(Fic) Legally Dead
This is a story about how and why Kennedy died.
Takes place between 'Chosen' and 'The Long Way Home'.
Rating: 15 (Warning for character death, obviously enough.).
ETA: There's now a sequel for this, And All My Secrets Laid Bare
ETA2: Director's Commentary for this fic is here.
Kennedy was still embarrassed by the fireplace. OK, so some relics of the 1970s were cool again. But genuine log-effect gas fires? Give me a break. When she and Will first moved into this apartment – a 21st birthday present from her father – she'd immediately decided to strip it out.
But she'd forgotten that her Willow was a California girl, who struggled in a city where the nights were actually cold. The second time she came back from a late-night patrol to find Willow huddled pathetically in front of the blazing fire, she'd relented. Yes, her girlfriend was well aware that the central heating would keep the room just as warm. Yes, she knew her need for the fireplace was purely psychological. She'd studied psychology under one of the finest evil mad scientists in the country, hadn't she? But the fire was warm and cosy and flickered prettily and she wanted it.
And the next night, Kennedy came home to find that Willow had bought a big, thick, warm and soft rug that she'd spread in front of the fire, and she's been waiting for her curled up on it with a big, welcoming smile of anticipation, a bottle of wine with two glasses, and a distinct scarcity of clothing for someone who was supposed to be feeling cold. After which, Kennedy never once regretted having the fire.
Even if she didn't really want anyone else to know it was there.
And now, here they were again, stretched out naked on the rug in front of the fire. Kennedy gripping her lover's hands as Willow spasmed, her back arched, every muscle locked. But sex was the last thing on her mind as she anxiously stared into Willow's face: her mouth slack and gaping, her eyes rolled back in her head. Kennedy prayed silently to a god she no longer believed in, sent her strength and love through their joined hands in the way Willow had taught her. Using the magic she'd once dismissed as fairy tales to guide Willow back on the path to home and safety.
Hoping desperately that she'd got it right, that the rote-learned phrases she mumbled were the right ones.
For a bleak moment, the thought stole across her mind that she wasn't the right person for this. She wasn't a natural witch; she lacked the power, the feeling for magic. She was trying to fill someone else's shoes, but they fit badly and she was putting Will in danger. Kennedy had always hated being second best; success came so easily to her that she took it for granted… and resented anyone taking the spotlight away from her. Well, suck it up, girl; other things are more important than your stupid pride.
Like Willow's life.
She might not be a powerful or skilled Wiccan, but she poured heart and soul into the spell, clumsily reaching out into the netherworld until she felt Willow's spirit-fire flickering, shining through the dark mists, and clinging to her like a lifeline. Then her lover's hands twitched in her own, and her chest rose and fell convulsively, and Willow's eyes blinked as awareness returned to them.
"Welcome back, love."
She'd never admit how much it pleased her that the first thing Willow said was her name; but her eyes glowed. Then Willow started shaking convulsively, and Kennedy took her in her arms. Clung to her, skin to skin, letting the heat of her own body warm Willow until gradually the trembling subsided. Willow sighed then, and rested her head on Kennedy's shoulder.
"What did you find out? Did you get the key, or the map, or the whatever it is you wanted?"
"Oh. That. Yeah, I – yeah."
"And? Come on, aren't you supposed to be excited? You risked your life for this information, Will, I hope it was worth it."
"Can't what? Can't tell me?"
"No, it's not that, of course it's not that. I got the information I need: the way to Nehushtan's realm, even the right way to ask her favour. I got everything I need. But I can't do it."
"Come on. You're Willow. You're the most powerful witch on this planet. If it's been done before, then you can do it too. I know you can."
"OK, so I misspoke. I can do it, but I won't do it. The price is too high."
There were tears in Willow's eyes as she lifted her head to look at Kennedy, put out a gentle finger to stroke the side of her face.
"You. The price would be you."
They'd avoided the subject after that. For a week or more, they'd both gone about their business, talked of trivial things. Got on with life. Ignored the unspoken shadow that hovered over them.
But Kennedy couldn't forget it. So one night when Willow was asleep she slipped out of bed, gathered up the scattered notebooks, and tiptoed into the sitting room. Turned on a lamp and read through all of Willow's notes. The next day, she did the round of the local demon haunts; much to her disappointment, she didn't even have to beat anyone up to get the information she needed. Her reputation was spreading, and sometimes that wasn't a good thing.
Then she confronted her lover. Told her that she knew how powerful Nehushtan was; how valuable her gifts could be. Insisted that Willow find a way to reach her. Assured her that she was a big girl; that she was willing to make sacrifices if she had to. She was a Slayer now; fighting evil was her life's work, and Willow's power was the single best weapon the good guys had. She was willing to pay the price for that, and Willow had no right to prevent her.
