to the sky and recited the last line. Like raging river, the power rose up and she could feel it focus towards the Mayor through her connection with Jenny. He was like a blight on the mystical landscape but she didn't hesitate to open herself up, wider than she had ever tried before, to let all her energy flow towards their goal. She would see him powerless or she would die trying. Willow took another look around at the swords that she had hidden among the gravestones and grasses before she dashed to the tallest tree near the circle and climbed to the top.
Below the tree top, Jenny answered a call from her cellphone as she sat cross-legged in the circle. She raised her thumb up and nodded.
Willow didn't wait for her mentor to end the conversation before she begun to push her energy through their bond into the draining spell.
Lawson focused on the sound of the dripping pipes to block it all out- the torture, the betrayal, the burning herbs. Most of all, he tried to block out Drusilla's grim lullaby and the rose she rubbed over his flayed shoulders. Drip. Drip. Drip. Water and blood dripped to the sewer tunnel floor. He stood on his tip toes while his shoulders ached as the chains cut into his wrists. Rivets of blood rolled down his arms and over his bare chest to land on the porcelain doll below his feet. Drusilla had wrapped Spike's belt around Lawson's throat after he left with Angel. If he could have screamed then he would have long ago.
Her eyes had bore into his as his mental defenses had crumbled. Lost in her mystic stare, he found himself fading out of the tunnel and disconnected to the pain. He sighed while drawn to forgetfulness by her gaze.
When he could look away, he almost fudged up the steps of the waltz as vertigo over came him for a moment. He smiled sheepishly at his dance partner. The band started up a faster beat and the G.I.s swung their gals around. The room rotated in a blur of beige uniforms, colorful dresses, and shining brass instruments. Laughter and cigarette smoke lingered in the air. Lights swept over the red USO hall to glimmer off the scuffed dance floor. The woman's skin radiated milky pale in the spotlight. Lawson wanted to apologize to the pretty brunette he held and ask for her name yet no words escaped him.
His dance partner seemed to understand. "Who am I?" She cooed, coy, tilting her head to the side. Her smile widened, canines growing as she leaned closer, her curls brushing his cheek, and whispered, "I'm your consort." Monstrous with yellow eyes and raised brows when she pulled back to grip his jaw, she laughed. "How do you like it, husband? Does this dance please you?"
He opened his mouth in a soundless scream.
Drusilla swallowed his fear in a deep kiss before invisible fingers combed through his memories. His life, human and vampire, was laid out for her perusal. She relished his pain as she searched for his secrets.
Lawson prayed, to a Jesus that he hadn't believed in for over fifty years, for the blessing of unconsciousness. Jesus ignored his silent prayers and he felt every one of Drusilla's violations. Lawson didn't have the energy to tremble when she finally pulled out of him in anger.
"Empty and bleak, you are. Always and forever. Not a single secret found your ears." Drusilla had raised a single long fingernail. Her eyes focused on its sharp tip. "I wonder how empty the rest of you is."
Finally, through blood loss, Lawson blacked out. He awoke, blinking slowly, to the sound of the dripping pipes and Drusilla's soft lullaby. Candles and salt had been laid out while herbs burned in tin cans around him. The bloody doll, a boy in a sailor suit, stared up at him. Forcing himself to look ahead, he tried to block out all but the dripping water yet his senses forced him to pay attention to Angel's aura.
A creaking elevator door announced Angel's strong presence while Spike's brash tone made himself known.
"Mate, methods change, you chop him into bits or go the old roman style and light him up like a candle so Dru can roast a marshmallow, but the essence is the same. Use the girl as bait. He'll try and chat her up and then we can follow her to him." Spike's footsteps followed Angel's.
"Spike, I sent her to Buffy to protect her, I'm not going to send her into danger. All he needs to do is get her on a airplane and she's across the country." Angel dismissed the idea with a snort. "This is why I left Lawson alive. Dru might have gotten more out of him."
Lawson had told them all before that the three were on fool's errands. In the end, he knew nothing after he found himself a king of illusions and the pawn of masters. Only Angel's paranoia kept him from greeting the sun. The reprieve would end soon. Lawson had told them that Franz's beach house would be deserted. The Dutchman left little to chance. Lawson had learned that the hard way.
"Probably just innards." Spike stepped in front of Angel, clearly in haste to see Drusilla. "Don't imagine that he fancies her much anymore." His boots made a clatter as he climbed down the metal ladder to the tunnel. "Darling, how's the GI coming along?" Spike asked bringing Drusilla into his arms and snaking his hands over her the black lace on her hips.
She pouted as she threw down her rose. "He's stopped chirping."
Angel sighed before he walked over and undid the belt around Lawson's neck. Cold indifference radiated from his brown eyes despite the soul within as he matched Lawson's gaze without wavering. "You cut off his air so he couldn't speak."
