Disclaimer: All characters, other than
Christian, are the property of Warner Bros, Joss Whedon, and Fox. No infringement
Willow yawned, her consciousness slowly sifting through the murky layers of a good sleep to greet a new day. 'And what a day this will be,' murmured her subconscious. 'Today, you go home.'
"Oh!" Willow jolted awake as she recalled that fact.
"Oh?" A sleepy baritone rumbled beside her. A strong arm draped across her waist pulled her closer. "Oh what?" It was impressive just how quickly a vampire would wake, coming to full conscious awareness from a dead sleep in mere seconds. And a dead sleep Christian did sleep.
Willow twisted, curling up into his chest. "Oh, we go HOME today!" She smiled brightly, terribly content with the universe right now. Willow felt absolutely marvellous. Whether she was cured or not, she didn't know, nor did she much care at this precise moment.
Christian was what legend said of all Italian lovers...incredible. He was surprisingly tender with her, considerate of her innocense, and compassionate in his love-making. And, as a bonus, he didn't snore.
It still surprised her, that he would insist on continuing to sleep with her after having effected the "cure", but oddly enough, she had no arguments with it. It didn't feel wrong, despite the little tirade she could imagine Buffy having, it just felt like a new part of her soul had opened up. A more mature adult part.
"Hmmm..today's the day, huh." Christian teased, kissing her forehead. "I guess we'd better get moving then, huh? We have a spell to cast!" He deliberately included himself in that sentence, knowing that Willow felt incredibly uncomfortable just thinking about what she'd have to do to go home.
Predictably, she sighed against his chest, fingers idly trailing down the tight well-muscled flesh. "Yeah." The word was a little lifeless.
Christian frowned, sitting up quickly, pulling her body up along with his. "Mia cara, nothing will go wrong."
"Even thought the power that opens the portal is really Craith's?" Willow's eyes were troubled, as she confronted a subject that had been worrying her for two days. "I still feel so much anger, Christian. I don't want to be a murderous monster."
The vampire stroked her forehead tenderly, dropping a kiss as he held her close. "Of course not." He rationalized. "Cara, look at it from this perspective, what that spell did was a psychic rape. He took your soul, and tied it to his, his being the dominant." Christian again shifted in the bed, so that he could look down at her upraised face. "What you felt is what any victim would feel, Craith's influence only allows you to by-pass guilt. You are able to kill his demons without feeling guilty, because Craith can't comprehend guilt."
"I thought I wouldn't be tied to him anymore?" Willow frowned, pointedly tapping Christian's bare chest. "I believe that was the purpose of all this?" Her smile, however, had softened her words.
Christen's sly grin curled his mouth, one hand slipping down her back very sensuously. "Oh, it was, and you aren't. But.." He tapped a finger to her nose lightly, "It's like a divorce, and the respective parties have to divide up the assets...that's how it works in your time, right?" He frowned, trying to remember what a previous victim of Craith's hunters had imparted to him. The victim had been a lawyer, and in all of history, no one saved a lawyer.
"Pretty much." Willow yawned, fanning a hand over her open mouth.
"That's why Craith wanted you killed. He went into that spell with more to loose if you survived. You're now in charge of your own soul again, he can't control it, but you've also been touched by his, and his power. That's why you can dominate the will of demons here, not because Craith's soul was joined to yours, but because some of his power is now yours."
Willow burrowed against him, a new thought occuring to her. "I'm damned for it, aren't I" Her whisper was so quiet, so little. Eyes closed, and mind resigned, she'd didn't see Christian's eyes narrow with sudden anger.
The vampire rolled her onto her back into a pillow so fast, her eyes popped open to see him staring at her with hard eyes. "You listen to me, Willow Elizabeth-Ann Rosenberg. You ARE NOT damned. It's not the power that condemns a soul, it's how power is used. I am damned. I willingly gave my soul to a demon, and became part of that demon. I cheerfully kill, destroy, and drink blood. I WILL go to hell if destroyed. You most definitely will not."
Shocked brown eyes stared into his gray ones. "Christian!" Willow whispered. She wrenched a hand free, lightly touching her finger to his mouth. "Hush!" It was nearly incomprehensible to her that this man was half a demon, himself.
He still watched her closely. "Say it, Willow. Tell me you're not damned." The words were strangely important to him, Willow realized. Her finger on his mouth moved to stroke his set jaw.
"I'm not damned." And she believed it.
Christian stared down silently for a moment, his expression strange. "Good." He rolled off her, hopping out of the bed and grabbing up his clothes from the wooden chair he'd dragged into the room.
