Death still lingered in the house.
The house itself was immaculate. Scrubbed top to bottom. But Seo still smelled the traces of decomposing bodies in the air. Still felt the crackle of rift energy surrounding them, violent and fierce. Still saw the harsh lash of timelines chopped short, potentials snuffed out, lives lost and never regained.
Seo looked back at William.
Who turned a gentle, warm smile on her.
"The… group," said Seo. "That opened the rift. Everyone here. Did… did you kill them?"
"Yes," he said, very simply. Plainly. As if it didn't even matter.
Seo wrenched herself free from him.
"They wanted to use you to summon a monster," said William. "Feed your life essence to him, to fuel his power. He would have killed you, Seo. Then the world. I had no choice."
Seo looked around herself. Trying to block out the psychic traces and time distortion left in this place. "I could have stopped them without killing them," she insisted. "I could have found a better way."
William went up to her. His hand on hers. "And what if you hadn't?" he asked, his voice soft. "What if… I'd lost you? Forever?"
Seo couldn't answer.
"I can stop the monsters, too, now, Seo," he told her. "I can save the world. Keep you safe."
She jerked her hand away from his. "I don't kill people," she hissed, her eyes dark.
"I never intended for this to happen," William told her. "I only wanted to see you, again. To get one last chance to kiss you, hold you. To tell you I loved you. But they were going to destroy you. Destroy everything. They required a sacrifice. And so… I sacrificed… myself."
Seo felt a deep chill run over her. "What are you talking about?"
"The rift is not unstable," said William. "Not anymore. I've stabilized it, Seo. Locked the monster away from the rest of the universe. I've become the rift, and the rift's become me."
Seo stared at him. Trying to see past his exterior, see the trace of him through time, the arc of his time-stream and the flow of the universe around him. But… he was just normal William. He seemed as if he'd never changed a bit.
"I don't understand," said Seo. "How…?"
"You are a Lady of Time," said William. "And I, to save you, have become Time's master. I can see the twists and swirls of time as it makes its way around us. Feel the flow of the rift that runs through this house. And so many possibilities! Probabilities! I can see it all, Seo, the vast infinity of time and space, all of history at my fingertips."
Seo didn't answer. Backed away, a little farther.
"Marry me," William pleaded. "We can rule the universe together. Govern the domain of time with—"
"Rule the universe?!" Seo cried. She gave a sharp, incredulous laugh. "You think I want to rule the universe? Change around time and space on a whim?" She gritted her teeth, clenching her fists. "What the hell is wrong with you?!"
William's face fell. His eyes drifting to the ground. "I thought… you wanted everything. I thought…" He nodded, slowly, then turned away. "But I see, now," he accepted. "You want the universe. But you don't want me. Now that I am this way, now that I've been forced to give up my very humanity, just so you could survive…" He began to walk off. "Just remember. I love you. I'll always love you."
Seo felt her hearts break. Chased after him. "No, wait!"
He turned, looked at her, as she approached him. His eyes glum, desperate, lonely.
"Just… tell me what happened, here," Seo said. "What did they do to you?"
"They restrained me," William said. "Forced me into their ceremony. I could feel them… inside my mind. Trying to use me to target you. Release the evil monster upon the world." He looked away, into the distance, as if reliving the memory. "They worshipped Abaddon. As their god. Their salvation."
"But the energies they channeled went out of their control," William continued. "I didn't know what to do. I hoped that… if I stepped into the center of their circle… the beast might eat me and leave you. But instead… I became like this." He looked down at her. "Do you believe me?"
Seo hesitated. "How did they know?" she asked. "That I could open the rift? How—?"
"I don't know," said William. "I don't know very much of anything about magic, really. I'm sorry." He reached out to her, inviting her to his side. "Please, Seo. You're all I have left, now. Don't leave me."
She thought. Thought through everything he'd just said and everything that, given the physical evidence, might have happened here. She couldn't figure it. Couldn't quite get the story to work, inside her mind. The pieces kept… not quite fitting together.
But when she looked up at William, she felt her hearts crumbling, anew. Her every thought thrust aside, as he brought her closer to him. As he wrapped an arm around her, kissed her, kissing away all fears and doubts, letting her be close to him. And he lead her down the stairs, to the cellar.
Where the rift glowed, shimmered, and shone.
It was beautiful, like this, Seo thought. Letting her eyes fall into its energies. A sea of time, a swirl of potentials, a burst of anything and everything, happening all at once.
And he was beautiful, too.
The way his face shone against the side of the rift. The way he drifted along the ground, as if drifting through the streams of time itself. The way his tall, lean body seemed to yearn for her, draw her closer to him, with a gentle yet determined hand that traced the line of her jaw.
He kissed her again. Really kissed her, this time — his mind entering hers, stepping past barriers and locks and seals, arriving deep inside her mind and echoing across four dimensions.
She shivered beneath him.
This was how it was supposed to feel. This was what happened when you did it properly. And she felt herself unfolding before him, letting him claim everything from her, trusting him fully. Because she did love him. Loved him with all her hearts.
And he went down deeper.
Deeper and deeper within her, to the heart of all that made her her. And she let him, let him pleasure her, let him desire her, let him spark that little spark inside her mind that made her gasp and moan and beg for more.
The connection broke, as William stumbled backwards, under the impact of a blow. Seo was pulled away from him by an angry, enraged Dawn.
"You stay the hell away from Seo!" Dawn warned.
Seo tried to get herself away from Dawn. To run back to the poor Billy, lying on the floor, overwhelmed by energies he didn't understand.
