Buffy stared into the crystal, trying to control her breathing. Sweat rolled down her back and from under her arms; she blinked as drops of it fell into her eyes, salty and stinging. She focused relentlessly.
"What do you hear?" said Willow.
"Hear? I can see an image, sort of,"
"No...it probably won't be visual. I need to know what you hear,"
Buffy's chest heaved. She made a thick, strained sound.
"Deep breaths, just let your mind loose," Willow began to chant again. Buffy listened to Willow's voice and found comfort in it; she focused on that. Buffy bit her lower lip, then fell deeper into a trance. She began to relax. Willow chanted for a time, then paused, and asked gently, "What do you hear?"
'"Kill him,'" said Buffy hollowly, and she heard herself and gasped.
"It's a voice and it says, 'Kill him'," Buffy felt nausea welling up; she bent over slightly, she could feel the source of the thought now, the one that had been lurking in the back of her mind, the one she'd kept in a cage, a covered cage. God, deep down, she had held that thought, she had. It had actually been in her head, to kill him, soul and all. To stake him with her own hand. She moaned, hugging her belly.
Willow crawled foreward on her knees, cupping Buffy's chin and looking into her eyes. "Look at me,"
Tears ran from Buffy's eyes, plentiful and hot. She looked at Willow. Willow's face was soft with affection and worry.
"Oh, God, Willow! I thought it, I actually thought-"
"No, you didn't,"
"No," insisted Willow, "That wasn't your thought. Doesn't it make you feel sick?"
"That's because it's a foreign thought, it was cast into your mind, it was planted there by a witch. A really powerful witch," Willow was sprinkling Buffy with water that smelled of a dozen different things. Buffy shuddered; she felt something escaping her like a small dark mist, it seeped out of her pores, out through her breath. She was panting as if from a run. Relief flooded her. She inhaled deeply, and air had never seemed sweeter.
"If that had stayed in you long enough it might have killed you," muttered Willow.
"But I didn't even know I was thinking-"
"That's how those work," said Willow, "But it made you sick, Buffy. It wouldn't have taken hold. It would have created a disease in you before you ever killed Angel," her voice was soft.
Buffy blew out a breath; it stirred her hair softly. She suddenly felt clear, and whole. She stood.
"This Monaghan...she's around?"
"Well, yeah, I'm sure she is. But there's no way for her to know the spell is off. I think she' ll be watching you, but I also think she's just in this for revenge,"
"The blade," murmured Buffy.
"Oh...it was in his letters. Angel killed a vampire named Monaghan here, and then the vampire's brother in Ireland, and he took the family sword,"
Willow whistled. "Yeah, that would make her a little irritated. She'd want vengeance, the best kind. She didn't want to even try to kill Angel. She wanted you to do it,"
"But her magic won't work on you again. You beat her, and now you'd know her magic a mile away. You can only cast on a Slayer once, usually. Or any hero. They've got the best instincts, it's hard to fool 'em twice,"
"I'm just glad you're on MY side,"
Willow smiled her open, sweet smile, and Buffy threw her arms around her.
"Thank you," she said.
"But we should make sure that it's all the way out of you. Why don't you read me some of this letter aloud?"
Buffy picked up the letter she had shown Willow. "You'd really like this one," said Buffy, "His family has a druid and everything,"
Willow's eyes popped. Buffy began to read. She had completed a few lines when Willow held up a hand.
"Whoa!" she said, "Can I see that?" Willow's eyes darted over the pages as she shuffled them. "Oh, my God," she said softly.
Willow gasped deeply. "Oh, my GOD-"
"Willow, what?" said Buffy, rattled.
Willow leaped to her feet and shrieked, "GEIS! Egyptian geis!"
"Yeah," said Buffy, "What is that, anyway?"
Willow was nearly dancing. "The word gypsy is derivative of the word, Egypt. The gypsies are supposed to be descended from the nomadic tribes of Egypt,"
"OK," said Buffy blankly.
"And a geis is a condition in a spell. Like, you can go to any exclusive club in town, but you just can't drink there, you know? It's like a loophole,"
It was beginning to dawn on Buffy.
"And it's so CUTE because he doesn't even GET it!" said Willow, breathlessly, "You can tell in the letter he has no idea what she's going to do-"
"Wait," said Buffy, "Are you saying-"
"Egyptian-gypsy. Geis-loophole in a curse!"
"Are you sure?"