"Christian?" Willow rolled onto her side, watching him struggle with laces for a moment, before crawling out of the bed and helping him.
His head tilted, eyes looking at her from their corners. "Hmmm?" His arm raised up to allow her access to the laces.
"Thank you." Her hands fell away, their task finished. She sat back down on the bed, pulling the bedsheets to modestly cover her body.
Christian caught up her hand, a small smile on his mouth. Raising it to his lips, he planted a soft kiss in her palm, his eyes tracing the fading scar at her throat sliding down. "You're welcome, amata. Just don't do that to yourself again." He smiled suddenly, jerking her off the bed and into a quick hug. Releasing her, he made to move away, but stopped to smartly smack her bottom.
"Now, hustle up, woman. We've got a trip
The silvery gleaming portal flared to life with a sudden violence, the wind off it blowing the two travellers backwards while they waited it to stabilize. Christian kept his hands tight on Willow's waist, steadying her against the buffetting winds and energies lashing out.
Her arms slowly lowered, drained of energy from the release of the power that fueled the portal. It had taken two days of solid research to discover that benign spell, and a great deal of thought for her to learn to manipulate the energies that would be used. The fact that she COULD manipulate such power clearly discomfited her, and Christian couldn't think of any way to offer her reassurance. It was simply something she had to work through on her own.
The silver fire smoothed, now a sleek reflective pool of highly polished silver. Christian watched a few last ripples slide through it's surface before he pulled Willow towards it. "Inamorata, let's go home." He murmured into her ear, taking her left hand in his right.
Willow looked quizzically at the portal, stunned that it was her creation, before a smile slipt across her face, the first ray of sunshine Christian had seen in over 150 years. Her fingers squeezed his, "Lets!"
The first step was easy, but after that, it became difficult. The power supporting the arch was from deep within Willow, and it recognized her as it's progenitor, reaching out to touch her, to stay with her, to keep her with it. Each step forward became a battle for Willow, as she painfully disavowed ownership to the sorcery constructing the portal.
Each successful separation from the power made the passage behind become unstable and begin collapsing. Christian tightened his grip on Willow, shifting his hand from hers to slide behind her waist, physically pulling her alongside him. It had to hurt, he knew, to be torn from the power like that but it would hurt more to be trapped in a temporal limbo.
Willow's body began to falter, she was no longer able to help pull away from the power as she became weaker and weaker from distancing herself of it. Christian again shifted his grip, lifting her up and carrying her through. They stepped through the other side into a clear night, the silvery portal behind them shuddering terribly. It collapsed with a crack of thunder and a flash of light.
The wino sitting on the park bench a few meters away, with the Sunday paper over his face, pissed himself before passing out after watching the man and woman suddenly appear out of the flaming structure.
"We made it, cara." Christian gently set Willow on her feet, tilting her face up. Her eyes were wide, pupils small and tight, in a pale face. "Cara?"
She collapsed without a whimper, Christian easily swooping her up as she fell. He bent down to the ground, still cradling her limp body, fingers reaching for a pulse and the sound of her breathing. Finding it, he bent his head to touch hers, relief sweeping through his body.
"Ah, dearheart," He murmured, pressing
a kiss to her forehead. "What a welcome home, hm?"
Monday Night, 8pm
(-16 hours after return)
Angel's first words of the evening were not endearing to the dismal group clustered in the library. "We have a problem."
Buffy looked up with red eyes. "Is it about Willow?" She stood slowly, moving closer to her boyfriend, silently pleading with her eyes that he hug her. His arms opened, and she crawled into the comfort of his embrace.
"No." His voice was regretful. "I don't think they're interrelated, but..." He gave Buffy a squeeze, pulling back to wipe the tear trailing down her cheek. "I take it, then, she didn't show up at school today?" Angel looked at Giles, and then Xander, not really expecting Buffy to answer.
"No." Xander spoke softly, regretfully, even as Giles shook his head in the negative. "The police will be posting 'Missing' signs
tomorrow, but they made an announcement today, asking if anyone has seen her." Cordelia, sitting beside him, took his hand in a comforting gesture, for once offering the support.
Angel lightly kissed the top of Buffy's head. "I'm sorry." He held the glance of everyone in the room, tendering the thought to one and all. In his own way, he missed Willow Rosenberg, too, although he scarcely knew the girl. Willow was a balance, for Buffy. It was Willow who offered support of a feminine type, never judging the Slayer as weird, or overly cool. She treated Buffy as a friend, as confidante, and as an equal. Strangely, by doing so, she was a pillar of strength for Buffy in things outside of her role as Slayer.
