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Slayer Central 12: Requiem for the Fallen

Timeframe: About a week after the events in "Out of the Blue."

Summary: Buffy dreams, and must confront Angel and settle old accounts.

Part I

Xander leaned back, narrowly avoiding the left jab coming at his jaw, and countered with a right to Robert's stomach. Robert quickly backpedaled and performed a straight forward kick, which Xander blocked.

They had been sparring for half an hour, and both men were sweating freely. They were both wearing T-shirts and shorts, and Xander's recent weight loss and increase in muscle mass from the extra training he had been doing were quite visible. He was pleased with the progress he had made since his injury, but at that moment he was becoming irritated. He threw three lefts in a row: two connected, and one narrowly missed as Robert backpedaled again without retaliating. Xander's eyes narrowed. <All right, if you're going to play it that way.>

Xander attacked furiously, unleashing a barrage of left jabs that had Robert stumbling backwards, and leaving his left side completely unguarded. Robert tried to counter with his own lefts, but Xander blocked the blows effortlessly with his right, which he was not punching with at all. Robert felt himself being forced back near a wall, and he visibly gathered himself before throwing a single right uppercut. Xander could not see the punch coming--it was coming out of his blind spot--and his guard was still down. The punch hit him straight on the jaw and knocked him flat. Robert stared and then stepped forward, wondering if he'd need to summon medical help. Xander sat up, shook his head to clear the cobwebs out, then focused his single eye on the younger man and snapped, "Well, it's about damned time!"

Robert looked at him and blinked. "Huh?"

"I was wondering if you were ever going to remember you have a right hand," Xander replied. The younger man flushed, and Xander pressed on, "Or maybe all of that fancy martial arts training you got sang the praises of fighting with one hand tied behind your back? I was backing you up with nothing but lefts--and I've seen Helen fight: she wasn't trained by someone who fought like you just were. Maybe I should call her in here to see what she thinks of your performance."

Robert looked embarrassed. "Xander, look. I--"

"Was taking it easy on the one-eyed guy? Yeah, I kind of figured that out." Xander sighed and inclined his head at a nearby bench. They went over and sat down, and Xander looked over at Robert--who still looked embarrassed. The older man sighed and commented, "Robert--you're a damned good fighter: I'd put you in Robin's class, and he's been training since he was five years old. I'd bet on you against Giles unless it was with swords or other Watcher-type weapons. Personally, I think you'd be a good sparring partner for the Slayers--if they would stop hitting on you long enough to hit you--"

"Very funny--glass houses, Xander." Robert gave Xander a dirty look.

"All right, moving on, then," replied Xander, smiling ruefully. He shook his head and continued, "I'm not growing a new eye any time soon, Robert. The only field mission I've been on since May is the one that Helen asked me to go on, and that wasn't because my fighting skills are back up to par. Buffy is not going to let me go out regularly until she's convinced I'm up to par--and she's got a few dozen Slayers to back that order up if I decide to tell her to take a hike. I need you to train me to the point where I can defend myself against things that are bigger, stronger, and faster than I am--and that means throwing rights until I can defend myself against them almost as well as if my left eye was still there. I'm going to get hit--a lot. I can live with that. If you can't, let me know and I'll call Dawn-- she isn't as good as you are, but she'll do what I want."

Xander wondered at the brief flare of anger in Robert's eyes, but dismissed it as a reaction to his challenge. The younger man shook his head in annoyance, and said simply, "I'm sorry Xander--you're right. Let's get back to it." Robert stood and walked back to the center of the mat, and Xander followed him, just as Dawn walked into the room. Robert nodded to her, and Xander waved. Dawn pointedly ignored Robert and smiled at Xander before sitting down at the edge of the room and starting to stretch.

Xander smiled and looked back at Robert, noting that he looked rather more intense than before. He called out, "Ready?"

The only response was a feral smile, and Xander advanced, guarding with his left against the rights he expected to be thrown. He saw a blur of five or six punches, and he was down, noting absently that none of the blows had come from out of his line of vision. He saw Dawn start to move, and he shook his head at her and smiled to reassure her that he was OK: she glared over Xander's shoulder and returned to her stretching.

Xander turned--a mildly painful experience--and looked up at Robert, who looked a bit apologetic, though his eyes still glinted. Robert leaned down and extended his hand to Xander, who accepted the assistance and got to his feet. <Maybe it was a bad idea to piss him off.> He shook his head to clear it and squared off against Robert again. <Hope that Buffy's having a more peaceful morning than I am.>

<One nice thing about the really weird dreams--it's pretty obvious that they are dreams. Kind of nice, given the stuff in my life that's actually real.>

Buffy walked through the maze slowly, feeling the gravel crunch under her boots as she looked for a way out. The path she was on was wide enough for two to walk abreast, and was bounded by what looked like either a sheer drop-off into a chasm with no visible bottom, or stone walls that bore a strong resemblance to the sewer tunnels she remembered so well from Sunnydale. Along the sides of the path were tombstones, crypts, and other landmarks that she was also familiar with from her time on the Hellmouth. <Buffy Summers--this is YOUR LIFE!> She glanced at the tombstones and saw that the names and dates were in English, though the names were unfamiliar. She frowned and kept walking.

The scenery remained more or less the same, but Buffy noticed that the graveyard décor was an odd mix--even within a small area there were obvious mixes in architectural and artistic styles. <It's like someone threw a dozen cemeteries in a blender and poured the mixture out.>

Abruptly, a vampire darted out and attacked her without finesse. She pulled a stake and dusted it without breaking stride--she saw what looked like a tunnel opening going into a hillside. She entered it, leaving the cloud of dust behind her.