"But sweetie, I can't let you—"
"You can't stop me. Come on, tell me. According to what that big scaly guy with two heads told me, Nehushtan is the ancient serpent goddess of wisdom. Wisdom is good, right? So what can she teach you?"
"Life. Death. The secrets of existence. But the price is too high, I can't do that to you; I can't do that to me..."
"So, you'd become like a goddess yourself? Even more than you already are? Why wouldn't you pay any price for that? I would. I will, for you."
Willow laughed bitterly.
"Oh, it's a temptation all right. The biggest. 'And the serpent said unto the woman: Ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.'"
"'And now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever'. Genesis, right?"
Willow gave a pointed glare, a half-grin flickering over her lips.
"Bereishit, actually. Y'know, the original, not the derivative work? If Moses had had Disney's copyright lawyers back then, think of the royalties we'd still be earning… Anyway, since when did you start memorising religious texts? Are you taking Bible studies now?"
"Hardly. Went through a phase when I was 17, read all the women's studies books I could find. The whole story of Eve and the apple made a big impression on me. Know your enemy."
"I'm trying to get my head round the idea of you studying feminist theory. I mean, not that I don't think you're…"
"Hey. I only did it so I could pick up chicks. Self-confident, liberated and powerful chicks." Her face was suddenly transformed by a glowing smile. "Like you."
"So I'm just your latest pick up, huh?"
"You're my everything. Strong, powerful… and about to get even more powerful. This Nehushtan guards the Tree of Life, huh? So you could live forever?"
"No, I don't think so. I'm only human. But power over life and death… The death part doesn't really interest me. Anybody can kill…" She looked up quickly, afraid Kennedy might be offended, but the Slayer just shrugged and nodded. "But life? Healing is one of the most difficult magics to master, I still struggle with it. Nehushtan could teach me so much…how to bring people back from the point of death, how to heal a multitude of people at once. I could do so much good, y'know? For us; to help Buffy; for the world. But…"
"But there's a price. What do I have to do? It's not a human sacrifice deal, is it, 'cause I might have to draw the line at that…"
Kennedy looked sharply at her.
"Nehushtan is… a jealous god. Most of them are, it seems. There's a story in one of the books – that one there, on the table? – about a valiant knight who quested to find her. He became her lover, and she told him many secrets. But then she discovered he had a wife back on Earth. In a fit of jealous rage, she… well, see for yourself."
Willow flipped the book open, and showed Kennedy the woodcut she'd bookmarked. Kennedy looked, then winced. She turned the book around this way and that, craning her neck, counting under her breath. Then closed it with a shudder.
"OK, so she doesn't like people who cheat. Fair enough, although decorating the landscape with them seems a bit of an overreaction. But you're not planning on becoming her lover, are you?"
Willow bit her lip, glanced down at the book on the floor.
"She just doesn't like anyone approaching her who has a lady-love already. And, yeah, there was one wizard who, uh, killed his mistress before seeking an audience. And – and she received him, and taught him everything she knew. He lived for a thousand years after that, until… until he was finally killed. By a vampire, ironically enough."
"Gross. So she's got no problem with murdering bastards, but kills people who are happily married? She sounds… kinda evil, actually."
"Maybe. I think she's just amoral, though. She's got rules, and she follows them strictly, and doesn't care about anything beyond that."
"Nope. Still sounds evil to me."
"Weren't you the one trying to persuade me to do this? Now you're warning me against her."
"I just… I don't want you getting hurt. I don't want to lose you."
Willow was silent for a long moment, still gazing at the floor.
"Two, three years ago I wouldn't have hesitated. I could deal with her, follow her rules, maybe find a way past them, and I wouldn't have cared, y'know? Because I was strong, and I knew what I was doing. Nothing I did would ever rebound back on me, 'cause I was just too good to let it. Until… well, you know the story."
"So you made mistakes. Everybody does. Even me." Kennedy paused, looked thoughtful. "You must swear never to tell anybody I said that last bit."
Willow managed a wry smile. "Most people's mistakes don't almost destroy the world or kill their friends."
"OK, true, but you've learned, right? You're using magic again, you're stronger than ever…"
"But I'm careful. I don't take things for granted now. I test my limits carefully, make sure I always know what I'm doing. I always take precautions. So to speak."
She grinned at her lover at the last part, her spirits restored; but Kennedy carefully hid her slightly dubious reaction. She'd known Willow for well over a year now, and while she was still in awe of her competence, she'd recognised the reckless streak, the over-confidence that still lurked behind Willow's diligent and thoughtful façade. Since that matched Kennedy's own personality pretty well, it didn't bother her that much – in fact, often enough it excited her. But she knew it could lead to trouble, and when it came to magic, she did her best to rein in her natural exuberance. To be Willow's kite string, as she'd promised all those months ago.