Lawson coughed and hacked up blood on the sewer floor before he chuckled, more like a strangled huff of air. He felt a bout of hysteria coming on. There were no more reprieves. Angel would kill him again. He should have known that it would be his true sire who'd finish the deed. "You didn't even find a sock in that beach house."
"He is more paranoid than I gave him credit for." Angel nodded as he crossed his arms.
"My deal still stands." Lawson coughed before pulling out his last card, his final play for life. He wouldn't even have given it a fifty-fifty chance for giving Angel what he wanted, but Lawson knew it would answer some of his own questions. He'd cash in on his highest connection. Lawson had wanted life but he would settle for a quick death."I can make one call and get his location. You know that."
Angel shrugged deliberately casual with an expression that made boulders seem emotional. Angelus may have been undead and unsouled, but he hadn't been as icy as his souled counterpart. "Fine. You get one phone call. We'll talk about your mission afterward." He looked to Spike. "Grab the phone. Dru, get him some water with a few drops of blood in it." Angel didn't say anything as a cooing Drusilla made Lawson drink. He nodded to Spike who then disappeared upstairs for a minute.
Lawson gulped down the water, hungry for the tiny traces of blood, and tried to compose his thoughts. Everything rode on his final phone call.
"Okay, you wally, give me the digits. If you start jawing off, I'm staking you before you get to the second syllable I don't like. I didn't like you on that submarine and I hate you now." Spike warned before he began to punch in the numbers Lawson recited. A scowl bloomed on his snarling mouth while his scarred brows tightened in surly obedience. He put the phone against Lawson's ear.
A cultured French-accented voice came onto the line. "This is the office of Sebastian Morrow. His assistant speaking, how can I help you?"
He looked to Angel. That had to be some kind of sign. He had seen Franz dial the number when they were working through the Order's red tape of getting him on the council but he hadn't tried it. He had never even spoken to Sebastian himself. Lawson pulled himself up higher in his chains so he could bring air into his lungs. Beyond his control were the urgency and fear that crept into his tone. "This is Sam Lawson and I need to get a hold of Franz Pieterzoon. We have lost contact."
"Oh, Mr. Lawson, I am to direct your call to Mr. Morrow himself." The line went quiet before a deeper masculine voice came onto the line. Rich with experience and powerful confidence, it was a master vampire's voice right down to its indolent entitlement. The French-accented syllables rolled off an oily tongue long accustomed to obedience. "Sam Lawson, what a surprise, I expected you to be dead by now."
"Pardon?" Lawson closed his eyes as his mind answered his own question. He had been right before. He had been a patsy from the start. The clever social climber, the independent childer, the veteran vampire, all of those illusions that he had built around himself were fully shattered. His stomach dropped as he realized how outmaneuvered he had been. Without the fog of booze, he saw it all too clear. A part of him knew it before, but maybe he had been set on self-destruction from the start.
"Franz must be distracted. No matter, Angel will most likely kill you himself soon."
"You're double crossing me." Without an emotional outburst, Lawson kept his tone measured as he stated the facts.
"You were always a pawn nothing more, as if a pup of so few decades could sit on our council. Naïve, really, to believe otherwise. Franz's idea, actually, to get Darla's council seat in a trick of fine print. He'll be sending someone to kill you soon, no doubt. Best of luck." Sebastian hung up.
Spike smiled at Lawson. "Sounds like you're useless. Does it to you, Dru?"
Lawson slumped in his chains in tired resignation. He shook his head as he knew that he was toast. It was just a matter of if Angel wanted to play with him like a cat with a mouse. Or hand him off to Drusilla again. He resorted to something he promised himself that he wouldn't give Angel the satisfaction of- pleading. "You did tell me once that if you saw me again you'd kill me, Angel. Come on then chief, give me a mission."
"No, I think I'll leave that to your consort. " Angel handed Drusilla a stake. The expression that slithered onto his face would have chilled a psychopath. It wasn't a smirk or a snarl, though it shared some characteristics, yet it made the message clear. Angel's halo moldered black with tarnish. "Spike's right, Dru, he's useless to us."
"Like a garden without a snake." She concurred as she gripped the stake. "I told you once that we would be the best of friends. Whatever could be more intimate than this?" Drusilla smirked before patting Lawson on the cheek. "Dear husband," she breathed as her stake penetrated straight into his heart. "I do believe I am a merry widow now."
Lawson remained conscious long enough to see his feet crumble to dust on the doll then confusion and darkness reigned. He had finally gotten his mission.
* * *
People argued in clumps as Mrs. Rosenberg and Yvette tried to keep the peace. The two women walked around the room, urging people from the exits and stopping those with cellphones from revealing their exact location to the police. While Sheila had expressed surprise to hear that they were going up against the Mayor, Yvette nodded, mouth drawn into a line, without much comment as if she had suspected a city-wide conspiracy all along.