The tunnel was lit with torchlight, and Buffy stayed alert--she was passing a substantial number of alcoves where a demon could be concealed until almost the last second. Nothing seemed inclined to attack, and she moved on. Occasionally, the tunnel would bend left or right--it was on the third right bend that she began to hear the humming. It sounded like a female voice, but Buffy couldn't make out the tune. She shook her head in annoyance and continued.

The tunnel continued to bend, and seemed to gradually slope upward as the humming got louder, but no clearer. Buffy had no way of telling how much time had passed, though she was not tiring.

Abruptly, the tunnel bent around and up and Buffy emerged into a large room with a domed ceiling--it was well lit by torches and lanterns. Buffy saw a circle of human figures standing on the other side of the room, with a solitary figure standing in their midst. She stepped forward, and heard a sound behind her. She turned to see heavy steel doors slamming closed behind her--she was trapped. The humming stopped, and a very familiar voice called out, "She's come to the party--now we can all laugh and play."

Buffy felt a burst of hatred. "If you wanted a piece of me, Dru--you could have just mailed an invitation." She stalked forward and snarled, "Don't think that a bunch of minion vamps are going to stop me from seriously dusting your ass."

Drusilla turned and met her gaze--the eight figures around her remained turned to the center. The insane vampire giggled and called out, "Minions? Is that any way for a good mummy to speak of her family?" The octet around Dru turned to face Buffy, and the Slayer gasped in absolute horror.

They were Slayers--young women who had all come to the Hyperion within the past two months, and who had just started their training. Buffy froze, and found she could not move as all eight assumed their vampiric masks and slowly walked towards Buffy. Drusilla smiled coldly and whispered, "Welcome to your new home--with all of the comforts that family can provide."

Buffy screamed, and her eyes snapped open just before her throat was going to be torn out.

Buffy lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling for several seconds until she was able to shake off the horror of what she had seen enough to quickly get out of bed, pull on clothes, and run for the door. She had to tell the others about--

Buffy pulled the door open, and Helen was standing there in a bathrobe, hair askew and makeup visibly absent. The older Slayer stared at her new friend, who sighed in irritation and commented, "Buffy--I really like you, but sharing your dreams deeply sucks."

Buffy smiled sympathetically. "Don't I know it. OK, we might as well take the time to look presentable, since you've managed to let me know that it wasn't just the partying last night in the lounge that had me seeing weird stuff. We'll meet in Angel's office downstairs in two hours." Helen nodded and left, and Buffy snarled in anger at the world throwing her another curveball before calling Giles to set up the meeting, then retreating to a hot bath.

"This is deeply disturbing news--I had hoped that after the incident a couple of years ago that Drusilla would have decided that this area was not hospitable to her." Giles frowned and shook his head before continuing, "Angel--has there been any sign of her in Los Angeles since your last encounter?"

Angel's expression had been blank during Buffy's description of her dream, and Buffy watched him as he considered Giles' question--she knew how upsetting the subject of Dru was to him. Angel sighed and commented, "She parted company with Darla after I immolated them--Darla stayed around but Dru didn't. The files on her in the W&H system noted the incident in Sunnydale with the train murders and the two deaths at the Bronze, but nothing concrete after that--some rumored sightings in South America, but nothing certain. The Senior Partners still have a 'kill on sight' order out on her--replacing thirteen lawyers and paying off the families of the dead ones in accordance with their contracts was rather expensive for them. Unless they're playing games with us--always a possibility--I don't think Dru's tied in with them." Angel shook his head sadly and commented, "I just wish I had been a bit better as a pyromaniac."

"You set them on fire by torching a garage around them, Angel--I'd have to say that certainly deserved an 'A' for effort." Helen's voice was sympathetic, and Angel looked at her and smiled slightly to acknowledge the attempt at comfort. Helen smiled back and added, "But we still have an insane psychic vampire to deal with--who may be targeting Slayers for the purposes of building an army. Any great ideas on how to stop her?"

Wesley frowned, then looked down at the tome he was carrying and intoned, "Libram of Sacred Madness--English translation." He laid the book down on the desk and opened it: words and pictures appeared, and Wesley leafed forward for a few hundred pages until he reached a particular entry. He read for a few seconds, and turned the page again before holding the book up for Buffy and Helen to see. A symbol resembling an eye with tentacles coming from its edges was on the page, and Wesley asked simply, "Did either of you see this symbol anywhere in the dream?"

Buffy shook her head, but Helen frowned and nodded as she replied, "My point of view was from above Buffy and to the side. I saw Drusilla's group from above--when it moved towards Buffy, I could see that Dru was standing in the middle of a symbol traced on the floor. It looked exactly like the one in the book."

Wesley nodded and looked at Giles grimly. "Then it is as I feared--Buffy's dream indicates that Drusilla has discovered the secret of the Ritual of Sundering, and that she intends to use it to capture and turn Slayers without interference."

Giles paled. "Wesley--that ritual has been lost for centuries: it may well have only been a myth to start with. How can you be sure--?"

"Rupert--the signs are there, and the person who identified the symbol was the least trained of anyone in this room. She would have no reason to even imagine its existence or purpose unless one of us told her." Wesley sighed, and noted Giles nodding reluctantly as he added, "We must stop her, or the consequences will be unthinkable."