It was having Willow's support and unquestioning friendship that let Buffy walk through the school, with people giving her funny looks, with the panache, and confidence that were Buffy's hallmark. The whispers couldn't hurt, if she had reason not to let them.
Cordelia couldn't offer this same strength. Willow had accepted her outsider status, and understood of how it felt to ostracised, allowing her to support Buffy in this social isolation. No one would dare look down on Cordy, no one would dare shun Cordelia Chase. And that difference made it impossible for Cordelia to step into Willow Rosenberg's shoes.
"So," The Slayer sighed, pulling from Angel's embrace, and returning to the table. "What's the bad news?"
"Christian Visconti is in Sunnydale, and apparently, he's not alone."
Giles gasped, "You're not serious! Visconti disappeared 160 years ago! We were sure a Slayer had..."
Angel shook his head, "Apparently not."
"For the rest of us in the room, who have less than 2 years experience with that exciting game of 'Name Your Bad-Guy', could we have a little more info 'bout our newest contestant?" Xander inserted sarcastically. He was not taking Willow's disappearance at all well. He, along with the others, had combed through the entirety of Sunnydale. More vampires had been destroyed last night than in the past six months altogether.
Giles ruminations broke away from Angel, and turned to see the Slayer, Cordelia and Xander watching him expectantly. "Ah, yes..I'm sorry. Visconti is, if he truly still exists, somewhere near 700 or 800 years old. With the Master destroyed, I believe he would be the oldest vampire in this part of the world. And his reputation as a vampire is of mythic proportions."
"He's a role model to Vampires. He made me at my worst look ready for Sainthood." Angel inserted drily. The reformed vampire leaned against the book trolley, ready and able to correct or fill in any details for Giles, as the Watcher relayed what he knew.
"Yes." Giles confirmed. "Visconti was changed by his affianced, Katherine Peridot." He reached up to absently scratch the skin beneath his ear, tugging thoughtfully at his earlobe as he pulled old facts from distant corners of his mind. " She was unique, as I understand, among vampires for some reason." He looked to Angel, who shrugged blankly. "Katherine, however, was destroyed nearly five hundred years ago by the then Slayer, Elizabetta Charmain."
"Uh," Xander interrupted, his hand raised. "Question here: We are sure that Katherine is toast, I mean..we have no confusion on this right?"
Angel' eyes rolled heavenward, "Katherine is very, very dead. Elizabetta died for the slaying of Katherine. Visconti went to great lengths to track down Elizabetta, and he rather thoroughly killed her." Angel sighed. "Among the kin, it's always said that he loved Katherine greatly, and the rampage that he entered after her death is one of the glory stories that the Master used to preach to the young ones."
Buffy frowned, "So, now he's in Sunnydale...why?"
"The real estate, Buff..it's always about our affordable Real estate." Xander snorted. "It's the Hellmouth, again, isn't it?" He looked expectantly at Giles.
"Heard any good prophecies lately, Giles?" Buffy sighed. "I suggest you look for whatever drew Visconti here in the first place in your books, and Willow ..." Her voice broke off suddenly, as she found herself looking at an empty chair by the computer. The seat Willow always sat in. "I guess Willow won't be looking stuff up..will she?" The Slayer whispered, a wave of sadness again sweeping over her.
Xander leaned across the table, closing
his free hand over Buffy's. "She will, Buffy. She'll be back, and she WILL
be with us again."
Willow crept carefully across the room, avoiding all the memorized squeaky floorboards as she moved. Seeing clearly in the darkness, she delicately slid the desk drawer out, and lifted up a few notepads to reveal the hidden piece of plastic. "Eureka." She whispered quietly.
"You got it?" A hissed whisper from the window. She turned her head and smirked. Lifting it up, she waved it at Christian. "That's it? That's what we've been climbing rooftops to get at?" He managed to convey incredulous surprise in the quiet sound of a whisper.
"Yes." She murmured. Willow slipped her desk drawer closed, and looked around the room she hadn't seen in two months. It didn't feel like home, anymore. It was so strange, to be standing in the place she grew up, and feel like a stranger.
Slipping silently back to the window, she accepted Christian's hand, and slid her body out to the narrow ledge. Christian gripped the overhanging eves, and flipped his body up, reaching down to pull Willow up to. The redhead grinned, tossing up the piece of plastic he'd snuck through the small city to retrieve, and easily flipped her own body up to the roof, her long skirt only half up to her knees before she righted herself, as silent as a cat.