Buffy stood away from the Sunnydale Survivors as she tried to take in the current level of demonic suckiness. She had confiscated a cellphone, her fingers clutching it tight, as she waited for the right moment to call. Crossing her arms, she frowned looking over the old drama sets and props. Some of the Easter play sets were still out. The curtains were open to reveal the auditorium seats.
"This isn't good, Buffy." Xander leaned in to whisper to her as he walked back from helping block the door to the basement with boxes. His crossbow was unloaded while his quiver rested on his shoulder half empty. Sweat dried on his brow. He had been running. "Give me the phone. We need to call. He's coming."
Buffy sighed as she handed it over before impulsively kissing Xander on the cheek. Sappy if sincere declarations of friendship didn't fit the night's schedule of mayhem and demonic mischief but she hoped that would be enough if worst came to worst. Though, at the moment, she wasn't just worried about the vampires. "Obvious point is obvious. Wish me luck."
He stared with a faint smile before he saluted her with his free hand. "I always do." Xander turned around and dialed Jenny.
She stepped closer to center stage where the people had gathered. A dozen adults, ranging from college students to retirees, awaited her new brilliant plan. Some glared, some were hopeful, others only had fear in their eyes. They all expected something. So far, she hadn't matched up to the outsized rumor that so many of them had heard. "We need to stop arguing. We are surrounded and they won't go away no matter how hard we yell at each other."
"What do you know? You're just a teenager." An older man, wearing in a trucker hat and mechanics jumpsuit, crossed his arms and sneered. "I reckon that those rumors were too good to be true."
"This is kind of my job and at the end of the night, I don't care about your rumors. I care about saving your lives." She crossed her arms as she trampled down her impatience and frustration. How many times had she saved this town? How many manicures and battle axes had she trashed saving innocents? She focused on that desire to show them what a teenager could do. It was better than freaking out. "We have people on the outside working on this too. We're not alone. Now is the time to start getting weapons and finishing the barricades."
"What can we use as weapons?" Mrs. Rosenberg raised her hand as if in class.
"Break down the old play sets and get all the wood we can. We'll hand everyone their own stake. I'm sure you all know what to do after that." She put on her best sassy smile and pointed to her chest with her stake. "Aim for the heart."
"Buffy is right." Yvette walked to Buffy and put a hand on her shoulder with a resolute smile. "Its time to stand together."
The double doors to the auditorium flew open and knocked the benches into the seats five rows forward. When the dust settled, the Mayor stood in the doorway with his vampire minions at his back. He wore that same hooky horsey grin from his campaign posters when he led his bloodsuckers inside. Clapping lightly, he nodded to Buffy as he walked down the center aisle. "That's inspiring. You're all going to die, but it will be an inspiring massacre. I'll keep that in mind when I dedicate a statue to this tragedy in the memorial garden."
Buffy ran to the front of the crowd to face him at the edge of the stage. "Leaving out the part where you were one who committed the massacre, of course."
"No, I'll simply supervise. I'd rather not get my hands dirty."
Xander told the Survivors in a low voice as he loaded an arrow into his crossbow. "Stay on the stage and keep your stakes out. Don't let them catch you alone or you're a meal. We'll get through this."
"No, most of us will not, young man. I normally would encourage such determination in young people, but isn't it past your bed time, children?" The Mayor lifted his hand, face a polite mask of a smile, before black rage stole onto his features as he doubled over. Choking in a coughing fit, he turned red as veins pulsated in his face. He managed to sputter. "What are you doing to me? I put your watcher in the hospital." He fell to his knees before lurching over and turning to look behind him. "Oh, the gosh darn gypsy." Grimacing, he snarled as he stood facing Buffy with stilted posture. "My boys can pick them off one by one with or without me here. Expect me in five minutes, fellas. This won't take long." He stormed out as a dozen vampires streamed in.
Buffy called out, jumping from the stage, stake raised towards the first two vampires. "Work together people. Don't run! Xander show them how."
Willow kept her balance, legs spread and feet firm against the branches, as she scanned the under bush of the old cemetery. The pinch of Jenny siphoning off her magic had grown but after the cravings, it was easy enough to ignore especially now the other witch had begun to use the Mayor's energy against him. Willow let herself be far more open to the channeling than Jenny would have allowed when she was alive. Their ritual had tied them to the earth, living terra firma herself, and it make Willow feel cold and dead compared to that pulsating life. An interloper. Yet she wasn't the only one and his aura felt darker than hers. Her third eye had been awakened by Jenny's ritual and she could see the abundance of mystical energy in the old cemetery. It hovered as if fog over the weathered tombstones while hellish tendrils wound their way like serpents through the grasses towards the dark presence.