"OK--translation time for the rest of us, Watcher guys." Buffy had glanced around the room and noticed that Angel and Willow looked as clueless as Helen, and she sure as hell didn't know what was going on. "Wesley--you've got the big book. Let's have some backstory."

Wesley nodded and began, "Back when demons were the predominant form of life on this planet, there were those among them who worshipped madness itself as divine. They knew that there was great power in madness, though it came with obvious drawbacks. After the demons had gone, humans discovered some of the abandoned rituals and texts and adapted them for their own use. Some of the rituals were appallingly powerful; fortunately, the combination of great magical power and extreme insanity is very rare indeed--the combination tends to be rapidly fatal to whoever possesses them both."

"Which is where Dru comes in, no doubt." Buffy's voice was cold, though shaky around the edges.

"Dru was a powerful seer before Angelus ever met her," Angel commented, visibly uncomfortable but also determined to say what needed to be said. "From what I learned later from Cordelia, that power tends to kill humans who have it rather early on--which is why she accepted the change into half- demon: it was the only way to keep her alive and keep the visions as well. Angelus drove Dru mad before he turned her--both actions may well have increased her powers, though her insanity makes it difficult for her to communicate her visions to others. Spike was always better at figuring out- -" Angel paused, and looked away with a guilty expression on his face.

"Well, he had a hundred years with her to work out the routine ... and we don't have him here to help." Buffy commented gently, then turned back to Wesley and said, "OK--so Dru has mucho loco mojo and has found a nifty ritual she can use it for: what does it do?"

"It enables her to create a shadow reality parallel to our own, and to link it to various physical locations with certain common characteristics." Wesley's voice was calm, but all present could see he was deeply concerned as he swallowed hard and continued, "Once the link is complete, she can use it to cause occupants of those locations to slip through into her shadow world, where they cannot escape until she wills it or she is killed. From what you saw in your dream, Buffy, I would guess that she has--or is about to--use the ritual to link with a number of cemeteries, probably in this general area, since this is where the Slayers are gathering. She intends to wait for a Slayer to enter one of them, then she will isolate that Slayer and kill her, before repeating the procedure ad infinitum. Eventually, she will emerge with an army that will be nearly impossible to stop."

"How many graveyards could she cover--her power can't be all that great, can it?" Willow asked, looking pale and a bit sick to her stomach.

"At first, probably not that many: five, maybe ten at most." Giles replied, glancing over Wesley's shoulder and nodding as the text apparently confirmed his conclusions. "But we may have difficulty avoiding the ones she has enchanted, even if we locate them, and she may well keep some of her capacity in reserve for tactical reasons--meaning that we wouldn't even have the drastic option of abandoning Southern California to thwart her attempts to acquire a Slayer. She is trapped in the shadow reality unless she wants to abandon the spell, but she can reach out to cemeteries all over the world. And once she has a Slayer--"

"She'll have a serious power source from the Slayer blood--she might even keep the first one alive long enough to feed on her for weeks, just for the boost." Angel whispered. "If she does it right, it might reach the point where every cemetery on this Earth is a Slayer-trap for her. We have to find her, while we still know that she doesn't have any Slayers."

"OK--I'm guessing that you have a way of identifying the area where her reality overlaps ours?" Wesley and Giles nodded, and Buffy commented, "Good--now how can we get in there, if she doesn't decide to let us in?"

Wesley turned a few pages, and read a few moments before replying, "Here's a spell--it can only be used by a blood relative of the spell caster--from the same or an earlier generation--for purposes of entering the area, along with one other person."

Buffy thinks for a moment, and turns to Angel. "Let's see--The Master's dead, Darla's dead ... any more of yours out there, Angel?"

Angel flinched, then thought for a moment: "No--I killed all of the ones in Sunnydale before I left. Penn was the last of mine from before I was turned except for Dru. Looks like I'm elected for this job." He looked at Buffy and suggested quietly, "Maybe I should go in with Faith, Buffy-- you're too close to this."

Buffy snorted. "I'm too close to this? Angel, she's tortured you and you still feel guilty about trying to kill her. I've got absolutely no problems with dusting her crazy ass--you just keep the minions off of me long enough to do it. Plus, I've managed to throw off the Master's mind control mojo--Faith might get caught by it the way the Master got me the first time, or how Dru got Kendra. This confrontation is about five and a half years too late--and I'm through waiting for it." She turned to Wesley and Giles and said simply, "Find us an entry point, and show Angel the spell. I'm going to get supplies and get ready--we go tonight." She got up and left the office without another word.

Buffy was already on her way up the main staircase when she heard the voice call from behind her: "Buffy!" She turned and saw Willow standing there with deep concern on her face. The redhead locked eyes with her and said simply, "Buffy--she's really dangerous. I don't want to lose you and Angel because you went in there angry and not thinking straight. I'm still pissed off about Kendra too, but you can't let it distract you."

Buffy looked at her best friend, and her eyes moistened as she whispered, "I know, Will--but this needs to be done, and this debt needs to be settled." She smiled and added, "I can use your help, though--just because I can only take Angel in with me doesn't mean you can't give us an edge." She inclined her head at the stairs. "C'mon--we'll talk while I pack."

Angel stood in front of the crypt entrance, visibly uncomfortable as he held a red crystal in his hand and looked down into the darkness. Buffy stood next to him, her jaw set and a stake in her hand. She looked up at Angel and asked simply, "Are you ready?"

