A/N: I am having weird computer problems (not to mention the whole domain name thing here *G*) that is making it nearly impossible to respond to reviews here. PLEASE know that I read and APPRECIATE (and you) all. I'll respond as soon as humanly possible because what you say DOES matter!
Chapter 14 (pt 1)
A sheepish Dawn sniffled from her backseat prison. She clutched her hard-won booty close and tried to give yet another excuse for her bad behavior. "But Mrs. Pratt needs updated clothes of her own now that she looks so modern!"
"And I'm sure she would be among the first to say your willful disobedience is reprehensible," Giles replied. "I don't think Anne would appreciate your trying to use her to excuse this lark."
"You never let me do anything, Buffy. Mom used to be strict, but she was never a prison warden," Dawn sulked with a decidedly unpretty pout. "I'm as old as you were when you started slaying. I don't see why I can't have some freedom. After all, I'm really, like, thousands of years old. Lots older than you."
"But you act like you're still a child," Buffy snapped. "Besides, you didn't sneak out to fulfill some mystical calling, unless there's something really hellmouthy in that bag you've got there."
"Mom would have let me go," Dawn whined.
"No, Mom would NOT!" Buffy shot her sister a look hot enough to melt leather. "Don't try that game with me. I'm a child of divorce and I know how that one works. Turning one parent-like person against another just to get your way, saying the other one would let you get away with murder to try to guilt the OTHER other one to cut you slack is way ancient warfare. Besides, as you love to point out, I'm not Mom!"
Dawn just whimpered in reply. She was sooooo busted and knew it. Dawn wondered how many real centuries she was going to be grounded this time.
Buffy was tired. No way was she ready to be a mom, let alone mom to a teenager enough like she had been herself to give Buffy nightmares for life.
"Look, Dawn," she sighed. "How can I trust you? God, don't you get how serious all this is?! Didn't they give you any sense with all those memories?"
Dawn turned doe eyes on her sister and hiccuped along with her sobs. "Sorry." But she didn't really sound sorry.
"Mom dies, there's a hell bitch on the prowl to find the only part of my family I have left to shove in some lock somewhere and you decide to go all 'I Was A Teenage Pain In The Ass' on me! Dawn, it isn't just this. Mom had just been buried when you decided to try to take on Willow in a witch-a-thon championship and bring Mom back. Now we've got Spike's mom added to our little tea party. How many innocents am I going to have to protect before I can even get a minute to cry for Mom?"
"'Cause it's all about you," Dawn shot back. "I loved Mom too! And, unlike some slayers who don't want to be sisters, she loved me back."
"Of course, I lo--," Buffy cut the words off before a telling pause. Then she took a deep breath, letting it out in a whisper sigh. "Dawn, you know I care about you. God! Your safety is all I've been thinking about for months! I know you loved Mom. We're both her little girls and we both miss her. You just have to help meout here. Work with me and don't add to my problems right now. There'll be a lifetime for you to make my life hell when Glory is gone."
Dawn had noted the pause quite clearly. "See," she accused, "you can't even say the word! You couldn't even lie and say you love me."
"What makes you think that?" Buffy tried to deflect the accusation with side issues.
"You're always yelling at me. Face it, you resent not being an only child. If I had a dollar for every time you've said you wish you were an only child I could have paid for this myself," she held up the shopping bag. "I'm nothing but another duty to you. I should just go give myself up to Glory and let her turn me in whatever lock she wants, simple up YOUR life and mine too."
Buffy was ready to blow. "Stop it! You're an even bigger drama queen than Spike…or drama king, I guess he'd be." Buffy turned in her seat and looked her sister squarely in the eye. "Speaking of Spike…he just let Glory nearly kill him to keep her from finding out you're her long lost key. You say you love him so much, but you'd make his broken bones be for no reason just because you got nailed for sneaking out to the mall? Now who's the bitch?"
Dawn's stricken face spoke volumes. "What did you say? What happened to Spike?"
Buffy spent the rest of the trip filling Dawn in on what her vampire protector had endured while trying to keep them safe. It was the first chance Buffy had to fully brief Giles on the details as well.