"Aren't you full of surprises," Christian commented, admiring her grace. He rose to his feet, passing the plastic back to her. "So, this little square will do what for us?"
Willow linked her arm easily in his. "This, my dear Christian, " she said, waving the square under his nose. "This is virtual money. It's the most useful card a woman can have...it's an AMEX."
Christian rolled his eyes. "That helped, totally cleared it up for me...thanks for explaining it. Can we go now? I'm getting hungry"
Willow sighed, "What about the alternatives I've told you about..are you sure you don't' want to try them?" He lifted her up suddenly, leaping to another rooftop. They followed this roof to the side of the house, where the shadows were thick, and climbed down to the ground, and took to the sidewalk.
"Willow, Amata...I think you're a wonderful girl, an incredible woman, with a delightful mind, an incredible sense of humor, and a wonderful understanding of most things....but the hunt is something you will never understand." Christian stopped walking, catching her hand, and spinning her to face him. Tilting her chin up, he bent his head and lightly kissed her. "Now, we will meet at that building you showed to me, yes?"
Willow shook her head ruefully, understanding his love of the hunt, despite what he thought, but unwilling to condone it. "Yes, we'll meet at the Shopping Mall.." She pointed her finger at him sternly. "If you don't have to kill, don't! And please don't let anyone see you dressed like that" She waved the hand up and down to indicate his leather pants, and the rather medieval shirt and vest he wore. Of course, she silently reflected, her own clothing was no better.
Christian caught her hand easily, pressing a kiss to the palm. "Yes ma'am." Dropping it, he disappeared over a fence and into the night.
Willow watched him move, smiling slightly as he vanished. "Men." She laughed. Christian was something, all right. She smiled as she kept on walking. He was a contradiction to himself, of himself and of vampires in general.
Perhaps it was his time in Craith's realm, that had changed the vampire in him so much. He had admitted to her how much he loathed the random slaughter of so many humans. How it sickened even him. He, too, had killed since becoming a vampire, frequently and with pleasure. He'd even gone on a massive killing binge, once, after the death of the vampire that made him.
Listening to him admit these things, though, Willow heard regret in his voice. Whatever it was that had changed him, she doubted even he had recognized it yet. He was a bad man, she knew this. But he was kind to her, gentle with her, and very protective.
He loved sunrises. He had insisted , after stepping from the fiery inferno of the portal in the wee hours of the morning, on waiting to see the sun come up. That had worried Willow, that he'd walk into the sun and be consumed by it's light.
And that she felt panic imagining that, only worried her more. Christian Antonio Visconti was rapidly becoming a very important person in her life. And she wasn't too sure that was a good thing.
But despite her fears, they had sat on a grassy hill, overlooking the sleeping Sunnydale, Willow cradled in his arms, his chin resting on her shoulder. The Monday-morning sun had risen, slowly cresting over the eastern horizon, bathing them with it's warm brilliance. It was a weird feeling, the sun had pricked at her skin, stung her eyes, and yet, felt absolutely wonderful. This was earth, this was her reality...this was home. And the man holding her tightly shared her joy with childish exuberance.
For a vampire, he had a major identity crisis happening.
Willow snickered, a sudden vivid image of Christian sprawled lazily on a a therapist's or psychiatrist's couch, his sexy indolent smile on his lips, popping in her mind's eye. What would the psychiatric community make of Christian Visconti? It'd be the biggest study on 'denial' going, taking years, if not centuries to complete. Her smile faded with that thought. In what would be the merest blink of his eye, she'd be dust and less than a memory. He stood outside of time, and she was trapped by it.
"I'm starting to care too much about him." Willow whispered, looking up at a waxing moon. "I can't let him mean too much to me, 'cause when he leaves...it'll break my heart." The moon said nothing, it's light unwavering. 'I wish I could talk to Buffy...' Willow sighed. But, she couldn't even do that.
The shopping plaza was a half block away now. She probably could have gotten there faster, but, the need to hide in shadows, to pass unseen was paramount. From the newspapers tossed in the garbage at the park, they knew she'd been "missing" only three days.
Explaining her clothing, the week-healed scars on her body...amongst other things would be too awkward. And by now, her parents would have called the Police into investigate. Besides, oddly enough, she didn't want to see people. 'I can't avoid people forever.' Willow mused, shivering slightly. 'Cold? I'm warm..why?'