Angel nodded, looked straight ahead, and called out, "By the blood that flows in both of our veins, I demand entry to that which has been sundered!" He threw the crystal to the ground, where it shattered in an impressive display of violet flame. Angel grasped Buffy's free hand and led her across the threshold--and both of them were blinded by a bright flash of light. When their vision cleared, they found themselves in a landscape that Buffy recognized immediately--a simple beaten path with a deep chasm on the right and scattered objects from cemeteries on the right. She swallowed hard and whispered, "Instant nightmare--just add two suckers and bring to a boil."

Angel squeezed her hand. "We're not suckers--we caught her before she could catch any Slayers, and the divination showed that she's only managed to cover a few cemeteries with the Sundering ritual." He released her hand and pulled out a stake. Buffy saw the determination on his face, but she could also hear the pain in his voice as he concluded, "Let's go get her and finish this."

Buffy nodded and they walked along, watching the right side for lurking vampires. None approached, and after a few moments they saw the opening of a tunnel in the side of a hill ahead of them. Buffy frowned and noted, "I had to walk longer to reach that last time--and the cemetery scenery is less varied than the version in my dream."

"You dreamed of a time when she had already turned eight Slayers--she might have had control of thousands of cemeteries by that time. For now, her options are limited." Angel commented, re-gripping his stake and continuing to watch the path ahead.

Buffy raised an eyebrow at Angel's terse tone, but she returned to watching the path ahead. They were about to step into the tunnel when she abruptly stopped and asked bluntly, "Angel, what's wrong?"

Angel looked at her and raised an eyebrow. "Buffy--do I really need to explain to you why I might be a bit tense right now? Between dealing with Dru and worrying about you facing her again? I know we've been apart a lot in the past few years, but I think you know me well enough to understand what I'm feeling right now."

Buffy shook her head. "It's more than that. You've been uncomfortable ever since it became obvious that we were going to have to do this together, and I think it's more than just the fact that I'm in danger and that Dru's involved. If something else is bothering you, I want to know it before we go in there and fight for our lives."

Angel blinked and hesitated for a moment before moving to the side of the path and sitting on a headstone. Buffy sat nearby and waited. Angel looked over at her and said simply, "I've been worried about you for a while now."

Buffy laughed involuntarily. "I've been in constant mortal danger for the entire time you knew me up to May--excluding the time when I was actually dead, of course--and you're worried about me now? You seriously need to get some perspective, Angel."

Angel shook his head. "That's just it, Buffy--there's less reason for you to be worried about life in general these days: you've got a lot of responsibilities, but you've also got a lot more help than you've ever had-- and your biggest headaches are pretty much gone for the time being. You're spending a lot of time alone, isolated from your friends--and your social life is pretty much limited to walking down the hall to the Hyperion Lounge--"

Buffy snickered. "You're lecturing me about being anti-social? The King of the Brood? Glass houses, Angel."

Angel sighed and replied, "Buffy--do you really think I want your life to be anything like mine? Barring some rather miraculous developments, a good amount of misery is built into my existence. I want you to be happy, and I had hoped that these changes would help you and the others in that direction. Xander and Willow seems to be doing OK, and even Dawn seems to be landing on her feet. Giles is really sinking his teeth into the new system--given the stunt he pulled off against the senior partners, I'd say he's doing better than he ever has. But you're isolating yourself more and more ... I know you needed time to do the whole cookie dough thing, but cookie dough goes bad if you leave it out for too long--"

"Stop--there will be no more convoluted metaphors created about my love life tonight, thank you very much." Buffy interjected, then scowled at Angel as she asked quietly, "Is this about us, Angel? Are you saying you want to give it another try?"

Angel shook his head. "The same problems are still there, Buffy--and with the memories of Angelus' latest visit pretty fresh in my mind, I'm really not inclined to take any chances." Buffy's expression softened, and Angel looked away as he added, "Buffy--the last time we talked about this, you were about to go stop another apocalypse. As bad as things are at this moment, I've got a lot more hope for your future than I had then--I think it's time for you to commit to living your life without me in it. It's for the best."

Angel tensed--remembering all too well how a similar statement he had made four years before had caused Buffy to become livid with him--and was surprised when Buffy sighed and asked quietly, "Angel--is this about you being in love with Cordelia?" Angel turned, surprised, and Buffy shook her head and commented, "I've been living and working with your closest friends for six months, Angel--did you think I wouldn't catch a hint that you might have feelings for her?" Buffy moved up next to Angel and squeezed his shoulder, whispering gently, "My god, Angel--did you think that I'd hate you for moving on? I certainly did enough times over the years."

Angel shook his head and said, "Buffy--I just don't know how I feel. I still love you, and I'm sure I always will, but the thing with Cordelia snuck up on me, and things got crazy and she was gone, and then she was back but she really wasn't ... and now she's a half-demon in a coma, Buffy. She could die tomorrow, or she could stay that way for fifty years and wake up looking just like she does now and good for another five centuries-- no one knows. All I know is that until she dies, or we have an opportunity to talk--I can't be fair to a relationship with you or anyone else." Angel blinked, and a tear came free as he said simply, "Buffy--you're going to have to decide if you want to accept being alone or if you want to try to find someone who deserves to spend their life with someone as wonderful as you ... but I'm not going to be the thing stopping you from making that choice any more. If that makes you angry with me, I'm sorry--but I'm convinced it's the right thing to do."