"I am speechless to think an unsouled vampire would permit his own life to be put at risk to protect any human. Spike has always been unusual, but this defies any description of vampiric behavior I've ever encountered." Giles was sincerely flummoxed.
"Spike says he loves us. Guess actions DO speak louder than words, huh?" Buffy muttered. "I guess I'm more surprised that I'm not that surprised. Wonder what that means?"
"It means you owe Spike a whole boatload of 'sorrys' for being a complete bitch to him ever since he told you he loves you," Dawn snarked. "At least I told him I love him back."
Neither Buffy nor Giles said a word.
The solemn trio returned to a house in an uproar. The hospital had contacted Willow with the news that Tara had been rushed to intensive care and was currently in a coma of unknown origin.
Willow practically flew past Giles and Buffy as she rushed to her car. "Ask Anne. She knows as much as I do," she barked.
Anne filled them in on the bare bones information she and Willow had been given. "Willow said that it was only because she was listed as Tara's next of kin that they notified her at all!"
"First Spike and now Tara," Dawn wailed and rushed up to her room.
"Whatever did Dawn mean by 'first Spike'?" Anne looked pointedly at Mr. Giles, intent upon being given the whole truth from the Watcher. She could see by his body language that something about William was being withheld from her. "I'll ask that you not coddle me. If something has happened to my son I am entitled to know of it."
Buffy jumped to her mentor's rescue. "He's fine, really. Yes, he had a little run-in with Glory, but he's fine! I wasn't lying earlier. Spike…William is checking out some medieval-looking guys who may have info on Glory. In fact, Xander is probably helping him interrogate one of them right now!"
Anne felt her heart constrict with fear at the thought of her beloved son being ripped from her life just as she had re-entered his. She spoke so softly that only the best of ears could hear. "Is he badly hurt then?"
Giles took it from there. "Spike is a vampire, remember? It takes a great deal to harm a vampire. You really mustn't worry about William. Buffy assures me that he is most eager to exact a bit of vengeance and his condition is just fine."
Buffy knew the last thing Spike needed was his mother taking some kind of health tail-spin. "Spike just didn't want you to worry because he was off being busy with the vengeance stuff and the spying and all. Please take it from me, he doesn't need to be worrying about you on top of everything else! Don't start getting worked up about him and he'll be home before you know it. Really."
Anne wanted very much to believe her.
Willow started down at the still form of the woman she loved with her whole being. 'Glory! It had to be Glory.' She could feel the anger rising from the depths of her soul, beating against her inner flesh with a white-hot need to explode into the outer world.
"Time someone sent Glory home. Hell will be a relief after I'm done with her," Willow vowed. She took Tara's uninjured hand in hers and swore an oath, "I promise, baby, no one will ever hurt you like this again. Glory's gonna pay."
Phoning home, Willow tried to keep her voice even as she related Tara's condition and what was known about how she got into it. There was silence on the other end of the phone as the group took in the implications of Willow's suspicions. "The kids at the festival remember a trashy blonde sitting next to Tara and Tara looking really scared. If ‘trashy blonde’ doesn't scream Glory, I don't know what does."
"Yes, you are quite right, Willow," Giles agreed. "In light of Spike's recent encounter, you are most likely correct to assume it was Glory who attacked Tara. Do the doctors give a prognosis regarding the coma?"
"Not a clue, Giles." Willow had been relentless in her questions to the medical staff, but to no avail. "They don't know why she's in a coma, much less when--or if--she'll come out of it. I'm not waitin' around though." Willow was already hanging up the phone before Giles could react to her last comment.
"Willow! Willow! Oh good Lord, now the fat is truly in the fire! Willow, don't hang up!" He continued speaking, not even noticing that his words were being spoken to a dial tone. "Listen to
me, you cannot accost Glory on your own. Willow! Willow?" Finally the ominous buzz on the other end registered and he turned to Buffy with a look of panic.