She felt him before she heard him push the overgrown scrubs and saplings out of the way with his magic. Tugging them up by the roots away from their mother earth to weaken the natural power of the spot. The powers of death grew in its place. She had told Jenny that she was willing to die. Now, it was being put to the test. She couldn't worry about death, only failure. Happiness was forbidden for her but redemption wasn't. Willow looked down from the tree at Jenny, silent and cross-legged in the circle, before she shifted into game face. She readjusted her grip on the branches of the cottonwood.
"One stubborn witch left." The Mayor called out as he burst into the clearing. Tall grasses exploded before his feet to clear the path. He plucked a dandelion off his tan lapel and stopped. "Hardly a fair fight after I picked off the Watcher. Your determination is admirable, Ms. Kalderash. A go-getter like yourself could rise high in the right circles. A little moral compromise can go a long way."
"Thanks for the offer, but I think I'm in the right circle already." Jenny tipped her head as she stood up and chanted a spell to fortify the protection of the rough salt circle that enclosed the ritual ring of marigold petals and lava rocks. A major disturbance to the alignment of the ritual would break the draining spell on the Mayor. All of his magic would revert back to him and out of them. Possibly taking some of their magic as well. He couldn't be allowed passed the salt circle.
Willow opened herself and her magic even wider to let herself be drawn on and be used as space for the Mayor's magic. It felt black and tainted. She'd didn't want it inside her now that she had examined him up close with her third eye but it wasn't as if she were an innocent herself. She'd only harbor it for moments before they would turn his evil back on him.
"Can't say I didn't try to find a bipartisan compromise." The Mayor shrugged and shook his head. "A draining spell? I would expect a smarter plan from a teacher. As if you had the capabilities to hold my power." He raised his hands as he grinned. A surge of energy pushed up against the circle but the protection didn't splinter. A frown grew in place of the grin. "Why Missy, you have been eating your Wheaties."
Willow closed her eyes, steeled herself, then leaped from the tree unto the Mayor. As she fell, she got into a stance to take him down and readied elemental spell, simple yet effective. It was a spell that her mentor had taught her months ago. This time she wouldn't be conjuring ice. Her fangs and claws went out as the wind blew her hair back. The wreath fell from her head.
The Mayor looked up but only had a moment to gasp before she was on him.
Her feet hit his back as her hands dug into his shoulders. She struck with a stinging bite to the neck only to puncture the skin before his magic tossed her back against the aged cottonwood in a thump of chilled flesh.
The Mayor got to his feet and wiped at his bite. All traces of the mild manned small town politician were gone. His expression twisted into a black grimace. He brushed the leaves and dirt off his suit. "How did the vampire's pet get off her leash? Maybe its time to put you back into the grave. The Order of Aurelius will pose no threat to me soon enough."
Willow could feel him divide his energy between both the siege on the salt circle and her. A slap of energy slung her cheek before a punch to the gut made her double over. She resisted the force pressed her against the tree. Willow threw his own power back at him in her defense. Smirking as she jumped to her feet to snarl out the spell to conjure fire, she ran towards the Mayor. She had another mentor with some good ideas of his own- her father. He had believed in the mundane power of a man's fists.
"Not even on your best day, witchling." The Mayor spat as he brought roaring streams of fire from nothingness. He arched his eyebrow. The dancing flames were at his command and he wielded them with precision in a quick serpentine pattern. "Is this all you can do?"
She smiled without slowing. "Not quite."
The Mayor sent the flames shooting towards her head in the shape of spears.
Willow ducked under them and slid as if trying to beat a baseball to a catcher's mitt before popping up to repeatedly punch the Mayor in the nose in rapid succession. Blood squirted under her fist. Her father had told her once that a good first punch to the nose could win or lose a fight. Lifting the hidden swords from the ground, she drove them towards the Mayor with the telekinesis spell. His blood called out the demon within her.
He staggered, face resembling hamburger, with a groan.
Grabbing him by the collar, she pulled him to her jaws and sunk her teeth in deep. She drank as sword after sword pierced his back.
The Mayor shuddered after each blade drove into him.
Life and magic ebbed from his aura. She cracked his ribs as she pinned him and squeezed with her small hands. After nothing but pig's blood, Willow couldn't stop herself from drinking. Weakness and vengeance made her continue to drink. His blood flowed thick and black with magics yet she couldn't pull away as his heartbeat slowed. The channel between her and Jenny surged with the Mayor's power as his defenses fell as he weakened. She pushed that power back to Jenny to be used to fuel the draining spell. A cycle of energy, it made the hair on her neck stand up. Willow had begun the fight against a powerful mage but they had reduced him to a mere human. His death rattle sounded in her ears at the same time that the last of his magic seemed to burst forth and caused Willow to drop the late Richard Wilkins to the ground.
"Willow!" Jenny gasped from the circle as she slumped forward.
