From the heart of an alleyway far beneath the pouring sky, the cries of men and the clatter of steel ring out like a death knell. Rivers of blood flow between bodies tangled like wild vines; fist and claw and tail and wing, black demon flesh rising up out of the night. Atop it all stands a lone figure, one man, with a sword in his hand and hate in his unbeating heart, dressed all in black.
He is a bold man. A brave man. A righteous and noble man. He holds ideals aloft like heaven in his mind, demon tucked away in the basement of his soul. He is both good and evil, and he is neither. He is the last, the bodies of his lieutenants scattered at his feet. He stands his ground, fighting for their lives lost, for the lives of those who yet live, for the world itself. Sword dancing on the air, rhythm broken only by the staccato burst of fists and rain.
He bleeds out slow, streams of crimson, until he flags and weakens, slipping to his knees.
"Angel," says a voice that is really three voices all at once, and then lightning splits the sky and thunder echoes in his ears.
Hell itself opens, an abyss yawning away from his feet. It swallows him whole and closes silently beneath the light of the moon, rain spattering against the invisible seam in the concrete.
Beneath, there is only emptiness, stretching downward soundlessly into eternity, a vast expanse of unbroken sea. He falls for days, forever it seems, until he comes to rest upon abandoned, hard-baked earth.
It is here that They find him.
Time has no meaning here, deep within the earth, this black pit, this hollow chasm. It is vengeance, despair, and Hell itself, spread far and wide, filling the gap between man and sin. Timeless. Eternal. Certain.
So it has always been. So it will always be.
And then… a spark within the darkness.
From the world above, she comes.
Golden girl, her hair the color of honeyed wheat full and ripe in summer as it spins out, cloud-fine from her clear, tanned brow. It pales slowly, spectrum of color stretching thin at its ends to pure white that wreathes a halo of incandescent flame around her face like pyre. White-tipped flame dances over her skin, licking at her cheeks and leaping from her edges, crackling with whispered secrets and ancient power. Bones small and butterfly frail, she is tiny, so much tinier than the tempests in her eyes that match the storms in her heart, her beloved etched within them, reflected in memory if not in truth.
Savior and Destroyer.
She fights her way here, beyond the serpents that guard the gate, far beneath the green fields of earth and the swollen, rain-filled sky where her beloved fought his last.
From above, she descends, an avenging angel.
He can see her, behind sightless eyes and walls of the mind. Limned in white light and burning with the purity of fire, a conflagration of girl spiraling downward like salvation. She drops like a stone through the realms of Hell, courage in her heart and conviction in her hand.
He thinks that this is the worst part of Hell; the hope. A soul without hope could not endure torment so vile.
Hell disgorged him like an unsavory morsel, pouring him to the floor, naked and shivering. Maybe it will do so, again.
The Furies smile and huddle close, bodies leathery and bloodless save the black blood that streams from their eyes like crocodile tears.
In her fist she clenches a flaming sword, fallen bodies of demons strewn in a dark path behind her. She is not entirely human, and Hell knows it. Accentuates it. More demon than the angel she resembles, her step does not falter as she approaches his throne.
"What have you come seeking, child?"
"The vampire with a soul."
"The vampire with a soul has been rightfully claimed; he spilled the blood of his son. He is Tisiphone's by divine right."
"What?" Pale shock, pink lips round.
"Slit his son's throat, neat as you please. Barely even hesitated." Ixetheon grins wide. "You didn't know?"
"His son's still alive."
"Yes, yes." Ixetheon flits claws vaguely through the air. "Details," he dismisses.
"What about all the lives he's saved? Don't those count on your cosmic scale?"
"Has he given his life for anyone else's?"
The Slayer frowns, fingers tightening her grip on the flaming sword. "In this group? It's kinda hard to keep track."
He sits back, purses his lips and taps the tips of two claws together.
"I offer you something, Slayer. Something that was taken from you, long ago. It holds the answers you need. But be warned. It does not come without a price."
She doesn't even hesitate, eyes wide and serene in the flickering light.
"Give it to me."
"Bend close, come now." Ixetheon grins as he whispers into her ear.
Truth is a double-edged sword, and one side will bleed her just as well as the other.
On a warm fall day where earth meets sky
A Slayer returned to the city of her home
To bid her lover three times goodbye…
And when the tale is told, she stands, wide eyed and shaken
She had opened to him once; his key to her lock. For an instant, perfection, angelic voices that all sang his name and welcomed him home. And then heaven had shut its shining doors and ever after he had only dwelled in her memories as he had once existed; never again to be the creature he had been once upon a time. To feel once and never again. To be forever hers.
To know the name salvation, to have it written across his heart, never to be spoken.
When the Furies come, they smile like knives, pressing kisses on the insides of his eyelids and against the thin skin of his wrist where his pulse does not beat. Wicked, winged women with flashing teeth and desiccated breasts that have never nourished life.
"Our boy?" they ask, their voices great and terrible, shivering sighs that crack the sky itself and tear the heavens asunder.
Fingers like fire notching in his spine. They whisper secrets in his ears, a litany of blood pressed between pages of time. In all the time he has existed, he has saved precisely no one who has ever mattered. Buffy, Cordelia, Connor, Fred, Wesley, Gunn, Darla.