Xander couldn't believe his eyes, much less his ears, as he sat opposite the black and blue bane of his existence. Spike had given as brief a description of his time with Glory as possible, but Xander could read between the lines--the red, crusted lines all over Spike's body.
Clem had arrived and the three were planning to abduct a knight to make questioning one of Glory's foes possible. "I just know those guys would take one look at me and I'd be shish ke-Clem before I could even get a question out."
"I say we wait ‘til dark, sneak into their camp and drag off the nearest guy. My guess is he'll know about as much as any of them." Xander offered his opinion to the accompaniment of demon nods.
"Works for me. Gives me a couple of hours yet to get the bones lined up proper," Spike said as he reached for another bag of Willie's finest. "You lot'll have to take him out though. Human …chip …Excederin headache, remember?" he prompted.
"Sure thing, fangless," Xander said, with no real venom for a change. Xander's talk with Anne had made an impression on him, even if he wasn’t in share mode about it yet. "Wouldn't hurt though, if you could flash a bit of fang at 'im after we truss 'im up like a turkey. Nothing like the fear of imminent throat rippage to make a captive start squealing like Porky the Pig without the stutter."
"I know a thing or two about intimidation, whelp. Don't have to be all physical to get the job done either. You two nab the wanker and I'll make sure we know what they know right quick." Somehow both Xander and Clem believed him.
Spike decided that now was the time to see if only Buffy was unable to listen to his Ben/Glory revelation. "One other thing, Harris. Told Buffy about what I saw while decoratin' Glory's
apartment. Ravin' Rhonda turned into that Dr. Ben right in front of me. Seems they're sharin' more than just closet space, if you get my meanin'"
"Who's this Rhonda?" Clem looked thoroughly confused by this new character in the story.
"Not Rhonda. Glory. Couldn't think of anything meanin' crazy that worked with Glory's all," Spike admitted sheepishly.
"Oh, ‘cause I remembered you saying this Dr. Ben turned into Glory and then you came up with that 'ravin' Rhonda' thing and I thought I got it wrong. My mistake," Clem nearly blushed.
"Wait a minute!" Xander looked like a lightbulb had just come on over his head. All too soon it flickered off. "Are you saying that this doctor that helped take care of Joyce has met Glory? Are you thinking we should kidnap him too and not just one of those knights. Because if you are, I think that's kind of a dumb plan even for you, blondie. I don't think this doctor ever met Glory or would even have a clue about any of this. Buy a vowel, Spike! Ben may treat crazies, but Glory hasn't exactly been an inpatient."
"She's been an in-HIM-patient, you twit! I said Glory is Ben…Ben is Glory. One body, two beings. Can I make it any simpler?" Spike spat in exasperation.
"No, I don't think Ben could have ever been around Glory. You must have had your brains scrambled while playing cat toy to nutty hell gods," Xander said with a shake of his head. "Wait…," that hopeful lightbulb seemed about to reappear, "are you saying that Ben maybe MET Glory when we were all at the hospital a few weeks ago? I still don't know what good you think nabbing him would do."
Spike leaned in, nose nearly touching Xander's. "NO, you nit! I said BEN IS GLORY!"
"Can't convince me Ben knows a thing about her," Xander determinedly replied.
Spike rolled his eyes in frustration and muttered, "This is going to SO be worth it," before landing a solid blow to the side of Xander's head.
Spike made a grab for his own head in expectation of the pain he…didn't feel. Only Clem's excited, "Wow! It isn't just the Slayer then!" kept Xander from noticing how much pain Spike was not in after hitting him.
Spike had quick enough reflexes to mask his painless state by clutching his head and moaning pitifully. Yet all the while he was wondering, 'Why doesn't it hurt? Maybe I'm not so fangless after all.’
Spike rapidly decided it would be best not to let the boy know about the sudden turn in fortune that he was experiencing. Time enough for stakes and arrows later when Glory was sorted. Meanwhile, it seemed letting anyone know about Glory's alter ego was pointless-- unless that other person happened to be a demon.