"Look," said Willow, pointing to the page, "'It does not honor your manhood'. What the Hell ELSE could it be? That's why she wants the cauldron. It's the only reason she wants it. Oh, my GOD!" Willow shrieked.
"So...but why would she.."
"Who cares?" said Willow, "Druids have their own reasons for things. They're tricky. If you ever meet up with this one, just trust her like he did. Style points for Angel, he just let her take the lead. That's how you handle a druid. You don't pull attitude with them,"
"But, Willow," Buffy's voice lowered, she wasn't sure why, "Even if she can do that, vampires can't procreate, and I've been having dreams about our KIDS. And in his last letter HE had a dream with kids in it,"
"Everything is subject to change," said Willow, "Nothing is permanent. Well, even that rule is subject to change," she giggled, "Because change is permanent. I mean, constant. But so is love...some kinds,"
"Yeah, some kinds are,"
"You guys have broken all the rules from day one anyway. Vampires don't have souls. Slayers don't have friends. Vampires don't help Slayers and Slayers don't save vampires. Vampires and Slayers do NOT fall in love. Slayers do not feed vampires. How many times have you guys actually colored inside the lines to begin with?"
"Good point," mused Buffy.
"Hey," said Willow suddenly, "Am I maid of honor?"
"No, Cordy," said Buffy quickly.
Willow leaped at Buffy and they rolled off the couch together, laughing.
"Dim sum," said Willow suddenly, "Celebrate!"
Buffy ordered her favorite seaweed, the kind that looked like green beans and tasted fresh and sweet. Willow was diving into sesame dumplings. The restaurant was swamped with customers, mostly Chinese; it was a little noisy and over-decorated, but Buffy loved the food here.
"Buy an outfit yet?" asked Willow.
"No," said Buffy thoughtfully, "I have shopping need. You wanna?"
"Oh, yeah. I was thinking-" Willow froze, mid-sentence. Her wide eyes darted around them. She gulped a mouthful of dumpling.
"There she is," a soft brogue from behind Buffy. She turned, but no one was there. She turned quickly back and saw a tall, dark-haired woman behind Willow. Buffy was on her feet, but the woman had disappeared. Buffy thrust a hand behind her and felt a brush of fabric, rough as sand paper. Willow eyes were huge and dark, she was trembling.
"Slayer's got a little friend," the woman was suddenly seated at their table, "Hello, little one," Willow slid quickly out of her seat.
"Beat it," said Buffy.
"Won't you offer me tea?"
"I said get lost,"
"Don't provoke me, Slayer. I know where your mind is soft,"
"You can't touch her now," said Willow quietly, "You had your chance and she beat you,"
"The brave are soft," said the woman, "Softer than sand, and as lasting,"
Her green eyes darted over them like a hyena's, looking for weak spots.
"Fuck off," said Willow.
The woman laughed. "Is that bravery? Or fear? It's just one breath between them...isn't it, now?"
"I'm afraid of you," said Willow, "But I'm not afraid of your magic,"
"Because I am unpredictable,"
"But your spells are always the same. Unraveling confidence. Undermining hope. Twisting truth inside out so it looks the same but it isn't. Are you proud of your work?" Willow was gaining momentum; she was standing with her fists tight, but she was no longer trembling, "All the pain you've caused, with that gift. It's unimaginable. You're a woman, you should know better. Shame on you. Shame on you threefold. It's going to whammy back on you so hard-"
Sheela picked up a glass of water. It bust into flame. She hurled the ball of fire at Willow. Buffy dove for it but met shower of what looked like white glass beads that scattered on the carpet. The beads melted under her hands.
It was hail.
"Quick," spat Sheela, "But not clever,"
"You hate it here," said Willow, "All that goody-good earth mother healing magic. You HATE it. So go,"
"You can't banish ME-"
"You hate this city,"said Willow, her head lowered, eyes fixed on Sheela, ""You hate it above ground,"
"Don't think you can-"
"You hate being bothered with humans. You're so beyond them now. You prefer demons. They know how to party. And you like the dark because you can't stand sunlight, or songs, or little kids laughing or LOVE, or-"
Sheela struggled out of the chair. Her chest was heaving; her form was beginning to fade.
"The real fun is underground.. Why bother with humans anyway? They bore you. Time to go,"
Sheela's form eclipsed, then reappeared slightly oversized. Willow smiled at her.
"Or you could join us for tea,"
Sheela moaned in frustration; it sounded like a lion's roar in an empty hallway. She was gone. Willow stood looking at the empty space where Sheela had been. A small smile crept into the corners of her mouth, and her eyes began to shine with pride.