Buffy sighed and shook her head in annoyance. "You know--you're a pain in the ass when you're being noble." Angel smiled slightly, and Buffy held out her hand to him as she whispered, "All right, friend. Let's go get the crazy vampire, and we'll worry about my pathetic social life afterwards."

Angel accepted the assistance, and they held on for a moment after he was on his feet: both were smiling wistfully, and their eyes glittered. Buffy chuckled and inclined her head at the tunnel, and they entered without further discussion.

Part II

Buffy and Angel walked along the tunnel, with the flickering torchlight causing their shadows to jump about fitfully. Fortunately, the roof was not that high and more or less solid, making attack from that angle unlikely. As in the dream, there were occasional alcoves in the walls of the tunnel, but they proved to be empty. They had been walking for about ten minutes (by Buffy's watch--which was functioning, much to her surprise) when the humming began. This time, Buffy had no problem recognizing "Rock-A-Bye Baby." She shivered and muttered, "I don't know what started this particular kick, but she's really starting to creep me out."

"Block it out, Buffy. The babbling throws her opponent off and helps her get into their heads." Angel frowned and re-gripped his stake before continuing, "I've seen her facing off against a demon three times her size and twenty times as strong--Angelus was hiding in a tree nearby: there was no way in hell that he was going to take that kind of risk without a good enough reason. She circled it, talked to it for five minutes, and the damned thing fell into a quivering heap--completely comatose. She walked up with a stiletto, stabbed it through the eye to kill it, and brought its ears back to Angelus as presents. He sent her off with Spike for a month before he could stand to be in the same room with her again."

"You're terrified of her." Buffy's tone wasn't accusatory, just matter of fact.

"I'm terrified of what she might do to you," replied Angel, pulling out a knife and sharpening the stake. Buffy blinked, and Angel whispered, "Anything she does to me, I have coming, many times over--but I won't let her take you."

Buffy gave him a compassionate look and nodded. "Good--hold that thought, but don't do anything suicidal. I'm not going to let her get you, either." A soft giggle interrupted the humming for a moment, and Buffy turned back ahead with a snarl as she said simply, "Let's move."

The tunnel bent right, and up into a large room. Buffy immediately recognized the domed ceiling from her dream, and turned to where Dru had been standing with the eight turned Slayers. The symbol was there, but no one was standing on it. The humming continued, and Buffy saw movement in the shadows on the far side of the room in several places. Buffy saw red and shouted, "Show yourself, Drusilla! If you want Slayers, you're going to have to go through me to get them!"

The torches flickered violently, and Dru slipped out of the shadows like a phantom, giggling and watching them with a smile on her face--madness danced in her dark eyes. She looked over at Buffy and called out in a sing- song voice: "Daddy and Mummy have come for a visit--and Miss Edith is being bad and keeping me from getting the tea ready! We are being bad hosts!" She clapped her hands, and six vampires came out of the shadows. Dru pointed to Angel and called out, "Entertain Daddy--but don't be too rough. I'll be very cross if you get his nice clothes dusty before I can spend a quiet evening with him." The vampires advanced toward Angel, and Buffy was about to move to defend him when she saw Dru turn to her, her smile widening as the insane vampire whispered, "You should visit more often--it has been too long."

Buffy clenched her fist: the stake remained ready in her other hand. "Way too long."

"Then let us remedy that--let me embrace you." Drusilla smiled coldly and made a "come hither" gesture.

"When hell freezes over, you crazy bitch." Buffy snapped, striding forward with her stake raised.

Dru was wearing a red dress with short, ruffled sleeves. She reached behind her back and pulled a throwing dagger, tossing it with the same motion. It hissed through the air and struck Buffy in the upper right side of the chest. In the normal course of things, it would have penetrated her lung and slowed her down considerably. However, things were most assuredly not normal: the point of the dagger struck a blue mass of energy that abruptly appeared in front of Buffy, causing the blade to snap and the weapon to rebound to one side. Buffy stopped ten feet in front of Dru and smiled ferally. "That's no way to treat a guest."

"Mummy's been playing with the naughty witches again," Dru giggled, circling slowly around Buffy. Buffy dared to sneak a peek at Angel, and saw that he was holding his own for the moment--the minions apparently had taken Dru's warning to heart and were using their bare hands to try to subdue him.

Buffy looked back at Dru and focused on a point on her face between her lips and chin--she knew that the eyes were dangerous. She stepped forward and attacked, punching with her left and guarding with her right, looking for openings for a staking. Dru calmly blocked the attacks without otherwise reacting, continuing to circle and to whisper nonsense. Buffy thought of the monthly budget for groceries at the Hyperion--the number of hours that the computers were being used for online games--how many times she had almost punted Andrew off the roof of the Wolfram & Hart building-- anything to keep from having to listen to that mesmerizing voice as she fought for her life. She heard Angel grunt just after the sound of a fist striking bone echoed through the room, and took comfort in the fact that he was still fighting--

Dru's hand moved in a blur, and Buffy's head snapped back from the punch. She staggered back a few steps, and looked back ahead ... straight into the midnight black eyes of her opponent. Dru laughed joyously. "Mummy's paying attention to me--we can sit down for tea!" Buffy tried to look away, but the dark orbs drew her in like quicksand. "Buffy ... come to me."

Buffy found herself shuffling forward, though her hands remained raised to attack. She struggled to stop, remembering how she had thrown off the Master's hypnosis--but this seemed to be another level of power altogether. She managed to slow her progress to a crawl, but she still moved forward.