The shiver ran through her again, this time, a cold fist closing around her heart accompanied it. "No!" She gasped, eyes wide. She looked around, trying to find them. "No no no no, I can't feel them..I can't see them..no." Craith's Hunters were nearby. And they were hunting prey.
Willow pressed herself against a brick wall, fear spiraling higher and higher as memory overwhelmed her. She stood against a building in Sunnydale California, but at the same time, she was frantically scrambling over the ruins of Christian's small cottage, trying to outrun the Hunters. Their cold skeletal faces, glowing sulfureous eyes and the death they represented surrounded her, encircling her..capturing her.
"No." Willow slipped down the wall, clamping hands over her ears, and whimpering as she felt the terror again. She knew she was waking Christian up with nightmares of this. He never said so, but over the last three nights, she'd found him gently cradling her, rocking her after she woke up absolutely petrified.
"Aaaah!" The male howl of pain hit her like a brick. XANDER! She jumped up. "Uhhh!" And the hunter's battle cry, too high- pitched to be easily heard, struck her adjusted senses. Willow didn't hesitate, didn't allow her fear to touch her, she just ran. The hell she'd felt in those bastards hands would not be experienced by Xander.
Racing back a street, she turned down an alleyway, drawing nearer and nearer the Bronze as she went. A fence cut off the alley, but she easily jumped up to the garbage cans, hit the dumpster that was rusting against the exterior facing of a building's wall, and vaulted over.
More sounds reached her now, something was struggling with the Hunters. 'Not Xander,' Willow thought. Xander lacked the physical prowess, and the knowledge Willow had dearly paid for, to stand against a Hunter. She was getting closer, now, though. She could feel the Hunters, three of them. The reanimated corpses so infused with Craith's power and evil broadcast their presence to any creature attuned to it.
Another presence was fighting them, one Willow recognized easily, before she heard his voice. 'Christian!' Despite the situations gravity, she smiled. As long as Christian was there, Xander would still be alive.
"Stupid, damn boneyards." Christian snarled, his fangs making the words sound as mangled as he envisioned the Hunters after he was through with them. He lashed out, kicking the knees out of one, "That's for destroying my cottage." He spat. His arm shot out, tearing right through the bonebags desiccated body, and pulled back sharply, removing a section of the spine. The creature collapsed down. "And that's for what you did to Willow."
One of the other creature used it's companions destruction as an opportunity to attack the enraged Vampire from behind. It's arms wrapped around him, the bones razor sharp and digging deeply into Christian's torso. "Damnation!." Christian fought back, watching as the third Hunter came straight at him, the thing, long shard of bone they used as spears, knives and tools of torture aimed for his heart.
Willow rounded into the scene in time to see the two Hunters about to destroy Christian. The images of a world without Christian that she'd tried to envision now horribly clear. Her fear of the Hunters was overpowered by the cold burning hatred of them.
"ENOUGH!" She hissed, her mind pulling at the bond she could sense lying between the creatures and their master. It snapped, cutting Craith out from finding out what would happen to his beloved pets.
The eldritch tearing at the fabric of their creation didn't go unfelt by the demon Hunters. The one advancing on Christian turned to in the direction of the voice. The other one's grip on Christian must have reflexively loosened, as the vampire dropped down, rolling out of it's grip.
"Youuuuu?" Their voices less than a voice, and more of a sibilant hiss. Theoretically, they shouldn't have had the power of speech, but the magic that created them gave a mental voice that could be broadcast wherever it pleased. "Noooo..Massssterrr cccccomandeddd youurrrr..."
"Death?" Willow chimed sweetly, "Yes, he did...but I got all better." The Hunter lunged for her, outstretching it's bone weaponry. Willow stood still, reaching deep as Christian had shown her, and finding the strength and hatred to kill again.
Sidestepping with inches to spare, she reached out and lightly touched the Hunter as it past, ripping it's constructed soul, the aspect that gave it sentience and unlife, from it's desiccated body. It crumbled to dust.
Her fingers splayed open, palm up, and tiny glittering grey motes of the magical remnants of that soul danced between her fingertips. Her head dropped forward, and turned just slightly, a tiny smile curling her lips. "You're right, Christian, the settlement was good... it just needs a little more to be perfect."
Christian grinned from where he stood behind the spellbound Hunter. "I say you take Craith for everything he's worth, Inamorata." The vampire moved with silky grace, sliding up behind the Hunter, even as Willow boldly walked up in front of it.
