Special note from one of the writers I admire most:
"God I love yout stories. They keep me sane! Caught ONE error Curranos, is really Cernunos the Horned One, God of the Forest, consort to the Goddess Cerridwen"
British Traditonal Wicca
Elder Bennu Society
Sirona, I stand lovingly corrected. Please forgive my error, and thank you for keeping the record straight. I have only the deepest respect for this culture and it's history, and it's comforting to know my friends care enough to make sure I get these things right. Thank you, dear! :)
Ailil drained Midir and tossed his carcass aside. He emitted a large, wet belch, and then took a seat on his new golden throne. He toyed with his large dagger, twisting it on a fingertip, then tossed it with perfect aim upward and into my right shoulder. He looked up at me and laughed.
"Don't suppose you've seen the cauldron, have you Aingeal?"
"Wouldn't be bigger than your head, would it?" I grunted.
"Well, I'm thinking," he stepped off the throne and began pacing the chamber. He took a bow and arrow from one of his soldiers, aimed quickly, and shot the arrow through my right hip and deep into the earth above, pinning me there like a butterfly specimen. "I'm thinking you might not know where it is, after all. Perhaps you're after the cauldron yourself. And I'm thinking that draining you is going to be sticky business, delicate business. You're Slayer-fed, but not by victory. She GAVE the power to you. And a nice looking necklace you've got there, Aingeal. A bit gaudy for these times, but clever. Your head I cannot have. Direct from your heart I must drink, to get the power, and as it WAS given, it must BE given,"
"You're not my type, Ailil," I said.
He fired another arrow into my left shoulder, pinning me even more securely to the ceiling.
"Didya know," he grinned up at me as he traipsed around the chamber, hands behind his back, "That I count Doyles among my relations?"
"I'll be sure to put that in my rolodex,"
"I do. I have a distant relation that works with you,"
"You'll never get to him,"
He laughed. "Oh, he won't turn. He's as hopeless as you. But I know a bit of blonde honey cake is lookin' for you. And if he's not on his toes, if he's distracted...she might...she might end up sweetening my own table,"
"She could dust you with one hand tied behind her back,"
"A Slayer alive in her twenties...hasn't happened yet, one that strong," mused Ailil, "How rich your blood must be, Aingeal, nursed by her. What would be the tastiest bit, boys?" he addressed the chamber full of vampires, "The liver grows back the fastest, I'm thinking. Won't harm the blood, in the long run. I'll find out what you know. And most of all," he paused, paw-like hands on his hips, "I'll feel better. I've been tense, STRESSED, I believe, is the term you Americans use...you know, waiting for you, wanting to execute you in the old fashion, as so many of your ancestors did mine. I'm denied that now, but I'll have a bit of satisfaction. And a snack," he grinned at his troops, displaying a row of yellowed, uneven fangs, "There's even better eatin', here,"
The phone rang. Buffy jumped and cursed. She answered the phone.
"Hi, Willow. What?"
"Wow, what's the matter?"
"Oh, I'm just in the middle of one of his letters,"
"No-it's OK...it's just hard to remember that this stuff already happened...that he's not in danger any more. I mean, I HOPE,"
"Of course," said Willow warmly, "He's on his way home. To you. So listen! An old roommate of mine is an epidemiologist at a lab in Monterey and she can sneak me in after hours so I can use the equipment! I mean, with your help. Is that cool or what?"
"Buffy, what's the matter?"
Buffy sighed and closed her eyes. They felt hot and they stung. She swallowed.
"Sorry," she whispered, "It's just that-"
"He went through some pretty intense stuff, huh?"
"Yeah. Because of me,"
"NOT because of you!"
"Come on, Willow. I mean, think about it. Everything. I mean, something is always messing with us, something always seems to come up to ruin everything. It's either a vampire thing or a Slayer thing or some kind of unsolicited counseling thing or a MOM thing, or-"
"Wow, " said Willow quietly, "I don't believe it,"
"You're giving up,"
"You are, you're already starting to give up. You can't get negative. Buffy, it's going to be all right. I know you don't believe it now, but give it a chance. Just know that it will be OK. It doesn't matter how,"
Buffy's skin crawled, to hear Willow saying exactly the same words Angel had said in her dream last night, but at the same time it soothed her.
"Jeeze," she said, "If I can just stay out of therapyland-"
"Let me be that therapist," said Willow cheerfully.
"Can you imagine what the bill would be already?"
Willow giggled. "Well, it's always gone both ways, you know. I figure we'd break even,"
Buffy sobbed suddenly, she was shocked by it. "Wow," she said, and then she started to laugh.
"It really is going to be OK. You're under a lot of pressure. You know what you should do? Go buy an outfit. Buy something to meet him in...you know, like maybe a wedding dress!"
"SHUT UP!" Buffy laughed again, and couldn't seem to stop.
"He'd like that, you know,"
"If you EVER say that again-"
"OK, OK...I'm backing down on it," there was a pause. "Are you going to be all right?"
"Yeah," said Buffy, "I just need a workout. I have a class in a couple of hours anyway, but I need a good run. And I need to dust a Mondrian,"
"I mean...I mean, a Monaghan. What IS it with these Irish guys?"
"You know what Freud said about them?"
"That they were the only people that psychoanalysis was powerless to help,"
Buffy snickered. "I'm saving that one,"
"Yeah," said Willow, "You'll need it. For when you guys have a stupid domestic spat sometime,"
"I love you, Willow,"
"I love you, too. Go finish your letter. Then go buy an outfit,"
Ailil reached up and ripped my shirt from my chest; the movement sent an astonishing variety of pain through me as the arrows jostled in my flesh. He picked his knife from my shoulder and traced a semi-circle just under my rib cage, on the left, outlining my liver; he sank the knife in deeply and began to saw. I heard a strangled sound, vaguely recognizing my own voice, and the room began to waver. I saw Ailil holding a dark, moist morsel to his lips, and then I saw blackness. Briefly. I was standing under flowering trees; it was a fragrant June night with a pearl-colored moon. I couldn't make out the building, but you were standing on the stone steps with your back turned. You tossed a bunch of flowers in the air, they were white roses and night-blooming jasmine, although I don't know how I knew that. You tossed them too high; a group of women at the base of the steps craned their heads and turned dizzily, bumping into each other. Finally the flowers descended, white ribbons fluttering, and mayhem ensued. Willow emerged, prize held high, amid deafening shrieks. You held your skirts up as you walked slowly down the steps, gazing at me with so much love in your enormous, beautiful eyes that I actually felt my heart move. You raised your arms and wrapped them around my neck as I lifted you, and your white silk dress crumpled against me. I stood holding you, transfixed by the way you were looking at me, soaking it in. You pinched my ear and laughed at me. "Kiss me, silly," you said. John has caught me writing and I must put this aside and rest again. I'm healing slowly, which worries me, as the Mayve is even stronger now, and I must defeat her as soon as possible. Birog has assured me, but I'm sick at the thought of anything happening to you. Vampires can't pray, they can only hope, and crave, and despair, and refuse to despair, and fight. If it were only as easy as trading myself, I would have, long ago, but it isn't. If I make it home, if you will see me, I'm going to ask you to marry me, I'll ask you a thousand times. Not because I believe it will change your mind about me, but because I will have to. I don't care how pathetic it is.
I love you.