Dru smiled and waited for Buffy to come within reach before calling out, "You won't need that," and nodding at the stake. The stake fell to the ground and Dru smiled. "That's better. We wouldn't want to ruin my pretty dress."

"Buffy!" Angel shouted. He had managed to stake one of the minion vamps, but the other five were blocking the path to Buffy and Dru as efficiently as a stone wall would have. He looked on helplessly as Dru stroked Buffy's chin with a finger, and leaned in to bite--

Buffy dove to the right, grasping the right sleeve of Drusilla's dress and using it to throw her staggering away into a nearby wall. The sleeve remained in her hand, and she tossed it away with a negligent gesture that was meant to display a calm she was most definitely not feeling right now. Dru had let her attention waver for just a moment when she moved to bite--and Buffy had been ready. That was the only thing that had saved her. Buffy looked over at the visibly relieved Angel, and her eyes flashed an unmistakable message-- <Get free and help me, or I'm dead.> Angel nodded and redoubled his efforts, risking painful attacks to force openings. She turned back to Dru, avoiding the deadly gaze again as she called out, "It takes more than that to put a Slayer down, Dru."

Dru glared at the damage to her dress, then smiled and whispered, "Mummy's being all brave--"

"Stop calling me that! I'm not your mother--and I'd never want to be!" Buffy was furious, and she didn't bother to force down the anger--it was the only thing that might hold off the vampire's awesome mental powers. Dru stepped forward, and Buffy snarled, "Shut up and fi--"

Buffy stopped in mid-sentence. The missing sleeve had revealed Dru's upper right arm and right shoulder. The flesh was for the most part pale and unmarked, but Buffy had seen a single dark spot on the top of the shoulder-- and she felt a chill of familiarity as she stared at it, heedless of the danger of Dru's eyes.


Dru saw the horrified, wide-eyed stare that Buffy was directing at her, and followed her eyes. "Mummy's seen my beauty mark. I remember the nice man with the spectacles and the books coming to visit--he asked me questions and complimented me on my mark and had tea with me and told me that I was a good girl ... that I would be special."

"That you would be Chosen." Buffy's voice felt gravelly, as if she hadn't spoken in months. She began shaking her head and whispering, "It can't be." Her thoughts fled to an afternoon years before, when the Sunnydale High Library still stood more or less intact, and Buffy was reading a battered book on Slayer Lore. The passage remained in her memory as clearly as when she had read it for the first time: "There are many ways to identify those who may be Chosen, but the one certain indication is a small beauty mark of a particular shape, which will appear on the upper torso of the girl, and which will glow bright red with the utterance of the command phrase--" Buffy shook her head to clear it and called out, "Corona Volaris!"

She felt a tingle from her own body from where her own mole had once been, and gasped as the mark on Drusilla's shoulder glowed crimson. Dru giggled and commented, "Mummy knows fun games--Miss Edith and I can teach her more fun games."

Buffy stared at Dru in silence--the only sound in the room was Angel's continued struggles against the minions. <Hurry, Angel> Buffy's emotions were in turmoil: curiosity warred with rage and won. "Dru--why are you calling me Mummy?"

"You're the eldest--you called to us and we came by the legions." Dru spoke matter-of-factly, and Buffy listened in fascination as the insane vampire smiled at her and continued, "The nice man said I would be called, but I never was--maybe they couldn't find me while I was playing with Daddy and Grandmum and Spike. Then I was minding my own business and I heard the Call--I was so happy. I heard it, and I waited--" Buffy blinked, and tears fell free as Dru shook her head sadly, "But the Call didn't get to me- -it was too late. My sisters heard and followed and left me behind, and I was all alone."

Buffy took a moment to compose herself before whispering, "Yes, Dru--it's too late for you to be Called. I'm sorry--I'm sure that you would have been a good Slayer."

Dru brightened. "But that's just it! It's not too late--not really. I can have my sisters back, and we can all be together. Miss Edith reminded me of that dusty old book I keep in a trunk--it showed me how. I made this place where I can bring my sisters to visit, and we can have tea, and laugh, and plan ... and when there are enough of us, we can go into the world and rejoin the rest of them. We'll never be alone again." Buffy choked, and Dru looked at her pityingly. "Don't be sad, Mummy. I wanted to have more of your babies waiting for you before you came, but it's better this way. Every one of our sisters can join us, and the first thing they'll see is your smiling face welcoming them to their new life--" She smiled at Buffy's silence, and chuckled, "You'll see--it's time." She glanced over to see that Angel had dusted another minion--no time to waste. She carefully locked eyes with the Slayer--only to feel a shock that penetrated to her dark core.

Buffy's eyes blazed in rage and horror: she threw off Drusilla's mental probe as if it was a gossamer curtain, and knocked the insane vampire twenty feet across the room with a backhanded slap. Dru smacked against a wall, cracking it, and Buffy paused momentarily to pick up her stake before charging at her reeling foe.

"Mummy, stop struggling--it's for the best!" Dru protested, trying to fend off the enraged Slayer and stupefy her with the awesome mental powers at her command before Angel finished his opponents off and complicated things. She saw Buffy's eyes widen--and she would have sworn that the Slayer's eyes had literally turned into pools of green flame.