Her face was still visible to Christian; Craith never created brawny hunters. He could easily see the light in Willow's eyes, a pure reflection of Craith's unholy wedding present..the touch of his soul on hers. The girl he had held in his arms wasn't in that face, right now. She was still there, but subdued to the dominant will of a holocaust survivor from Hell's pits.
Her eyes flicked to meet his, and Christian found what motivated her, what it was that loosened that darkness again, and understood. The terror's these creatures had inflicted on her could never be taken away, but her superiority over them could be exorcized. Besides, and this made Christian's face again shift in anticipation, the loss of three Hunters would HURT Craith. Especially since the spells that had created them were old. Backlash would be a bitch.
"Good bye." He whispered arrogantly to the creature. Willow smiled, and in perfect synchronism, Christian let his hand tear through the body, while Willow's outstretched hand summoned the spirit out.
Christian absently dusted the dust on his clothing off. "All gone." He sighed, sounding almost disappointed. Willow was already moving, the Hunter's forgotten. She moved to the fallen mortal's side, gently touching his neck for a pulse.
"He's okay," Christian assured her, coming to squat at the boy's other side. "I can hear is heartbeat."
"Good." Willow murmured. "I wonder if Craith has any more surprises lying around here. I'd hate to leave him, so something else could come along and victimize him." Her finger softly stroked the boy's cheek, affectionately.
"You know him." Christian observed, his voice hardening. He stood up abruptly. Willow's head bobbed up to look at him, surprised by the sound. A tiny frown creased her forehead as she studied his face.
"Yes. His name is Xander." She said, reaching out a hand to Christian. His cool fingers closed around hers, and pulled her to stand. "I've known him since we were children. He was my dearest friend."
"Do you love him?" Christian's voice was brusque. He stared down at the boy with scornful contempt.
Willow blinked. ' Where was this coming from?' She wondered. "I did once, yes." The answer surprised her, and she felt the ringing depth of sincerity in saying it. She moved closer to Christian, watching him. "Why?"
Christian's eyes turned to meet hers, dark and unreadable. 'Why?' He froze. 'I...don't know. Why do I want to know this? What does it matter if she loves this....child.' He shook his head, speaking aloud now. "I'm sorry. I don't see you the same as I see other mortals, I guess." Those words weren't right either, he could tell by the hurt in her eyes.
Mentally kicking himself, and still not knowing why he felt badly, Christian tugged her into his arms, and held her tightly. "I am sorry, mia cara. I would not have my word's hurt you, but I can't help what I am. I do not wish to change."
"Oh Christian." Willow sighed sadly. "You don't get it yet, do you? I am not asking you to change. I would like nothing more for you to suddenly loathe the kill, and hate the thought of preying on humans..but I'm not expecting it, or asking for it."
Christian smiled, his chin atop of her head. "You are a unique lady, Willow Rosenberg. In many ways, you remind me of the one who created me, my Katherine."
At their feet, Xander groaned. Willow pulled away from Christian, looking down. "I don't want him seeing me, not like this. Not yet. We should go....but..is it safe to leave him alone?"
Christian shrugged. "You tell me, is any of your estranged husband's ghouls around?"
"Do you have to do that?" Willow jabbed him lightly in the ribs. "He's not my husband. We're divorced, now." She teased, playing along with the metaphorical analogy for Craith's sorcery.
"It's a good thing." Christian poked back, tugging her away from Xander. "I'd have to kill him if he still had you." He grinned suddenly, "Actually, no..I still have to kill him, just because he irritates me."
"Get in line!" Willow laughed.
"Was in line first." Christian led her out to street. Willow held back, still hesitant to leave Xander, despite the evidence that he'd be fine, once his goosebump went down.
"Sorry, dear, but...as his estranged bride, I get to jump ahead of all other claimants." Willow tugged at his hand, staying his movements. "Maybe we shouldn't leave him..just yet..what if something comes along?" She murmured, hesitating. She turned back slightly, looking at Xander's slumped body.
Christian's eyes were distant. "Oh something's coming alright." He said distractedly. "There's a Slayer heading this way."
Willow frowned, spinning back to watch his face. "Are you sure?"
"Cara, I'm speaking for vampires, here,..something I'm inherently capable of doing, and I can guarantee I'm feeling a Slayer very, very close by." He almost sounded anxious. He leveled his most conniving expression on her, "Let's go...what did you call it? Shopping."
Willow rolled her eyes. "Shopping?"
"It was your idea. I believe you said my
clothes were antiquated?" Christian tugged her to the sidewalk, dragging
her off, and leaving the boy in the alley to await his nearby friends assistance.
