The army of monsters surrounded us and began to close in, as we circled the wagons around the crystal that contained the body and soul of Buffy. A seething mass of the vilest evil that ever plagued the Earth. All sent to the bowels of Hell by Buffy Summers and us, the Scooby Gang. And the only thing on their collective mind was our destruction.
Yeah, you could say I was scared.
"Willow," I heard Xander say, as a vengeance demon glared directly at him. "I just wanted to say now, seeing as how I'm probably not going to get a chance later, that I'm sorry about stealing your Happy Hairstyle Barbie doll in elementary school."
What he said to me almost didn't register. I was already too bogged down in my own despair. I had risked everything to save my beloved, and lost it all. Add to the cost of my failure the lives of two of my best friends. I wanted to scream "It's not fair!" into the face of Hell, but my heart was in my mouth. I could sense Angel beside me, ready to fight to the last. Even Xander had abandoned his normal fears in order to take a final stand against these demons. I felt proud of them, and at the same time, I knew that I didn't deserve their support. I had failed them. I had failed her.
And as I reached the deepest pit of self-pity, I sensed that light again, the light that led me here, to Buffy's side. But it was different. Not from anywhere, not from a specific light source, but from everywhere. I gasped at its gentle radiance, as realization hit me; the light didn't come from anywhere, it came from me. I was that light, and the monsters were afraid of it.
As I tried to grapple with this new development, I heard in my heart, my soul, my mind, the words from the Charge of the Goddess, which I had recited with Tara at the beginning of this rescue mission;
"Know the mystery,
At this point, I figured, Hell, what have I got to lose?
I started to ponder within myself. Who I was. Willow Rosenberg. Daughter of Ira and Sheila Rosenberg. Native of Sunnydale, California. Jew. Computer hacker. Wiccan. Spell-caster. Scooby Gang member. College student. Code writer. Lover of Buffy Summers. Servant of the Goddess.
And suddenly, so much more.
My transformation didn't go unnoticed. Angel suddenly gawked at me, shouting,
Willow? What happened to you?"
I smiled serenely, knowing without understanding how I knew that all would be well. "If they're abstractions, Angel," I answered, feeling the energy coursing through me, and unleashing it into a fireball that burnt the first wave of monsters that were on the verge of attacking us, "then so are we!"
And the light suffused me.
I knew, I felt, I was, more than I ever knew, felt and was before. The power of every goddess, every heroine of every myth, coursed through me. Hera's power coursed through my veins. Athena's wisdom shone from my brow. Artemis's skill guided my hands. Aphrodite's passion burned in my loins. Hestia's grace flowed from my heart.
I was Gaia, mother Earth. I was Lilith, the demon first wife of Adam. I was Eve, his true wife and mother of all man. I was both Guinivere, the consort of Arthur, and Morgaine Le Fay, his sister and lover. Saint Brigid, Macha, and Grace O'Malley, all these legends and more, these were my names. I was a Goddess among demons, and these demons dared to keep me from my beloved.
I almost felt sorry for them.
I rose, floated really, above the heads of the frightened monsters. I glared at them, and my stare was steel. "You have taken a soul that doesn't belong to you!" I cried out to them. "We've come to take it back. Any questions?"
I belatedly noticed Xander and Angel standing below me. Xander's eyes were bugging out of his head, and even Angel, who has witnessed over two centuries of weirdness, stood stock still. "How--how did you--" I heard Xander stammer.
"You have to look within yourself, Xander," I answered, calm and serene. "We make our own Hell, Angel said as much himself. We control who we are here. Not them."
Angel regarded me with a knowing look, and took Xander's hand in his own. "I think I get it, Willow. Xander, follow my lead." Angel closed his eyes, and Xander did the same reluctantly. I lowered my body down, and held their free hands, to speed the change. I saw them shudder violently as the power I knew coursed through them. Angel shook his head, and I started to see him differently.
Gone was the brooding, melancholy figure we had known for years. In his place stood an amalgam of the great heroes of his native Ireland, and the United Kingdom. He was Chuchulan, the legendary barbarian hero of Ireland. He was Saint Patrick, Ireland's patron. He was Beowulf, slayer of the Grendel. He was Arthur, king of the Britons, as well as Sir Lancelot and Galahad. He was Robin of Locksley, better known as Robin Hood. He was William Wallace, the Scots rebel known as "Braveheart". He was Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue.
His stance was bold, proud, mighty. His sword (materialized at his whim) glistened in the dim light. He was a warrior borne, and prepared to fight any horde of demons.