Buffy was still on all fours on the carpet. "WOW," she said, "Wow," She scrambled onto her feet. "You are a badass,"
Willow looked nervously around the restaurant. Customers who hadn't left their tables were staring at them intensely. "We should probably pay, and then, like, bolt,"
"Yeah," Buffy threw a handful of bills on the table.
They ran giggling down the crowded Chinatown streets, dodging vendors, women with shopping bags, and tourists. They finally skirted into an alley and headed for downtown.
"You did a great thing," said Buffy.
"Oh, I didn't do anything," said Willow.
"Wha- but, but you-"
"I just held up a mirror," said Willow, "She DID hate it here. All I did was remind her how MUCH she hated it," Willow sighed and hooked her arm through Buffy's, "OK. Shopping, and then I gotta fly out,"
"Well you guys aren't going to need endorphin modification, so I if I'm not going to hit the lab I have to start on my secondary thesis,"
"What is it?"
"Ancient alchemical texts and their scientific translations. Magic to science,"
"Does your brain ever feel really heavy?"
Willow giggled, "Thought is weightless,"
"So are we going on vacation as soon as you get the big plaque?"
"Yeah!" shreiked Willow, "Do you think Angel would show us around Ireland?"
Buffy crawled into bed. Her apartment seemed empty without Willow here, silly as that was. She scrunched down cozily into the blankets. She had a letter to finish.
Usually I can feel the warmth of your hands before you even touch me, the heat of you emanating from across the room. I was astonished at how cool your fingers were, you must have been outside. It was a silky, watery sensation, so subtle, your soft little hands wandering all over me so lightly, into all the spots where I craved them...under my chin, down my throat and over my shoulders, into the dip between neck and shoulder, across my lips, under my ears. Your hands traveled down my belly, low enough to tease, then along my thighs in long, light strokes. It reminded me of a dream I had after you had pulled me out of the church when Spike had chained me to Drucilla...I had had a long dream of being caressed by you, but I had felt your breath on me, you had kissed me. I wanted a kiss now and I reached for you, but you pinned my hands to the bed and giggled softly. I moaned a little and you continued torturing me, your hands began to circle my entire body, one lingering along the insides of my thighs, then spiralling over my sex, the other tracing little trails on my chest, and I finally began to writhe.
"Buffy," I begged.
You laughed outright, a rich, long laugh that sounded strange. I opened my eyes and saw you smiling down at me. Your hair had grown; you were wearing it in long curls, with a gold circlet across your brow, like a crown. I reached for you but you hid in the shining sheets playfully. I followed you. I caught you in an armful of satin and pulled you under me.
"Marry me?" It's a habit.
You looked up at me somberly.
"Yes," you said.
My jaw nearly dropped. I drew back to see you better; I was amazed.
"I want to be yours forever," you said.
I was stroking your hair back from your face. You'd never done your hair like this before.
"Do you love me?" you asked, softly.
"More than existence," You know it.
"Then, show me. Now,"
Suddenly, everything felt strange. It's difficult to describe. In my nightly fantasies, certain things are close to reality and certain things aren't...but this one felt as though I wasn't in it alone. It was disorienting. In every other fantasy I can have you, but this one was so eerily real that I paused.
"Show me, Angel," you whispered, "Show me how much you want me," and you kissed me.
Your mouth was cold.
I jolted awake; I scrambled backwards, struggling through the slippery bedding and falling hard to the stone floor. I was naked, but they hadn't been able to remove the torc from my neck.
A young, vicious laugh.
"Where are you going, lover?"
I looked up in horror. She was about seventeen, with a lovely heart-shaped face, your face. Her hair was a rich mass of golden corkscrew curls. Her eyes were enormous and dark, with lush lashes, her mouth was full and ripe. She looked, for all rights and purposes, exactly like you. But her eyes were hard and glittered with cunning, and her mouth barely curving, keeping expression to a minimum. She leaned foreward and her breasts pressed together between her arms richly; her skin gleamed in the candlelight.
"Come to me," she said, in your sweetest voice. I knew some magic was being worked and I looked intently at her, waiting for her to change into some kind of a monster.
"This is me, lover," she said, "This is Tir Na N'og. You rid me of him, and now I am what you desire. Ailil is finally gone from me. I took the form I wanted most," I glanced around the room. We were alone. It was furnished with the same sort of finery that Midir had collected in his chamber, ancient chairs and tables, all richly decorated and gilded.