Willow couldn't reply before her knees buckled and she fell, sprawled out, beside the Mayor. Her vision faded in and out as the power and blood of the dead man overwhelmed her, The earth felt cool and dry against her cheek. She felt tempted to rest for a moment but Willow pushed herself up and stumbled over the corpse of her latest victim to help Jenny.
Buffy dropped into the narrow aisle in front of two vampires. Smiling, she dropped kicked the first one into the second who pushed his buddy forward onto Buffy's stake. She curled her fingers tighter around the stake before punching the vampire in the face. Then she plunged the stake into his heart quickly. Without a single pun, Buffy backed up to the stage as she scanned the vampires stalking down the sides of the auditorium. Sinking deep into the spirit of the fight, no fear or worry broke her concentration. She was the Slayer. She would win. It would have to be that simple even if there were still ten left. "Xander, make sure that you stake any that get pass me." Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the people huddled together on the stage and a vampire trying to sneak up on the right. She darted towards him.
He growled and lunged for her.
Buffy tripped him and dropped to her knees to stab him, underhanded, in the heart with her stake. Forgetting his face once he crumbled to nothing, she jumped up before the dust settled and back to the center aisle to met another one of them. They traded blows. Older and stronger, this vampire knew the usual tricks. He also had drowned himself with cologne. She frowned as she saw a vampire slip past her up to hop on the stage. As she did a back flip, kicking her feet into the vampire's chin, she saw Xander tussle with one before staking it. "Did you bathe in Old Spice tonight?" She asked as she spun around. The stench had cut through her battle groove.
"Hey, I have on-!"
Buffy didn't let the vampire finish his sentence before she dusted him. His scent lingered longer than he did. Then she went after the next one as he climbed over the auditorium seats to escape her. She grabbed him by the scruff of his neck to tug him on her stake. Looking over to the open doors, she smiled as tears came to her eyes before rushing to her left to confront another foe.
Giles, shaky and pale, stood at the door with a crossbow in his hands and a bathrobe on. Cordelia brandished a small ax at his side. He aimed and took out a vampire running down the center aisle before reloading.
"Doesn't look good for your side, buddy." Buffy grinned as she high kicked a vampire in the face and knocked his baseball cap off.
The vampire dodged her next blow and swung himself up and over onto the stage.
He was met by Xander's crossbow and Mrs. Rosenberg holding a jagged wood stake broken off of an old Easter set.
Mrs, Rosenberg raised her makeshift stake, painted egg on one end, before jamming it through the vampire's chest.
Giles had taken another one down so only four remained of the original dozen vampires. As Buffy yelled out, she pointed towards the vampires that shifted face in the middle of the auditorium."We have only four left people. Lets take them down!"
The Sunnydale Survivors rushed from the stage behind Buffy and Xander.
Buffy barreled through the vampires, knocking them aside into the seats, before leaping up to tackle one that tried to run back at Giles. Landing on its back, she staked it before hitting the ground in a cloud of dust and looking back at the last three vampires getting staked as the support group members teamed up to take them out. She rose to her feet with a cough before striding to Giles and wrapping him up in a Slayer-sized hug. As she looked over his shoulder, she saw Willow and Jenny leaning on each other as they walked towards the auditorium.
Willow gave a thumbs up to Buffy before fading into the night.
Buffy felt herself relax.
It was finally over.
After she had said goodnight to Yvette and channel surfed for an hour, Sheila settled on an evening talk show, sitting in sweatpants and a t-shirt on the living room couch of her friend's ranch house. Her analytical mind still tried to process what had happened tonight. Wizards could be Mayors and cheerleaders could fight vampires. How had that become her life? She had been asking herself that more and more, then again how had any of it -Willow and Ira's deaths – happened? She had wanted to rejoice in Wilkin's defeat yet she still had one task ahead of her. One last vampire that would be far hard to stake than the ones in the auditorium. The one that she had once called her daughter. Like a wound that never healed, she still felt Willow's death as if it had only just happened. She'd feel that pain all over again before the deed was done. A part of her knew that it would never heal. It was a bitter cruel world and for the first time, Sheila Sullivan Rosenberg wanted to let herself wallow in a television consumerist stupor. Jay Leno's words escaped her even when she tried to make her mind go blank and focus on his banal comedic monologue.
Her cellphone rang.
Sheila checked the clock on the wall as she leaned over to the coffee table and reached into her purse to pull the device out. She flipped it open, not recognizing the phone number, and answered. "Hello?"
"Sheila Rosenberg, I never introduced myself but you may remember me. I killed your daughter." An unforgettable voice, European accented and glacially impersonal, said over the line.