Xander groaned, the words in his strange dream bashing again in his head. It had been Willow's voice he'd imagined, he realized hazily. Like she was talking around him, to someone else..or some ones else. Someone called Craith..and Christian...and...
*Christian!* Xander sat bolt upright, only to lean forward and clutch his aching skulls reaction to the motion . "Ohhhh..that hurt. There were those..things...and then that vampire...what happened?"
"Xander!" Buffy's shocked voice sent his head ringing. Out of nowhere, the Slayer's strong arm slid around his back, supporting him. "Let me see..what happened to you?"
"Willow! Buffy..Willow was here! I heard her....she's with that vampire, Christian." He spewed it out as fast as his mind could string it together.
"What?" Angel's voice joined Buffy's. "Let's get him to the Bronze...Giles is there posting missing notices. He's got to be hallucinating." The vampire suggested.
Buffy nodded, hoisting Xander to his feet. "Okay."
"No." Xander pushed her away, his body wavering as he tried to focus. "I'm serious. She was...talking about a Craith ... and ... surprises ..." Xander closed his eyes, trying to will Buffy's two bodies to coalesce into one.
"Craith?" Angel suddenly repeated. "Did he say Craith?"
Buffy frowned, "Yes, why?"
"You know how I said I had bad news earlier?" Angel grabbed the reeling boy, unceremoniously dumping him over his shoulder.
The cold shiver of deja vu ripped threw Buffy. 'It's getting worse,' she thought just before Angel spoke.
"The bad news just got a lot worse."
"...husband? You're sure that's what you heard?" Giles probed anxiously. The Watcher paced back and forth by the table the young adults were clustered around. Cordelia beside Xander, holding an icepack to the back of his head.
"Yeah..I don't think I dreamed that...but...it sure sounded weird." Xander muttered, mentally trying to envision his Willow married to anyone. It was too much of a stretch for his imagination.
Giles frowned, stopping in front of the table. Only Angel appeared to already understand the depth of his concern. "Xander, Craith was a known sorcerer...perhaps...1300 years ago. He was known for his use of blood magic, and was perhaps history's largest single mass murderer. He sacrificed thousands upon thousands of the peasants and slaves on his lands."
Xander stared silently, still not comprehending.
"Craith made a deal with the Old Ones, for immortality, according to the older legends." Angel interjected. "He was the most evil human alive, he didn't even have the excuse of a demon possessing his body. He killed and sacrificed for power and pleasure."
"But, if he lived 1300 years ago..and no ones heard of him in all that time, as a regular kind of bad thing," Buffy piped up. "Wouldn't that mean he was dead? I mean, the Old Ones were imprisoned in the Hellmouth long before this guy.."
"Not quite, Buffy." Giles rubbed his chin. "Nonetheless, I can't quite connect Willow to this, unless it's a sorcerer's marriage, at which point, I don't even know if that was really Willow that Xander heard."
"Come again?" Buffy leaned forward, openly confused.
Giles pulled off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I mean, that it could have been her body, but her soul and mind may have been irretrievably destroyed."
The three teenagers didn't like that at all. The icepack Cordelia held fell from her limp fingers, Xander began shaking his head in denial, and Buffy got angry.
"I don't want to believe this, Giles. So, I'm going to prove that Willow's soul and mind are just fine." She stood up, her jaw set to deny whatever she wished. It was a familiar expression, the same one Giles had seen just before she left to face the master. Just before she slugged him.
"Where are you going?" Giles through the question after her rapidly moving body.
"To find Willow, and see just who's living
in her head."
"No." Willow said with finality. "Absolutely not." Her arms folded across her chest, she thrust her chin out defiantly.
Christian smiled, loving the challenge. "Ah, but...it makes more sense for fighting Craith, if you were wearing such comfortable clothing, hmmm?"
"That's not comfortable. I've seen gloves that are looser." Willow stared at the assembled outfit in pure horror. "How is it we're shopping for me? It's you that needed clothes."
Christian shrugged, dragging her closer to the outfit. "We did me, see.." He stopped, turning in a slow circle, mimicking the models he'd watched on that fashion show, earlier in the afternoon. "Now, it's your turn."
"No." She stomped her foot firmly. The vampire persisted, dragging her closer to the black leggings and crop top. "Look..you're the one that said all these skimpy clothes were scandalous, do you remember that?"
Christian shrugged, eyeing the top hungrily. "That was then. This is now."
"I'd be feeling more dressed nude!" Willow hissed.