So now she adopted a serious expression, and folded her arms across her chest.
"So then. Let's talk about precautions. What exactly are Nehushtan's rules, and what do we have to do to make sure we follow them?"
"I can't approach her, and still have you. That's her rule. That's why I'm not going to do it."
"Whoa, hold on. You mean you can't have a girlfriend? Or a lover? Wait." Kennedy gulped, but braced herself to continue. "Right. It's easy, then. I'll dump you."
"What? No!" Willow's eyes were round with horror.
"I-- I need some time to myself. I need to be in my own space for a while. Take things slow. We've been living together for over a year… in fact, we were technically living together in Buffy's house even before our first date, which is extreme even in terms of the lesbian cliché. And I'm only 21, I – I need some time to sort my life out before I make any big commitments. I'm… I don't think I'm ready… for…"
She trailed off in the face of Willow's stricken expression.
"We might get back together again, though? Later? Like, immediately after you come back from this demon dimension? Maybe?"
Willow blinked, and then a slow smile crept across her face. But then she shook her head regretfully.
"Nice try. And don't scare me like that again! But it wouldn't work. Nehushtan is way too jealous, she can't even stand the thought of exes. Not unless they're safely dead. Here, I think the exact wording is in one of these other books."
She flipped over pages for a while, then said "Aha!" and quoted aloud.
"'The heart of the one who approaches Nehushtan must have belonged to no woman who yet lives'. That's the rule."
"It actually says 'woman'? Not 'person'?"
"Yep. Nehushtan is very definitely a female demon-god-snake-thingy, and she's jealous of other women. She's got no problem with guys."
"Uh-huh. You sure she'll be willing to talk to you at all? You being a woman, after all?"
"That's what it says. In fact, at least one woman has dealt with her before. Of course, she was straight, so Nehushtan didn't have to be scared of any female competition for her attention."
"Oh, that's just great. Typical. Well, OK then. There's one solution. Turn me into a man."
"I know you can do it. I won't be a threat to her then, and you can always turn me back afterwards. Plus it would be interesting to see what it was like – haven't you ever wondered? I could grow a moustache. Write my name in the snow. Do guy stuff."
"You're weird. And I don't think it would work. 'Must have belonged to no woman who yet lives'… but my heart belongs to you now, and you're a woman now. Doesn't matter what you might become; it's too late."
"'Who yet lives'? Our options are becoming pretty limited here. I have to be dead, don't I?"
"I know that. Why do you think I keep saying I can't do this?"
"So? Buffy died. You brought her back from the dead. You can do the same for me."
The silence stretched for so long, Kennedy wondered if Willow had blacked out. But then she said in a tiny voice, "I can't do that."
"You're more powerful now than you were then. Much more powerful."
"How can you even talk about this? How can you say that? Do you want to die?"
"No, of course not. But I trust you."
"Then you're a fool." Kennedy winced, and Willow stretched out her hand in mute apology.
"I'm sorry, baby. But after what happened to Buffy, how could you even ask…?"
"I heard she had a rough time. But she got over it, didn't she? Don't worry, I promise not to jump into bed with any nearby soulless vampires. Well, unless your evil doppelganger comes back to this dimension, because technically she's you so it wouldn't be cheating, and I've always wondered…" Her voice trailed off as she realised Willow didn't find this at all amusing.
"What I did was unforgivable. And even if I wanted to do it again to you, which I would never in a million years, I can't. That spell wouldn't work again."
"Why not? OK, so I'd have to die a mystical death, but that can be arranged…"
"It wouldn't work because the spell invoked Osiris. And after Tara died and he refused to help me raise her, I… well, put it this way. He's not available any longer. So the spell doesn't work anymore."
"Oh. Oh. I never knew you were strong enough to… Well. OK, so that rules out mystical resurrection. What about science? You remember that movie, 'Flatliners'? Well, couldn't you stop my heart, keep me on life-support, then revive me again? Would that count?"
Willow shrugged uncomfortably. "I don't know how long I'd be away, and I don't think they could leave you legally dead that long without… without danger. And this conversation is getting increasingly morbid. Can't we just drop it?"
"No." Willow looked up in shock at the tone in her voice, but Kennedy pressed ahead. "I'm a Slayer. My Watcher taught me what that meant, back when I was a little girl – which is an impressionable age, as any good Jesuit will tell you. I've always known what the score is. What my life expectancy would be, if I were Chosen. I don't want to die, nobody does; but I made up my mind right then that I would be the best damn Slayer ever."
She paused, smiled slightly.
"OK, so I hadn't met the competition back then, and I'm maybe willing to accept only being the second best now – not that I'd ever admit that to anyone but you. But Buffy was willing to die to save the world; she did it twice. How could I settle for doing less than her?"