"What do you want, you son of a bitch? To gloat about what you did?" Her voice was low and sharp as her eyes darted around. Goosebumps rose. Fear, hate, and worry battled for control of her mind while her heartbeat sped up. She broke out into sweat even while she clung to composure. She had wondered what she would say to him if she ever saw him again. "Do you even realize what you did to my family? What you deprived the world of?"
"Indeed, I do, Sheila." He paused before continuing in a cool professional tone. "Walk outside and step into the van and you will not be harmed. Stay inside and my men will burn down your friend's house." His voice grew smug. "Yvette Stevenson is a pillar of the human community on the hellmouth, it would be a shame to lose her for no reason after such a remarkable defeat of Richard Wilkins."
"Why?" She asked sharply as she got up to peer though the front window. Her eyes narrowed when she saw a van idling on the curb. "Do you want to finish off the whole family?"
He evaded the question. "You will be unharmed and released soon enough, rest assured. However, my offer has a time limit of five minutes."
Sheila saw the men stalk out of the van. One carried gas cans in his hands. She bit her lip and looked up again to where Yvette slept unbeknownst to the danger. Writing a vague note, she warned her friend that she might not come back. Maybe it could only end this way. "Fine. I'll go with them if you leave my friend alone." She put on her shoes before she opened up the door, locked the knob, then closed it.
The vampires took her by the arms without a word.
Sheila knew them for what they were now.
The library was a silent shell of itself without the usual hum of activity. Willow ran her fingers over the long study table and spun the globe. She glanced up to where the hellmouth lingered under the reference books. Once this had been her refuge. What was it now that she was undead? It had been a second home to her for so long yet she found herself feeling like a guest. Alone, the thrill of victory had worn off. Most of the Scoobies had gone home but Giles took Jenny to get checked out at the hospital. She didn't know whether it would be better to leave a note before heading back to LA or wait for the watcher's return.
The phone rang in the library office. On instinct, Willow answered, wondering if it was Angel. She knew it couldn't be a student at this hour. "Sunnydale High Library."
Two words, simple and brief, had the power to make her sit down as she sucked in a unnecessary breath. In those two words, she knew she had been found. She closed her eyes . Even through the soul, her demon had yearned to hear his the timbre of his voice again. Franz had sired her, his blood called to hers and Willow had figured that he would find her sooner or later. His timely call hadn't shocked her. He was a consummate professional after all. Except it had never quite felt like business between them. "Franz."
He sighed and his voice came close to breaking. "Return to me. Curses can be broken, Willow."
It would be simple to go back to him. He'd take away the pain and restore the serenity of soullessness. Their lives together in DC would be an undead dream of power and ancient blood. The guilt would evaporate, but that would be giving in. Willow had already killed two people, she didn't want to kill anymore. "There is too much blood on my hands. I don't want to hurt anyone."
"Let us speak. If it eases the decision , I will note that I have your mother in my custody. However, I would rather not cause you, or your loved ones, harm. " No malicious glee lit up his tone or hardened threat. His resigned tone betrayed only sadness. He sounded tired.
"Please don't hurt her." A tear escaped her tightly closed eyes. Her mother had already been through so much. Willow tried her best to protect her mother but another demon had carried her off before the Mayor's body had even chilled. Despite the magical power she had absorbed, she felt weak before Franz. She believed him when he told her that he didn't want to hurt her. Franz killed her to raise her up, in his mind, to a higher being. Perhaps even save her from herself in the kamikaze quest against the Mayor. None of it made human sense, but Willow didn't know how much of that she had left.
"I shall not. Arrive at the caves where I inducted you into the order and she will be released immediately. I will come as unarmed as a lamb, you may come as a lion." Franz paused. "I missed you." He hung up.
Willow sobbed, crossing an arm around her chest while still clutching the corded desk phone, and hiding her eyes with the other hand. Overwhelmed, she thought of her mother and her friends and how this would mean leaving them again. Her fragile soul hung in danger's grasp because Franz had the means to break the curse with Wolfram & Hart at hand. So much had happened that she wanted to scream and throw a tantrum as she ranted against the injustice instead she wiped her cheeks. She had to stay calm because a life was in the balance. It was biggest lesson that a Scooby learned. Willow needed a plan. She knew that Franz wouldn't leave without her so she'd have to find a way to escape him before he got her to an airport or some witches.
Before writing a quick note to her friends, she called Angel but only got the answering machine. She left a message before going to Giles' desk. After grabbing a slim bottle of holy water and sage, she left the school and hopped into the De Soto, hoping the ancient vehicle was up to the task.
Angel replayed the new message with growing worry.
Willow had been dead serious about meeting Franz from the beginning of the message. "I almost died tonight to save my mother, Angel. I can't give up now," before describing the caves at their beach rendezvous. The end of her message replayed a dire warning that he knew he would ignore. "Don't come after me unless you prepare yourself. Wolfram & Hart and the Order of Aurelius want you to suffer. Please understand." The message ended in the click of a disconnected phone call and cassette static.