Buffy stepped forward and threw a straight left, ignoring Dru's attempt to block it and striking her in the stomach. "I'm not your mother!" Dru grunted, and Buffy immediately followed up with a left uppercut that broke Dru's jaw. "And you--" Sweep kick, dropping Dru to the ground. "--aren't--" Kick to the chest as Dru tried to stand, knocking her supine. "--taking--" Dru's eyes widen as Buffy brought her right hand around for the first time, the deadly stake striking home with a meaty thump. "--them!"

Dru's eyes widened, and she turned to dust as Buffy withdrew the stake and dropped it to the floor. She sat there, staring at the dust and oblivious to the abrupt change in their surroundings. There were four quick sounds of vampiric death behind her, and then Angel was next to her, holding her. She blinked and looked up. They were sitting in a small crypt--the domed ceiling the only point of significant resemblance between the crypt and the room they had just been in. Angel crouched next to her, and his voice quivered as he said, "Buffy--I heard enough to know what happened. I had no idea--she never mentioned being a Potential, and her other powers were more obvious ... " He stood up again and said quietly, "The vampires are dead--you should be safe here. I should go away for a while--you won't want to see me."

"An-Angel?" Angel looked down at Buffy and saw that she was crying openly. Angel waited and Buffy whispered, "Angel--please don't leave me here alone ... I need someone who understands--"

Angel did understand, and he pulled her to her feet and held her as she sobbed and whispered, "She was so alone, Angel. I wanted to just hate her, and then I couldn't, but I knew I had to stop her--"

"You did stop her, for which I thank you."

Buffy and Angel both flinched at the familiar voice, and they turned to see a shimmering figure floating above the pile of dust where Drusilla had been. Her hair was dark and long, and she wore a simple white tunic with loose pants and comfortable shoes. Her eyes were dark and beautiful and completely sane. She smiled and said simply, "You have ended a long legacy of misery on this day, Buffy."

Angel turned away and walked to a corner, shivering. Buffy looked back at him in concern, but the newcomer was an irresistible attraction, and she turned back to her and whispered, "Drusilla."

The ghost nodded. "As I would have been in life, if events had proceeded differently." She chuckled and commented, "Reality turned out to be a bit more complicated."

"You haven't been in Dru--the vampire Dru--all along, have you?" Buffy was appalled at the idea that this innocent could have been exposed to the horrors that Spike's sire had experienced and inflicted over a century and a half.

"Not exactly," sighed Drusilla, shaking her head and looking over at Angel-- who was still refusing to look at her. "Once Angelus selected me as a target, my destiny to be a Slayer and a seer was forfeit. He tormented me for ever so long--hoping to sway me to his will and accept my fate willingly. I never did--he broke my mind, but my spirit never yielded. When he took my life and my soul was released, the Powers offered me a choice as a reward for my zeal in defending my soul: embrace the afterlife and remain forever ignorant of whatever atrocities were to be accomplished with my stolen body--or remain as an observer and be able to take advantage of whatever opportunities I encountered to amend the wrongs she committed in my name."

Buffy closed her eyes and shuddered. "You took the second choice."

Drusilla nodded. "Don't think of it as some great and noble choice, Buffy. Yes, it has been horrible at times--I'm terribly sorry that I couldn't help Kendra--but I had the reassurance that an afterlife of peace was waiting for me when my tasks were completed. It makes things a lot easier. I had my sanity back, and the memories of the pain faded somewhat. I healed, and I waited."

"What were you able to do?" Buffy was curious.

"Not much at first. Her powers were great, and mine as an observing spirit were rather limited." Dru said ruefully. "However, her madness created opportunities, and I was able to take advantage of one of them in particular." Drusilla smiled and said simply, "My full name in life was Drusilla Edith Morrow."

Buffy laughed involuntarily. "You're Miss Edith?"

"In a sense. She always heard the voices, and gave them names. I just started talking myself one day, and told her I was Miss Edith." Drusilla looked rueful, and Buffy blinked in confusion until the ghost elaborated, "Of course, being as crazy as she was, she started hearing Miss Edith even when I wasn't saying anything, and interfering might have given the game away. I'm afraid a lot of really awful things were done in Miss Edith's name."

Buffy shrugged. "Not a lot you could do about it--what did you use the influence for?"

"The main thing was that mob in Prague--I coaxed her into running for a part of the crowd where she'd be beaten to a pulp rather than burned. I was trying to be ambitious--I hoped that Spike would get himself killed in a futile attempt to save her. That plan didn't work so well." Drusilla frowned and asked, "What happened to him, anyway? Dru lost track of him after the incident with the cattle prod."

"He died helping us save the world," Buffy spent a fair amount of time trying not to think of Spike, but it was unavoidable here. "He quested to regain his soul, and fought at the end with honor."

Drusilla nodded and sighed. "Poor William. It's somewhat my fault that Dru chose him--I always had a romantic streak, and she was able to see the essence of an adventurer in that sad little man." She shook her head sadly and added, "At least some good came of it all in the end."

Buffy nodded--not trusting herself to speak. After a moment, she asked, "So it was you who told Dru to use that ritual?" Drusilla nodded, and Buffy's eyes narrowed. "You could have gotten a lot of us killed if I hadn't had that dream! What were you thinking--?"

"Buffy--she knew about the Slayers: your ritual would have alerted her even if I hadn't been a Potential." Drusilla frowned, and Buffy waited as the ghost added, " She was very powerful and very determined to get her way. I chose a method that would limit her ability to act at first, and which you could take advantage of if you had sufficient warning--"

"But how could you know that I would have that dream in time?" asked Buffy, audibly confused.

Drusilla smiled warmly and replied, "You should know better than anyone that Slayers can share dreams, Buffy."