"Dawn, he's given up everything for me," Seo tried to explain. "To hold back Abaddon. To stop the rift from collapsing. To stop the evil men in this place from hurting me. He gave that up just for me, and as a result, he's been trapped like this, accidentally stuck as—"
"Accidentally?" said Dawn. She scoffed. "Seo, he's been planning this for the last five years."
"No!" Seo insisted. "The ceremony went wrong. He—"
"He drained the power from them," Dawn said. "Stole their magical energies, just as they opened the rift, so he could control time itself. Seo, I know this trick! This is like Willow going all evil-magic all over again! Except Billy's doing it, specifically, with time!"
William got up from the other end of the room. An evil smile on his face. "You went to my rooms," he said. "Saw my work." He shook his head. "Stupid, ignorant girl. You saw the full extent of the power I'd built up over the past five years, and really thought you could stop me?"
Seo's eyes were still fixed on William. As she kept struggling. Kept trying to break free and get to him. Kept reaching out, as if he were all she had left.
"Seo, he's evil!" Dawn said. "Can't you see it?"
"No," said Seo. "I love him, Dawn. I love him more than anyone else in the world. In the universe." She managed to shove Dawn away from her, in a burst of strength, toppling her to the ground as Seo ran towards the man at the other end of the basement. "He is everything to me."
Dawn pried herself up off the floor, glaring at William. "What did you do to her?"
"Nothing she didn't want," said William. He put his arms around Seo, giving Dawn a cold, calculating smile. "She kissed me. Opened herself, inside her mind. Granted me access to the very depths of herself. Everything that she is." He looked down into the adoring eyes of the bewitched Seo. "So I took her. For myself."
Dawn leapt out at him. "You bastard!"
But froze, in mid-step. For no reason. Unable to get herself to move, as if some powerful force was holding her back.
"She's mine, now," said William, with a cool, calm, detached voice that seemed unaffected by anything around him. "I'm taking her away with me. Somewhere you can never reach. And if you have any sense at all, you'll let me. Walk away from here. And forget all about Seo."
"Yeah, fat chance!" said Dawn.
William stroked Seo's long hair, gently. "The sooner you accept it, the better it will be for everyone. You'll never see her again. I love Seo, and she loves me."
"That isn't love," Dawn said. "What you're doing now, your love spell whatever thing, it's… force!"
"Oh, there is no 'love spell'," said William. "Seo let me into her mind. So I made her love me. Honestly love me. More than anyone or anything else. Just the same way I've made sure that, whenever I speak to you, Dawn, Seo can't hear us." He turned Seo around, so she faced him. Looked deep into her eyes. "Seo," he said, in a quiet, affectionate voice. "Will you marry me?"
She gasped in honest joy, then threw her arms around him, tears in her eyes. "Yes," she breathed. "Forever yes."
William's eyes flicked over to Dawn. "See? She is a being of Time, Dawn. And when I performed my magics, I gained mastery over this rift. Gained mastery over Time. And so… gained mastery over her."
"You've turned her into a puppet," Dawn said. "A slave."
"A wife," William corrected. "The perfect wife." He released her embrace, and tilted her face up to him. Her bright, shining face. "So beautiful. So spirited. So passionate. And she'll do absolutely anything I want."
Dawn struggled to free herself from William's influence. "Seo!" she shouted. "Think this through! Why aren't you asking questions? You always ask questions! You—"
"She can't hear you," William said. A smile on his face. "She won't ever hear you. Not unless I want her to."
Then turned to Seo, his warm smile looking almost creepy in the light of the rift.
"Come, Seo," he said, as he took her hand in his and tried to lead her towards the spiral of rift energy. "Walk with me. Walk through the mists of time. And we'll be married."
Seo pulled her hand away. A suddenly concerned look on her face. "No."
William froze. "No?"
"I'm not leaving Aunt Dawn," said Seo, crossing her arms. She glanced over at Dawn, then back at William, stubbornly. "She's my travelling companion. You don't leave behind your travelling companions."
Dawn felt a grin tug at her lips. Oh, thank you, Doctor-genetics, for implanting a seriously fierce determination to make sure that Seo never left a friend behind! The one thing, it seemed, William couldn't override.
"I'm your travelling companion, now," William explained, trying to take her hand, again.
Seo stepped back. "I'm not leaving Dawn," she said, again, a little more pointedly. "Not here. Not in 1826. I won't force her to stay stuck in the past forever."
William flicked his eyes between Seo and Dawn. Taking in Dawn's increasingly happy expression with only a minor nod of his head, his air still mildly aloof, as if he were not bothered by the change in Seo at all. But… Dawn could tell… he was.
Then he shot Dawn a sneer. And turned to Seo, his arms encircling her in a warm embrace. "But she wants to stay here," William explained. "She believes she can do more good by staying in 1826 than in returning to the future. Didn't you hear her saying so?"
"That is such a lie!" Dawn shouted.
But Seo looked at Dawn as if she'd just said exactly what William had claimed she'd said. Seo's eyes filling up with sorrow, a sad acceptance, a resigned understanding. She muttered to William to please let her say goodbye, then raced forwards and swept Dawn into a tight hug.
"I'm… going to miss you," Seo whispered. She withdrew from the embrace, looking deep into Dawn's eyes. "But I know you'll be brilliant. You're… you've always been twice the Dawn I ever was."
"Seo, he's manipulating you!" Dawn said, trying to reach out and grab her back. But still being unable to move. "Don't listen to him. I don't want to stay here!"
Seo stepped back, sad eyes lingering on Dawn for a few seconds longer. "Goodbye."
Then she turned, rushed over to William. Taking his hand in her own.
"Seo!" Dawn shouted, as she watched the two figures step into the rift. Vanishing in a trace of brilliant energy. All rift energy sealing itself away, behind them.
And Dawn realized, as she was able to move, once more, that she might never see Seo, again.