Angel almost got to the phone in time but it had already gone to the machine by the time he had reached the foot of the stairs. Returning home from hitting the demon haunts with Spike and Drusilla, he had more information on Sebastian Morrow yet not Franz. He knew he would spend the rest of the night researching on the internet. That is until Willow had given him the best clue of all.
Spike clapped him on the back as he exhaled tobacco smoke. Shadows fell over his grin in the gloomy kitchen. "I told you that he'd make time with her."
Willow drove off the highway onto the beach. If she were human, this would have been the point when she'd have hyperventilated. Deep in her bones, she knew that she'd have to face Franz again. He might have wanted revenge on Angel at first, but he certainly did seem to want something from her now. Willow couldn't decide if she blamed Angelus or herself more. She killed the engine, leaving the keys in the De Soto's ignition, before rushing from the car.
Franz held her mother in a loose grip with one hand on her wrists and another around her throat. Moonlit waves broke behind them on a pebbled and winding coast. The surf echoed in the hollow of the sea caves nearby. Tilting his head, he looked up and a small smile curled at his mouth when he spotted her.
Willow dropped her holy water and sage into the sand as she walked across the beach to where Franz stood. She stepped out of her flip flops without caring. A simple spell would bring them all back to her. She needed to set the right scene to get her mother out of there. He had to think that she'd go with him. "I'm here. Please let her go."
He nodded, gray eyes targeted on Willow, before releasing her mother. His button down shirt hung loose over his dark slacks while his hair grew mussed by the wind. The perfect put-together outfits that they had left the beach house in yesterday hadn't survived the night. They both stood in designer disarray. His stoic expression slipped even if his tone remained level. "Run, Sheila, and never look back."
"Mom, just run! Take the car and drive away for your own good. Forget this." Willow shook her head, biting her lip, while a single track of tears streaked down her cheek. She needed her mother to get to safety so she could think again. Worry invaded her mind and fear froze it just when she needed to plan the most. "Forget me."
Her mother nodded and scurried towards the highway.
Franz put his hands on her side before raising her chin. The look on his face softened. "You didn't bring a stake."
Willow shook her head and closed her eyes as his familiar blood aura called out to her. Even with her soul, her sire's presence felt soothing. It would be easy to give in and let him turn her into the bride of Dracula. All that pain and guilt would be gone. She'd have a new family to replace the one that she had lost. While Franz had always been a puzzle to her for his tenderness coupled with the hidden layer of meaning in his every word and even if she didn't know much about his past, she knew he cared for her. Franz would give her a new life. To the demon within, the idea had appeal. She opened her eyes. "I just wanted my mom to be safe."
"Why did you run away?" He sounded hurt. His thumb ran along her jawline.
She stalled, listening for the starting of a car engine, waiting for her mother to leave. "The guilt was too much when they gave me back my soul." Willow clutched her chest. Flashing back to her "surprise", the bound man that Franz had captured, she thought of how she drained him dry before dropping him like an empty soda can. Then the woman that she had sipped on after Franz had finished her. They had left her near a sedan and a grease spot in a parking garage."I remembered what I had done."
Franz pulled her into his arms and kissed her temple. "I can fix you. This is only temporary, Willow."
"I don't want to kill any one." Tears were in her eyes. She wondered if he had his shaman begin the de-souling ritual before Franz had even called her. Willow still hadn't heard her mother start up the De Soto, its hacking sputter so distinctive than the cars occasionally driving past on the highway, and her ideas seemed more and more futile.
"Don't trust in souls. Trust in me." Franz kissed her under each eye before embracing her, his chin resting on her head. His hands rubbed her back. "Let me make it right."
The sound of a helicopter grew in the distance and soon overpowered the crashing of the waves. Wind whipped up to tug at their clothing and hair. A roaring vehicle sped closer.
"I can't. I'm sorry." She cried into his shirt as a sinking feeling came over her.
"I know. Its why I called in the helicopter." Franz clutched her closer. "I knew you'd call Angel."
A convertible drove towards them, headlights flooding the beach as if in reply.
"You might have not given my mother up." Willow squeezed his arm. Call her Stockholm Suzy, but a part of her didn't want him to die. "Get in your chopper and go to DC. Angel will kill you if he can. Go, please!"
"No." Franz smiled as he turned her in his embrace before kissing her deeply.
Spike and Angel got out of the car. "Willow, run." Angel called out before he charged towards Franz along side his childe.
Willow stopped Angel by grabbing his arm. "Take my mother out of here, please."
"Don't try to take her yourself. Let her flee on her own." Angel shrugged out of her grip as his eyes narrowed when Spike leaped into the fray with a hiss at Franz. The two vampires met in a furious rumble of fists and fangs. He wanted to explain everything but Franz could fly off in that helicopter at any moment.