I glanced back to Xander, and saw a similar transformation. He had worn a T-shirt and blue jeans. Now, he sported a leather bomber jacket, Ray-Bans, an enormous gun in each hand, and a wild look in his eyes that would have intimidated the Devil himself. I realized that he drew from his own heroes and legends as we did, but while I chose the goddesses and strong women of myth, and Angel drew from the heroes of the British Isles, Xander patterned his inner self from more modern heroes.
He was Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Samuel L. Jackson, Lawrence Fishburne, Jean-Claude Van Damme and even a little Jackie Chan thrown in for good measure. He was taller, more massive in the upper body, more powerfully built, more confident. I suddenly understood why her chose to join the police force. His inner self was, because there was no other term for it, a crime-fighter. A superhero. The Supercop!
"Okay, boys," I announced, "It's showtime!" I conjured a staff, an enormous diamond at its head, and cast the light of my soul upon the creatures before us. The light burnt as it touched their flesh, and they leapt back in agony.
"YEE-HAH!" Xander shouted, spraying a shower of bullets at the retreating monsters. "Welcome to the Matrix, baby!"
Angel said nothing, but jumped into the fray, slicing demons left and right. I had to smile as I watched him work, cleanly and efficiently. We suddenly had the advantage, and we were using it.
He had just destroyed two Gentlemen when a loud, familiar bellow could be heard. Xander and I had recognized the shambling heap that emerged from the thinning crowd of demons. The patchwork body, the misshapen figure before us. Adam. The last demon we ever faced. And the toughest.
"Impressive," he said, almost passively. "But in the end, futile. The Slayer's soul is ours. And soon, your souls will be ours as well."
"Guess again, Mix-n-Match!" Xander quipped. He fired his automatic guns, an infinite supply of bullets in their clips, into the unholy beast's chest. He just shrugged them off.
"That's my boy," Angelus commented, stepping up next to Adam. "Takes more punishment than Wile E. Coyote. You can't take him down, not here. You've followed Buffy here just to join her, sweetcheeks."
"We're taking her with us," I said simply. "You don't scare us anymore, Angelus."
"Then I'll just have to destroy you. And what better way to destroy you than to take out your heart?" He started toward the crystal in which Buffy was entombed, while Adam lurched toward Xander.
Angel suddenly lunged toward his other half, standing between Angelus and Buffy. "You want her, you have to go through me!"
"Whatever," Angelus said, as a sword appeared in his hand. A big sword, looked like a sharpened crowbar. He thrust at Angel, who countered his every blow. They fought like demons, each determined to destroy the other. Each one was equally matched, but it was only a matter of time before Angelus started fighting dirty. And I feared that Angel wouldn't be ready for his betrayal.
"Willow," Xander shouted at me, as he wrestled with Adam. "It's up to you! Whatever power you're channeling, you're the only one who can free Buffy!"
"Wha--" I stammered. I started to argue with him, to ask what he meant, but the Goddess power sang in me. Something happened, something I can't quite explain.
Last Halloween, we faced the Fear God, summoned accidentally during a frat house's Halloween party. The Scooby gang were forced to face our greatest fears, and our terrors turned us against each other. Buffy and I blew up that night, she claiming that my magic was about fifty-fifty in the reliability department, me taking offense at being labeled the 'sidekick'. What we said to each other had really shaken me. I had to deal with my own insecurities over my magic. I screwed up every once in a while, cast the wrong spell, caused Buffy to fall in love with Spike, that sort of thing. And even now, I still feel those fears.
But at that moment, clarity came to me. Absolute clear focus, for the first time in my life. The Halloween party was long gone. My fears, my insecurities, all were forgotten. I knew what I had to do.
I erected a shield between the monsters and Buffy's crystal and myself. I didn't even try to remember a specific spell, I just did it. I knew it would work, the Goddess power within me assured me that it would work. I faced the crystal, and saw her within. Her body, but also her heart and soul beyond the physical form. They were still intact within her. Scared, disconnected, confused, but still there, and still as beautiful as I remember.
I closed my eyes, and reached out to her. I held the Mizpah coin, my talisman to her. I concentrated on that sensation, the call of her soul to mine.
Buffy? Are you there?
I felt something, trying to reach me. I started to relax myself. To feel, rather than think. I felt for her, like a lifeline. She was my lifeline. I had been grasping for her, for my beloved, for the last year. It was now or never.
Buffy? Buffy? Come back to me!
There was something, some formless entity. But it was familiar, warm, safe, beautiful.