He turned, looking her up and down with an openly speculative eye. "Well, now...THERE'S an idea." The twisted smile on his face made her hand just itch.
"Christian..." He pushed her a few more steps, leaning down to hover by her ear.
"Just try it on." He whispered softly. "If you don't like it..you don't have to buy it."
'Yeah. Right.' The little voice in the back of Willow's head muttered. 'Just like the rest of the clothes he's conned you into.' If Cordelia ever saw her in any of those outfits...she'd never be accused of even knowing where Sears was.
Defeated, she fetched out the bottoms and tops in her size, and trudged to the fitting room, her posture reflecting her undoing. Christian sat down on the provided chairs, and waited, enjoying the show each fitting room provided.
He'd purposefully been difficult while shopping, to distract her from thoughts of the boy. It bothered him still, his reaction to her kindness to that boy, but there it was. From the moment she so tenderly touched that whelp..Christian had ached to rip the boy's throat out.
Somehow, he doubted that would go over well. What a mess. He refused to look at why he was feeling this, he refused to even consider that he was feeling anything. He wasn't. After being alone so very long, with no companionship, he was enjoying having Willow's attention. That was all.
It was just loneliness. 'Vampires are solitary creatures.' Whispered that evil little voice in the back of his head. "Damn subconscious," he muttered. "Stay out of this."
He liked Willow, yes. He conceded reluctantly, mildly satisfying his subconsciousness' whispers. She was interesting, challenging, intelligent, understanding, beautiful, sensual and incredible. But..still..he didn't care -- right?
"Right. And I'm as pure as the Catholic Church." He muttered. He couldn't care for this girl. She'd get tired of him soon enough, and move on to someone like that boy. Someone her own age, who could give her things that Christian couldn't. And he'd be alone. Again. Just like after Katherine died.
So lost was he in his musings, he missed the warning flags of approaching danger in his head. The stake at his throat, lifting his chin up was a mild surprise, in a week full of surprises. "Where is she?" The Slayer standing behind him asked. "I want to know where Willow Rosenberg is now."
Christian kept his mouth closed. If Willow had wished to see her friends, she would have, already. The girl had her own inner demons to purge before she could take on the ones her friends would hand her.
"WHERE." The Slayer's voice was getting louder as her temper rose. The stake jerked out from under his chin, and was moving for his heart.
'Again?' He found himself irrationally thinking. 'Why are supernatural-beings obsessing with staking me today?'
The stake never hit it's target. Buffy's wrist was seized from behind, and pulled up. The awkward angle made Buffy's body twist, and another hand clamped down on her shoulder, and heaved. She hit the wall with a tremendous impact, shaking her head to clear it, and looking up.
Into Willow Rosenberg's very angry face. "Willow?" Buffy's tongue stuttered over the name, shock written across her face. Willow's long red hair seemed almost wild, and impossible longer. The outfit she was trying on emphasized the slim leaness of her body, but also showed physical changes like more pronounced muscles, and small scars. Willow looked older.
"Buffy." The redheads voice was curiously flat. Her hand's were tilting up the vampire's throat, checking for any sign that the Slayer had hurt him. "How did you find me?"
The Slayer eyed the floor quickly, looking for her fallen stake. She wasn't sure what control this vampire had on Willow, but her senses said there was only one vampire present in THIS room. "You didn't want to be found?" She asked, finally spotting the stake on the floor by Willow's foot.
Willow sighed, the cold anger draining from her body to be replaced with a profound weariness. "No. I guess I didn't." She admitted. Christian set his hands on her shoulder, comfortingly. "But, now that I am, I guess I have to live with it."
Buffy glowered to see the vampire so near her friend. "Why are you protecting him Willow? Are you nuts? He'll..."
"Do nothing." Willow said with certainty. She turned to look at Christian, murmuring someting in soft words that Buffy couldn't hear. The vampire nodded once, curtly, before drawing back and leaving the store.
Buffy darted forward, catching Willow's hand. "Willow..let's go. We've been worried sick and...." The heavy alien feel of a ring on Willow's hand caught the Slayer's attention. "What the hell is this?" Lifting up the hand, she stared at the garnet ring on Willow's left hand. Her stunned eyes raised to look into Willow's saddened gaze. "Xander said....he thought he heard.....husband..?" Buffy whispered.
Willow closed her eyes for a fraction of
a moment, a shudder of revulsion rippling through her thin body. "Get the
others, Buffy. Just go get them, and meet us at the Bronze." She sighed,
turning her back on the Slayer and walking into the fitting rooms again.
"We'll talk there."