"Who are you?" I said.
She smiled, a coquettish smirk that was nothing like any smile you've ever given the world.
"I am called the Mayv,"
"But who are you?"
She sneered suddenly; it was horrifying, because it was beautiful.
"I AM the Mayv,"
"When did it become all the rage to re-name yourselves after the Everliving?
You call this the land of eternal youth? There is no such land, not even for us. Especially not for us,"
"You fear me," she said sadly, "You should not. I want you more than she does. I can give you more than she can,"
Here it was; I wouldn't have another opportunity to act exactly as she expected...I had better do some fine acting, and right now.
"What can you give me?" I asked, after hesitation.
She laughed; her teeth gleamed. "I have a vessel much finer, much softer, much more welcoming than the cauldron. A sweet, moist vessel just for you,"
"A kind offer, " I said, "But you know you're wasting your time,"
"That, I'm not," she stood gracefully from the bed, pulling the sheet with her; she turned and the fabric slithered away from her body, revealing smooth golden skin, the curves of you, the sweet breasts, lean little belly, shining nest of curls, fine legs with muscular lines. I stared, and allowed myself to. I pretended for a moment that she was you so that she could see real desire in my eyes. She was using a powerful magic. It might be to my advantage, because she would have to use up a considerable amount of energy to keep it working. It might make her weaker.
Her hands moved over her body with tenderness, down along the smooth thighs and up again; her fingertips traced her nipples slowly, then one little hand moved lower.
"She'll grow old," she said, sinking fingers into the curls between her legs, "One day you'll be holding an old woman, a frail, needy, toothless sack of sagging skin. It's not far off. Time can move so fast;" she sat on the edge of the bed and opened her legs, working her sex delicately with her hand, "Or you can have her, forever seventeen, forever moist for you, forever hungry for you, sleeping when you sleep, feeding with you, understanding you like no one can, giving you delights for the rest of time,"
I had forgotten how so many of these decorations were made; that gilded table was actually wood, gold leaf on wood. I leaned back on the floor and dragged a thumbnail over the surface of a table leg. I moved my other hand downward; her eyes went where I wanted them to.
"How can you resist it?" she said, "And think of sparing yourself the suffering! You think you've suffered before this, but before her you never knew real happiness...losing her might even kill you. You've never been alone like you'll be when she dies. But you don't have to lose her, Angel. You can have her. Here she is, wet only for you, wanting only you,"
I stood and picked her up in my arms and kissed her; again, her mouth was cold and I had to brace myself. I wondered, briefly, if that has ever been repulsive to you. I used to wonder about it, when I still had those warm kisses from you. Kissing her cold mouth almost made me wretch. I turned and tossed her into the air. She landed on the table, which broke under her fall. It shattered; fragments scattered around the room.
"A woman who can play rough," I said, checking my thumbnail quickly. Just as I thought, gold leaf.
A smile broke over her face, your face, but an alligator smile. "That's right, lover," she whispered.
I had to close my eyes as I took her by the hair and tossed her on her stomach; I was thinking about how you must have felt, faced with a demon housed in my body, what kind of Hell that had to have been for you. She grunted as I smashed her face down on the floor; I threw myself onto her and wrapped an arm around her waist. She crooned with anticipation.
I leaned over and spoke into her ear, "All fours," I said, "I'm going to take you like the beast you are,"
She cackled, and I was chilled by the sound. I pushed her foreward and made a fuss over thrashing her around...finally I saw it out of the corner of my eye, resting against the wall under a torch: a two-foot long piece of splintered wood, about three inches in diameter, a table fragment. It might be enough. I lifted her by her hair. She whined.
"But I thought-"
"I want to see you better," I dragged her under the torch, pushing her face into the wall. I began taking bites of her back, creeping down. She growled. She tasted....dead. Again, I had to fight off nausea. You taste like honey, very faintly, and like life, fresh, exquisite life. She tasted rank, like the blood-eater she was, gamy and sour. I went to my knees and continued taking mouthfuls of her; I reached and found the peice of wood. It was substantial enough. I took her hips and spun her around. She looked down at me and her face fell.
"Why?" she cried, outraged, "What am I not? I'm beautiful! I'm young, and strong, I know you like she never will. I am forever smooth and firm and moist, I am what you crave the most, and can never have again! You are forbidden her, you will never have her again anyway! I want you, I'll want you forever! I am perfect! What am I not?"
I paused for a moment. I looked her in the eye.
"You're not Buffy," I said, and I thrust the stake home.