Buffy, I'm here. It's me. Willow. I've come back for you.
The entity took a more defined shape. It reacted to me. I could almost sense that it recognized me.
Xander, Angel and I came back for you. We're not leaving without you this time. We're bringing you back with us.
I touched the crystal, and it vibrated under my touch. It felt strange, like a warm electric blanket, but with a pulse. A heartbeat.
I jolted when the voice echoed in my head. I reached further, tracking the source of the voice.
Buffy! It's you!
Buffy! Yes, Buffy! It's me, Willow!
I could hear the monsters fighting on, the crash of sword against sword, the breaking of bones. I blotted those sounds out of my field of concentration, honing in on the voice of my Buffy.
I glanced behind me. Things weren't going well. For all their newfound strengths, Angel and Xander were still fighting hard against their opponents. Angelus and Angel were almost equally matched, and as I knew he would, Angelus started to fight more savagely, more aggressively. He had Angel on the defensive, and I could tell that Angel was tiring.
As for Xander, he was leaping out of Adam's reach, but Adam started to adapt his fighting style to compensate. He started to attack Xander as he landed, and Xander couldn't get out of the way fast enough. Soon, Adam had him in a hammerlock, and he couldn't get loose.
I turned back to the crystal. Okay, Buffy, it's showtime! C'mon, I know you're in there. You're missing a hell of a fight. We need you out here, Buffy!
N-no, Wills, I heard her answer in my mind. I don't know how to get out.
Just focus on me, Buffy, I answered desperately. That's how I found you. I'm right here, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not going to lose you now. I leaned my head against the crystal, and sent one thought, one hope, one prayer.
I love you, Buffy.
Silence. Within myself, outside of myself. Adam and Angelus stopped their attacks on Xander and Angel.
A flaw started to form in the crystal's surface. The crack spread quickly, splitting across the crystal, and a shaft of infinitely bright light poured out of the crack. Within seconds, the crack encompassed the whole of the crystal, lengthwise, cleaving it into two shards. The shards fell to the ground, and fragmented, without sound, only the light. The light filled the chamber, blinding, piercing, penetrating everything and everyone within. Adam, Angelus, and the others who stood as spectators, watching the battle, didn't even have time to scream as their bodies had simply disintegrated.
I dared to look directly at the light. I saw a figure, standing above us, the source of the light. Angelic, terrifying, and at the same time, as familiar as home, and as beautiful as the sunrise. Long hair haloed a sweet, smiling face. Her face.
I couldn't laugh, I couldn't cry, I could only shout out, "BUFFY!"
It was enough. The angel that was my Buffy regarded me with a level gaze, and then smiled at me. It was her smile, the one she wore whenever I served her favorite ice cream, when we laughed together watching "The Princess Bride", when she cradled me in her arms after lovemaking. She opened her arms to me again, and I jumped in without saying a word. There was nothing to say. No words were needed to express my joy, and I don't think that the words that could encapsulate the love I felt for Buffy even exist.
A tiny corner of my mind echoed out to Tara and the others topside; We have her. Now.
Two seconds later, I felt suddenly heavy, and cold. I glanced around me, and realized that we were out of the vortex. Angel and Xander were standing beside me, and the others were gathering around us. I saw Cordy throw herself at Xander, who caught her in his arms. I kneeled on the ground, cradling a body in my arms. I looked at the body. Buffy was unconscious, her pulse was weak, her breathing was shallow. But she had a pulse, she was breathing. She was alive.
Joyce kneeled beside me, hope and fear fighting for control of her face. I looked straight at her, not minding the tears that streamed out of my eyes. I laughed and cried together at once, whispering hoarsely, "We got her!"
Giles stood next to us, and as I looked up at him, I could see the absolute joy that radiated from him. The normally unflappable Englishman was beside himself with relief, with joy that Buffy was well. "She looks pale, and her breathing's a bit shallow," I continued, lifting her body up a little. "We should get her to the hospital."
Angel lifted her body in his arms, and took her to Joyce's SUV. I had to follow them; I just got her back, I wasn't leaving her now. I climbed into the back of the SUV as Angel placed Buffy's body inside, treating her like a Faberge egg. I sat beside her, watching her sleep. I had to take her hand, to touch her, to feel her fingers with my own. I had to feel her, to look at her, to know that she was alive, with me again. I whispered my thanks to the Goddess for allowing me to save Buffy Summers. For reuniting us again.