He has damned more than most could count.
Bones crunch, the sound of empty seashells beneath careless feet. Here, there is only rage. Only hunger. Eyes that swim in amber and see with red.
They lick the surface of gold with greedy tongues. Sinking fingernails deep they pluck round fruit from the socket like jewels, devouring them with tiny, relishing bites.
We are the things that nightmares fear." Tisiphone.
"We are the Kindly Ones." Megaera.
We are the Euminides." Alecto.
"We know your name."
"Then you know why I'm here."
"Even you cannot interfere in our vengeance."
"Don't be so sure."
The Furies shiver and rustle against each other like dead leaves.
"He sacrificed the life of his son."
"He earned the right for Connor to exist by trying to save someone else's life. And? His son's still alive."
"The act remains what it was."
"He once sacrificed his life for mine. Gave up flesh and blood, gave up his humanity so that I could live."
"And yet, he survived."
"The act remains what it was," the Slayer says, smile sharp and bright as the sun. "Besides, there are two beings in that body."
"The demon and the man are as one."
"Their union is inseparable."
"And yet, it was the man alone that gave up his life for me. Life for a life. That's justice, right?"
"He belongs to us."
"This ends now."
The Slayer tilts her golden blond head, flames curling sinuously around her face.
The Furies lift their heads and howl in unison.
"YOU HAVE NO DOMINION HERE, SLAYER."
The hairs on the back of her neck prick, spidery shivers skittering down her back. The howl rises, inhuman and wordless now, unfurling as a wind, sweeping through the hollows of Buffy's bones, the soft places between her ribs.
"How about my special demon-slaying sword?" she asks, hefting it up over her shoulder with both hands. "Does that have dominion?"
When it's over, she stands alone, blood pouring from dozens of wounds, the Furies heads scattered around her feet. Their bleeding eyes stare up at her, empty and accusing.
"We cannot die, Slayer."
"We are eternal."
"Our eyes see all."
She puts out the light in each of their eyes with the kiss of her sword tip, and the sound of their screaming rises from outside her now.
From beyond the sound of their inhuman wail speaks a voice that sounds like all things neat and ordered, sharp with precision, carefully weighed and perfectly measured. Honey, thick and rich.
"Thou hast killed the Furies."
His face is even more beautiful than his voice, and she squints, turns her cheek away, fighting the urge to fall her knees.
"Which means you spoke truth, Slayer. Life for life. What was taken shall be given back."
"Does that mean we can leave now?"
The man laughs, and the sound is like the peal of bells, like the screams of the dying.
"All may enter, Slayer. Nothing else is certain."
His laughter spirals up into a roaring wind. The world shrieks and rends, earth tearing open, spasming mindlessly, and the sky itself begins to unravel, stars spooling out in pearly strands.
There's not enough time—
I felt your heart beat—
Alone, you are dead.
Together you were strong—
This is not a lower being—
What was taken shall be given back—
The stone table they'd bound him to cracks, shattering into hundreds of stone fragments, flecks of glittering granite dust coating his skin in a fine sheen. He falls atop the broken pieces, feeling them cut sharply into naked skin.
Above him, the sky swirls orange, shot through with eddies of red to where it disappears into nothing. From the black, empty space, stars fall, hissing and sputtering out, vanishing before they touch the ground.
Beautiful. She's so beautiful, tresses flaming, skin glowing. This is the worst of the torment, he knows, being made to believe his rescue is it at hand.
"Um, Angel? Kinda need to go. NOW."
And then her hands are on him, hauling him from the remains of his sacrificial altar.
They step into the space between worlds, and disappear.
In the heart of an alleyway, beneath the pouring sky, the Slayer opens her eyes. Light dawns, faint in the cloudy east, throwing pale illumination on the piles of demon bodies piled three deep. From inside the ragged, broken wall of a brick building, the sail fin of a great dragon rises, black and iridescent green.
She rises to her feet to see a man already standing there, his eyes caught by the coiled black tail that curls out through the main street. All around them, the smell of death and the scent of ash, and the streets of the city are still save a single church bell that rings out like a death knell.
Then she stops, gasps his name, fear stinging through her heart like the shot of a poisoned arrow.
He stands in the alleyway among the bodies of the dead, and feels the rain cease as if it had never been.
There is sunlight on his skin.
Sunlight on his skin and a thumping rhythm in his chest he'd thought never to feel again. The pulse and rush of blood through his veins, and his stomach turns, revolts at the smell of death all around them.
"It's all right," he tells her, turning and spreading his arms wide in the light.
Tears fill her eyes, shocked in the moment before she runs to him; catches him tight in her arms, and the space of years fly away, diminished to nothing.
"How?" she asks.
He shakes his head, hears the echo of a voice in his mind like a choir of angels, like the end of the world.
What was taken shall be given back—
He'd fought and died here, beneath the pouring skies. Had given his life for what he believed in, to save countless thousands of others. He'd fought and bled and he died right here, alone, and now he stands here breathing and whole.
Because once, he'd given his human life for hers. Because she'd still believed in him enough to plunge into hell, arms spread and teeth bared.
With her embrace, he is delivered.
From the world below, he is born.