A plan began to formulate in Spike’s mind once he realized he was likely chip-free for the first time in over a year. It wouldn't hurt to question one of the Knights who say ‘Key’ anyway, just in case killing Ben didn't fix the problem after all. The only problem with Spike's plans in the past had been his lack of patience. This time he'd be as patient as he had to be to make certain the bitch who had made him her personal pinata paid in spades.
"You can't just barge in here and start fondling my inventory!" Anya protested. "I know you're the Slayer's best girlfriend and my fiancé's oldest friend, but this is a money-making establishment and not your personal playground."
Anya tried to bar the way as Willow moved about purposefully. She might as well have spoken to the counter for all the impact her words were having. Willow completely ignored her as she gathered various supplies and stacked them on the large, round table. Willow then moved up the ladder to the dark arts books that were gathering dust there.
When Anya tried to block her ascent, Willow glared at her with inky black eyes and muttered, "Amoveo". Anya was glad to be removed only a few feet away instead of out of existence entirely. Something was terribly wrong and Anya made haste to the telephone to sic Giles on the witch run amok.
As Anya yelled into the telephone, letting the increasingly frightened Watcher know what the young witch was up to, Willow began to mystically drain books. Lightning crashed and the building shook as dark lines of black flowed from the ancient texts up Willow's arms, suffusing her body with inky veininess. Her hair became as pitch and her eyes lost the last of their whites as they shone with ebony sharpness.
"Vis Vires, Talio, Laureola," Willow proclaimed to the universe. "Power, retribution and victory are mine for the taking!" The universe responded with thunderous approval, or so Willow interpreted the rumble that followed.
"God, Giles, she's gone all Lord Valdermort here. I'm not a vengeance demon anymore, but I can feel her cries in my bones," Anya said in awed tones. "What the hell happened?"
After Giles explained about Tara, he urged Anya to use any means necessary to keep Willow from leaving the Magic Box. "Yeah, I'll just do that! Why don't I end world hunger and bring lasting peace to the Middle East while I'm at it! Giles, Willow's seriously scary here. I have a wedding to plan and attend, I can't be throwing myself on some sacrificial fire to try to stop a juiced-up witch hell-bent on revenge. Our shopkeepers’ insurance is history just from the little she's already done here."
The point was moot as Willow had already left the building in every sense of the phrase. Piles of books filled with blank pages were all that was left in her wake.
Buffy took off at a dead run as soon as she understood what was going on at the Magic Box. She nearly knocked Willow over on the pavement a half block from the store. It was obvious that
Willow could not even see her Slayer friend.
"Will! Will, honey! I'm so sorry about Tara, but I know her, she's strong. She'll pull through. If someone like Faith can pull out of a coma, Tara sure can." Willow was starting to seriously wig Buffy out just by her appearance. 'Crap, just what I need, TWO crazy superpowers about to play matter/antimatter on my hellmouth! Need to yank the battery on this Energizer Bunny now.'
Buffy grabbed Willow by her upper arms. "You cannot even think about taking on Glory."
Willow seemed to notice Buffy for the first time, shaking the Slayer off as if she were but a child. "You heard what she did to Tara. I won't let her get away with it."
Buffy DID understand. Hell, seeing Spike in the condition Glory had left him made Buffy eager to go and rip the bitch’s arms off and flail her with them until she was more battered than Spike. Even as scary as Willow looked though, there could be no way for this to end well. "You have to wait, Will. Even I'm no match for Glory and you know that."
Willow narrowed her gaze into tight basalt slits of rage. "But maybe I am. This is my choice, my lover.
Buffy tried reason, "This isn't the time, Willow. Tara needs you alive; we all do."
Reason and Willow were no longer on speaking terms, however. "Then when IS it the time, Buffy? When YOU feel like it? When someone YOU love is damaged, maybe beyond repair? When she finally kills Dawn? It's time when I say it's time and YOUR time is up," Willow announced before flicking her wrist and sending Buffy flying a block down the street. "I've got a hell god to impale on her own pitchfork."
Buffy shook her head to clear it of the tiny birdies that had suddenly nested there and watched in frozen terror as Willow headed in the direction of the location Glory's super snake had been traveling months prior. Buffy could only hope it would take Willow a while to locate Glory while she went for reinforcements.