"Come on, Angel." Willow shook her head and put her hand to his cheek. "Let us all just go. This doesn't need to happen."
Angel ignored her words even as he leaned into her touch. "Stay out of the action unless you're ready to fight him. Neither of you will be safe if Franz doesn't die on this beach." He pulled away after hugging her. "We won't have this chance again"
Willow looked behind at Franz, guilty despite her better judgment for betraying him, before running to the edge of the highway. Oncoming cars blocked her escape across it. A stomach churning sensation turned her immortal belly and she sunk to her knees. Reverse deja vu vibrated through her senses. Her demon howled within as its shackles loosened. Franz had thought of everything after all. His mages had begun to free her demon already. She jumped as she saw her mother come up to her. Willow's soul fought for control of its body. "Mom, you have to get out of here!"
"I couldn't until I saw you. I miss you so much, Willow." Sheila Rosenberg teared up as she held up a jagged piece of driftwood. Red-rimmed eyes closed for a moment, a harsh breath inhaled, before she readied herself to strike.
"I miss you and Dad too." Willow looked at the stake, knew what her mother planned on doing, and needed her to do it quicker. Her control started to slip. If her demon got free-reign, it would kill her mother first, with all the hunger of a caged beast. Its sense of self-preservation overrode any traces of familial love. Willow would never wash her mother's blood of her hands if she failed or if her mother hesitated. "I'm sorry that you both went through so much pain."
"You brought us joy, honey, the world brought us pain." Her mother sobbed and put her chained glasses on with a single shaking hand. "Now close your eyes."
"Do it, Mom." Willow trembled from her inner fight as her soul faded faster and faster. The demon sought total domination in it's quest. Her resistance made it exert it's influence in a raging pressure over her body. Outside entities fueled and strengthened it. The trembles spread to her knees; they threatened to buckle. Willow's soul threw the last of her will against her demon's onslaught. "Pl-"
Franz bellowed as he waded in the shallows of the ocean to the beach. "Stop!"
Angel looked behind him to see Willow nod as her mother raised a stake. Submerged to the waist in the surf, his legs felt sluggish from shock as they moved by instinct towards Willow. His frozen mind seemed stuck on the memory of Willow, barefoot and sipping blood, in his kitchen. Soulful and guilty, she still had that Scooby Gang gung-ho attitude in the fight against evil. She had argued that she could help save her friends and she had been right. Redemption had become her new path. Now that path would be cut short.
A dark circle came to resolution in an ending where the innocent suffered most. In piercing her daughter's heart, Sheila finished the ugly deed, quick and sure, before Willow had spoken her last word. The gusts of the helicopter blades blew Willow's ashes into all directions to fade into the sand of the beach. In a blink of an eye, she might have never been there at all.
A rope ladder was thrown down and Franz reached out, limp and pale, to it. Grief shone in his pale eyes even as his expression hardened around the mouth. As he rose, he didn't look down, only ahead, despite Spike making a jump for him in the water.
Angel looked to Spike before running to Sheila. Salt water dripped off him. Willow's death haunted him, repeating in his mind, and he had to know why. That had been Willow's second chance. He had known of Sheila's intentions but he had gravely underestimated her determination. He should have forced them into separate cars and made them leave himself. Another failure that rested on his shoulders. Gaping at her, he struggled to control himself. The questions bottled up before he spit out an omitted truth. "That was your daughter. You must have sensed it. She had a soul, Sheila!"
"Despite my wishes." Sheila glared at him, mouth drawn thin, and turned on her heel to walk away. "We won't see each other again."
Grimacing, Angel shook his head. He clenched his fists as he relied on every iota of self-control he possessed. His eyes darted to Spike's when the vampire put his hand on Angel's shoulder, silently gesturing towards the helicopter that flew away, as a wordless offer of blood vengeance lingered in his gaze. It made him remember that he had Spike's reigns at the moment which meant that a misunderstanding could turn deadly. He needed to stay calm. Angel pushed the anger out of his tone to leave only a restrained bitterness behind. "She was harmless now. What exactly were you proving by staking her?"
"That I had finally acted like her mother."
* * *
One year and eight months later
She pressed herself up against the metal box, panting, eyes leaked from the bright light streaming through the bars. Everything ached, her body felt sluggish while her mind's synapses were seared by the grandmother of all migraines. No thoughts, memories, or questions could break through the firewall of pain. Shaking, she wrapped her arms around her bare legs. A chill rose goosebumps on her naked flesh. She forced her eyes open and peered out of the box.
Another woman's dark gaze stared back at her. Red lips curved into a smile. "Don't be afraid. Willow."
Awareness rolled in like a tide of broken glass. She couldn't remember her name or where she was but she knew it wasn't home. A single word filtered through the confusion- kidnapped.