Buffy's jaw dropped. "You mean--?"

"Your ritual empowered every Potential on Earth. Dru had the body of a Potential, but the human soul was gone--replaced by the vampiric demon. I am the soul of Drusilla Edith Morrow--Potential Chosen One." Buffy stared, and Drusilla nodded and continued, "The ritual activated my powers as best it could under the circumstances. I have no true body, so I did not gain the powers relating to strength, speed, resilience, and healing. I gained the knowledge of how to use all weapons, but more importantly--"

"You have Slayer's dreams." Buffy interjected, shaking her head in disbelief.

"Yes, and thanks to my other psychic abilities, I could simply send a dream your way--and Helen's. She's going to be quite powerful, by the way--but those powers can be unsettling." Drusilla frowned before adding, "Make sure someone talks to her a lot about issues that may disturb her--the consequences would be grave if she were to lose her sanity."

Buffy nodded, and Drusilla smiled and said, "In any event, my message got to you in time, and you exceeded my expectations in defeating Dru, Buffy. Which is good--since I overestimated my ability to assist you in the fight. By the time you discovered her secret, I was reduced to praying that Angel would overcome his foes and assist you before it was too late."

Buffy paled, but managed to whisper, "Closer than I like it, that's for sure." She looked at the ghost, and a pang of impending loss struck her as she asked, "You're not going to stay, are you?"

Drusilla shook her head, her expression turning sympathetic as she replied, "My task is done here. I would gladly fight at your side, Buffy--but my powers are limited in this form, and you have a legion of our sisters to stand by you in battle. I leave knowing that you are in good hands." She turned to the silent figure in the corner, and sighed before adding, "Which reminds me of one last task I must perform." She floated over to the corner and whispered, "Angel. Look at me." The vampire flinched, and Drusilla added in a slightly sterner tone, "If you believe you owe me any debt for your past actions, look at me now."

Angel went rigid for a moment, then turned to face the ghost. His eyes were red and his cheeks wet. Drusilla looked at him for a moment and whispered, "Your path is long and difficult, Angel. I cannot see an end for it--or you--in the near future. You have striven for decades to atone for the atrocities of Angelus, and you have come to understand that it is a process that will never really be over. You have caused great pain to those you have come to love, and that is ultimately something that you will have to live with. I have no power to grant you absolution for the others you have harmed, Angel--but I say to you now that I forgive you for what Angelus did to me. Know that I chose to continue the fight as best I could in spite of my death, and that I go on to a better place having completed my mission. May that happy fate be yours one day."

Buffy watched as Angel blinked and whispered, "Thank you," and felt her own cheeks grow wet again.

Drusilla smiled and turned back to Buffy. "Then it is good-bye until we meet again--Sister." Drusilla closed her eyes, and her shimmering form flared brightly and vanished.

Buffy felt a pang of loss, and Angel staggered as if he was about to fall. Buffy moved over to steady him, and saw that his eyes still looked haunted, though he seemed to be recovering. Buffy smiled wistfully and said, "Let's go home."

They left the crypt--which opened out into the cemetery they had entered from--and drove back to the Hyperion, leaving a silent cemetery in their wake.

A week later, the banquet hall of the Hyperion was full, and Buffy sat quietly as over a hundred Slayers and their friends and co-workers ate and talked among themselves. Angel sat at her right hand, silent and ready to assist as needed. After the plates had been cleared away and the talking had died down, Buffy stood up and said, "I didn't announce why I'd called you all together tonight, and I'm glad to see you all here. There is a piece of news that I need to pass on. For the first time since the destruction of the Hellmouth and our founding in this place, there has been a confirmed incident where one of us has passed on to another existence."

Buffy's words provoked a substantial amount of murmuring from the table-- not the least of which was provoked by Buffy's odd wording. Buffy raised her hand for silence, and began to speak. The occupants of the room listened, spellbound, as Buffy described the dream, and the threat posed by Dru's ritual, and the fight in all of its brutal details--followed by the appearance of Drusilla's ghost and what that spirit had said. When she had finished, Buffy was silent for a moment, then said quietly, "Drusilla wasn't a Slayer for very long, but she was our ally in her heart long before she was able to help us, and when she got her chance she performed in a way that anyone in this room should be proud to match. I ask that everyone in this room take a moment to remember Drusilla Edith Morrow, Slayer." Buffy lifted her glass and called out, "To Drusilla! One of us--now and forever!"

Everyone drank the toast, and Buffy nodded to Lorne, who walked to the front of the room and began to sing:

Softly, I will leave you softly For my heart would break if you should wake and see me go So I leave you softly, long before you miss me Long before your arms can beg me stay For one more hour or one more day After all the years, I can't bear the tears to fall So, softly as I leave you there

Angel squeezed Buffy's hand and whispered, "She was very proud of you, Buffy."

Buffy blinked and answered softly, "I know. It sucks to find someone you care about and lose them in fifteen minutes ... I wish I knew for sure that she'd be happy now."

"She is." Angel answered with a firmness that surprised her, and saw that for once Angel's expression indicated a measure of contentment. She smiled and listened to Lorne finish the song:

... or one more day After all the years, I can't bear the tears to fall So, softly as I leave you there As I leave I you there As I leave I you there

(Author's Closing Notes: "Softly, As I Leave You" was one of Frank Sinatra's old reliables, and it was written by Hal Shaper, Antonio Devita, and Giorgio Calabrese.)


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