Unfortunately, the newly upgraded witch had little trouble locating the current residence of the hellmouth's latest big bad. Glory was leaning slightly on one of her minions and acting a bit like a person on a hallucinogen. "You know, I think I've got a little buzz from the mousy witch. Even if I didn't get to finish my meal…what a mind she has! Mmm, nummy treat," Glory said with a dreamy smile.
"But your Magnificent, Most Powerful and Sniffalicious one, how will you find the Key now with the Slayer alerted to our tactics?" Jinx ducked behind the questioning Murk to avoid the daggers that Glory was looking at his companion.
"Don't be more of an idiot that you already are, Murky," Glory smiled to herself, "I'm closing in and my Key is as good as in my dainty yet powerful hand. Buffy only has so many in her posse and all I have to do is work my way through them until I find the right one. It's like 'Where's Waldo': he's always there and you always find him."
Suddenly darkness put a pall on the room and silence like the vacuum of space descended. The minions began to look for shelter and prayed they would be allowed to use it if it were found. Glory, looking more curious than fearful, asked, "Did anybody here order an apocalypse?"
The door to the apartment flew open, splintering with the force. Willow moved towards the hell god, floating several inches from the floor in a manner that would have made David Blaine envious. An unseen wind accompanied her as she moved relentlessly towards Glory. The minions cut their losses and made for cover.
Willow was calling on all the big guns of ancient god-dom. "Kali, Hera, Astarte, Ishtar, Isis…," as she continued to float. "Air like nectar, thick as onyx. Hold my victim…."
Glory laughed and interrupted Willow's chant, "Oh, yes! Lovergirl, of course. I broke your little dolly and now you've come to spank me. How cute!"
Willow continued unabated. "Hold mine victim as in tar."
Much to Glory's obvious amazement, the air around her began to shimmer and she found herself unable to move her feet. She looked up in shock at the mortal witch with an attitude.
"You're gonna pay, bitch. No one messes with my girlfriend," Willow promised. Lightning flashed from the tips of Willow's fingers and arced toward Glory. The god screamed as the bolts hit. "Shatter," commanded Willow and all the glass and mirrors in the room imploded.
Glory, now over the initial shock, began to giggle like a schoolgirl. "Is that the best you can do, honey? That's ALL? You think I care about all this stuff around me? The apartment, clothes, what passes for artwork here? Not likely. None of it matters. Now, my Key, that matters. And nummy brains like mouse girl's? That's got some value. That was something to savor."
Clearly Willow was not backing down. "Viper, Scarab, Falcon, to bite and eat and rend. Descend upon this abomination, to my words alone attend."
Glory felt the fangs of the asps as they shot their poison home. The beetles scampered over her as they chewed their way up her body, heading for her orifices like lemmings to the sea. A score of raptors dove and ripped as Willow watched in righteous approval.
Glory shook off the snakes and insects and smote the birds as they flew. The tar no longer seemed to hold the now royally pissed hell god as she headed straight for Willow. "Now I'm starting to get annoyed." Glory grabbed Willow by the throat and threw her into the wall.
Giles and Buffy burst through the doorframe just as Glory prepared to pick Willow up from where her body had landed. Whatever Willow had done to fuel her powers was already taxed to the limit and no longer under the control of the novice yet talented witch.
"You know what happens to bad little witches, lover?" Glory grabbed Willow by the throat again, causing her to sputter and gasp for breath. "Same thing I'm going to do."
Buffy stood directly behind the hell god and butted in, "They used to worship gods too, but all I see on their knees to you are a bunch of scraggly half-wits."
Buffy yanked Glory's hands off Willow's throat and punched her in the face, causing blood to spurt from Glory's nose. It felt good to do some damage for a change. Spinning quickly, Buffy connected her foot solidly with Glory's midsection.
Glory countered with a jab to Buffy's side that cracked multiple ribs as Willow stumbled to her feet. Willow's ebony hair was slowly returning to the bright red that usually graced the girl's head.