Pray God you can cope
At the hospital we all waited. Giles sat with Joyce, Tara sat next to Sandra, while Denise stood fascinated by Angel. Xander and Cordy arrived later, as they stopped in the gift shop, and when they arrived in the waiting room, the upper half of Xander's body was lost within a cloud of brightly colored Mylar balloons with "Get Well" slogans.
Oh, it's hard on the man
I looked at Giles, knowing how hard he had taken Buffy's loss in the first place. Almost as hard as I did. He was her Watcher, her surrogate father, her protector, and he felt that he had failed her. Now, he stood by helpless, as we waited for the doctors to examine Buffy. I could tell that he was praying for Buffy. Like we all were.
I know you have a little life in you yet.
C'mon, Buffy. You're stronger than anyone I've ever known. Not just physically, but in spirit, in heart. You taught me how to live, how to care, how to love. And I want to spend the rest of my life showing how much I learned from you. I want to hold you, kiss you, dance with you, cook for you, make love to you, sleep in your arms.
I should be crying
One year. We've lost a whole year of our lives together. I could complain that it's not fair, but so much of life's not fair. Besides, we got something so few people get in life. A second chance. I'm not going to blow it. I've got you back, Buffy, I'm not going to lose you now.
Oh darling, make it go,
A plump nurse emerged from the E.R. ward, and motioned to us. "Are you the ones waiting for Miss Summers?"
"Yes," Joyce answered hesitantly. "I'm her mother, Joyce Summers."
The nurse smiled gently at us. "Your daughter is resting, Ms. Summers. She's been dehydrated, so we've got her on an I.V. drip, and we'd like to keep her overnight for observation, but there's nothing to be worried about. She's slowly gaining her appetite, and Doctor Wiseman assures me that she's going to make a complete recovery."
"EEEEYYES!" Xander shouted happily. "Buffy Summers is in the building!" The nurse gently reminded him to keep his voice down, but his exuberance was felt by all of us.
The nurse looked around, and asked, "Is there a Willow here?"
I shyly raised my hand. "Me," I stammered. "I'm Willow."
"Miss Summers has asked to see you. I can only let you in for a few minutes, but she's rather insistent."
"That's our Buffy," Cordy quipped.
"Can I see her now?" I asked.
"Certainly," the nurse said happily. I could feel my heart thud in my chest. The same heart I couldn't feel at all a year ago, as I watched my soulmate fall into the abyss. "But be advised. Whatever she went through, she may have sustained some partial amnesia."
I could feel Joyce's arms around me, as she whispered, "Tell her we love her. She'll remember you." I gave her a watery eyed smile in return and promised to tell her.
I followed the nurse to a private room. I saw Buffy, my Buffy, the woman I loved more than life itself, the woman I mourned, the woman I missed for so long, lying on the bed, her eyes half-watching Jay Leno. I cleared my throat to get her attention. "Buffy?" I managed to get out before the lump in my throat got too big.
She turned her head toward me, and the smile I missed for so long was more dazzling, more loving, more beautiful than I remember. "Willow," she breathed. "Come on over here." She patted the side of her bed with her hand. "Set that beautiful butt of yours over where I can admire it more."
"You--you remember me?" I asked timidly as I approached the bed.
"Of course I remember you, Willow Rosenberg," she teased me. "My friend, my roommate, my love, my life." She beckoned me with the faintest gestures of her hand, with the clarity of her eyes, with the slightest twitch of her perfect lips.
I sat down on the bed beside her, and she managed to lift herself up so that we were level. All the emotions that were warring within me, all the things I wanted to say to her, all the opportunities that I had to hold her and missed, all came out of me in one second, and I broke down and wept for joy. Buffy held me in her arms, as I held her. I wanted the connection to last forever. For a moment, it felt like we were outside of time, outside of the world. There was nothing and no one but us, and no place where I wanted to be but where I was now, with Buffy Summers in my arms. I heard her whisper "I love you, Wills," and my heart sang. This is what I was meant to be. This is the person in whom I had found everything. And I wasn't ever going to lose her again.
The real world intruded, in the form of an outlandishly happy Xander bursting into the room, his huge bouquet of balloons in his hand. The others followed more quietly. I don't recall what everyone said at the time, mostly cries of "Welcome Back," and "Great to see you". I didn't care what they said. I gazed into the wondrous vistas of Buffy's eyes, and she smiled into mine.
When people ask me if I believe in miracles, I have one ready reply for them; Hell yeah! I had a miracle sitting right next to me, saying that she loved me.
A miracle named Buffy Summers.