Giles quickly grasped Willow's hand to tap whatever power was left in the girl as he commanded, "Sopor!" At the command, powered by all of Ripper's latent abilities and Willow's remaining ‘go’ juice, Glory fell to the ground and emitted a loud snore.
"What did you do?" Buffy stared wide-eyed at her Watcher. Every once in a while, Giles could still surprise his Slayer.
"I merely put her to sleep. I'm afraid I haven't the power to do any more damage than that for now." Giles lifted Willow in his arms and carried the semi-conscious girl out of the wrecked apartment. "It would seem that magic may have its uses against Glory, however. I believe some research is in order once we make certain Willow has given up her Quixotic quest for instant vengeance."
"Maybe when she hears the hospital called and Tara's out of the coma she'll calm down a little," Buffy said hopefully.
"When this current apocalypse is quite finished, I shall have to see about dealing with Willow's unexpected abilities," Giles decided. "Until then, we must attempt to keep her from becoming a loose canon and harming herself as badly as she might Glory."
"Wow, Giles, something can hurt Glory!" Buffy began to have hope for the first time in months.
Willow was sobbing and shuddering in the car as Giles told her that Tara had awakened and asked for her. The doctors suspected there might be some internal damage to Tara's brain, owing to ten small holes they had discovered in her skull. Just what damage was unknown at this point. So far she had merely called Willow's name and responded well to the various neurological tests that hammers and pins could administer.By the time they arrived back on Revello Drive, Willow was weak as kitten. Giles carried the exhausted witch upstairs and placed her in Buffy's bed with a promise that she would be awakened if there were any changes in Tara's condition.
"So it's lookin’ good for Tara?" Buffy asked when she and Giles returned downstairs.
"It's far too soon to tell. Suffice it to say there is undoubtedly going to be some damage. Just what that will be remains to be seen. Tara clearly remembers Willow. As to formulating full sentences or any other skill requiring comprehension, we shall have to wait to see." Giles didn't want to be Dr. Doom, but he was not a believer in holding out false hope either.
"God, I hope Tara pulls through. Willow loves her so much, Giles." Buffy grew silent as once more her thoughts drifted to her own seeming inability to feel that emotion. Ever since Angel had walked off into the smoke-filled night, she elt as if her heart were encased in ice. Willow had survived the loss of Oz and gone on to a greater love. Why couldn't she?
"Giles, what Dawn said earlier wasn't completely wrong," Buffy ventured. "I don't know how to love anymore. It's worse than dying, I think, this emptiness where my heart should be," Buffy bit her lip in anguish. "Is it because I'm the Slayer? Are all slayers just cold killing machines? Was Travers right that I'm nothing more than a weapon meant for the Council to wield until I'm all wielded out and the next girl gets all wieldy?"
Giles often wished he could legally strangle that pompous git sitting so smugly in London. "Of course not, Buffy. You are a very loving girl. I thought we already had this conversation the other evening?"
"I can't help it Giles. If I'm going to protect my little sister, I have to really love her. And if I can't love anyone, how can I do that?" Buffy reasoned.
"Well," Giles said hesitantly, "I've already ventured back into the ways of my youth once today. I might just as well use some of the power I have crackling through me for a good purpose. It may not be enough to kill a hell god, but it's bloody well enough to induce an altered state of consciousness for you to speak to your inner Slayer and maybe get the answers you need there."
"You mean like those funky dreams we had after we kicked Adam's butt last year?" Buffy wasn't sure how she felt about that idea. Still, if she could finally break through the iceberg that encased her heart, it would be worth a roll in the mud with the Rasta Slayer within.
"A bit, yes. Think of it as an enhanced Slayer dream," Giles offered.
"Okay, do your voodoo, guru mine," Buffy grinned at Giles.
"You not only mix metaphors, you mix religions, Buffy." Giles smiled warmly at his charge. "Whatever shall we do with you?"
"I don't know, make with the woo-woo and send me off to bed?" Buffy teased.
"Very well, dreams there shall be then," Giles promised and began to flip through pages in search of the exact spell he was sure he remembered.
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