"Is that what this is about? You're competing with Buffy?"
"No. I'm doing my duty as a Slayer."
Willow thought of all the arguments she could make, but they choked in her throat at the sight of the determined expression on Kennedy's face. She sighed.
"OK. There is something that we could do. If you're utterly resolved on being an idiot. What's the definition of dying?"
"Uh, your heart stops beating. Or, well, brain death, I suppose. That's when you're really, truly dead."
"We're dealing with magic here. Vampires are dead, and their brains seem to work pretty well. The heart thing, though, that's part of it. And breathing. Mystically, they're the main things defining a living body as opposed to a dead – or undead – one."
"Hold on. You're not planning on turning me into a vampire, are you? Because that doesn't sound like a good idea. Even if you're able to give me my soul, wouldn't that mean we could never have sex again?"
"I don't think the Ritual of Restoration actually works like that. It's 'perfect happiness' that breaks the curse, not just sex; and while I do pride myself on my abilities as a lover, I think you'd be safe. You didn't spend a century brooding in an alleyway eating rats before you met me, so the comparison isn't as extreme. And anyway, no, vampirism is not the plan. I like you warm and snuggly, not room temperature."
"Nice to know. So you're just going to stop me breathing and stop my heart? By magic, I assume?"
"There's another part to it. Your soul has to leave your body."
"OK, now we're getting all deep and mystical. What does that mean?"
"Actually, it's no big. When I send my spirit to the netherworlds, visit the astral planes, that's basically what I'm doing. It's just that I leave a small part of my soul back in my body to keep it alive. You wouldn't do that; you'd go further away. Leave your body empty."
"That sounds dangerous."
"Of course it's fricking dangerous! This whole thing is a crazy idea, and I still think we should forget it. But this is the best plan I can come up with, and if you don't like it and change your mind, I'll be the happiest woman in the world!"
"I'm not backing out just because it's dangerous. I'll back out if it's downright suicidal, sure, but I've already said I trust you."
"'Suicidal'? We're talking about you dying. Of course this plan is suicidal!"
"You know what I mean. Permanently suicidal. No hope of coming back afterwards. So anyway, you said I leave my body empty?
Willow shook her head, sighed. "Whatever. Yes. Your body is effectively dead, its heart and lungs stopped. I place it into magical stasis so it doesn't, you know, rot. And I put a protective circle around it, so that no passing ghosts or demons can decide to make it their new home and possess it."
"Ow. Yes, that sounds like a good thing not to happen. I'd hate squatters. So what happens to my soul?"
"I don't know."
"OK. Rewind. You don't know?"
"It goes… wherever souls go. Into the afterlife. Heaven, Hell, another dimension. What do you think happens after you die? You're a Catholic, aren't you?"
"Technically. Mom and Dad had me baptised, but religion for them is just something you do for show. Part of the public façade, you need to seem God-fearing and respectable. Oh, they donate enough to their local church, and to charities, but it's never something they actually talk about. And for myself, well, I know that gods and demons are real. My own girlfriend is practically a goddess herself, though I don't actually worship you. Much. Except when you… *ahem*. So yeah, I believe there are Powers out there… but the whole Catholic theology thing? Not really sure how it fits in to what I know. So I guess you could say I'm an agnostic. Not sure if that helps answer your question or not…"
"I don't know. I wish I did. I don't think you'll end up in a Hell dimension, I mean, you're not evil. I think you'll go to Limbo."
"Is that good?"
"It will just be kind of… nothing. Floating. Like being asleep, but not. But I'm really not an expert on what happens after you die…"
"Have you talked to Buffy about it?"
"No. No. No way. Nu-uh. Seriously awkward subject. I know she said she was in Heaven, but…"
"Hold on. She went to Heaven, but you don't think I will? Charming."
"You're not permanently dying. You'll be kind of caught between two worlds, the living and the dead. Balanced. If you actually went to all-out Heaven, I don't think I could get you back. Or I could, but I wouldn't do that to you, not again, and I don't want to have to… uh, anyway. You probably won't be aware of time passing. Just – if you see a light, try not to go towards it, OK?"
"Uh, OK. And here's the million dollar question. How do I get back?"
"I'll bring you back. I'll link to your body as an anchor, and send my spirit out to find you. I'll call you home."
"Will that be safe? I mean, I know you're good, but when you go into the netherworlds you always have me to watch over you. What if you get lost out there?"
Willow pouted, opened her mouth to protest… then closed it again. She nodded.
"You're right. I'll ask the Coven for their help, they can create a psychic beacon. I… won't tell them exactly why I need it. I think they'll be willing to help anyway, they don't need to know the details."
Kennedy nodded, a little uncomfortable, but Willow surely knew what she was doing. At least she was being careful now.
"So it's settled. I'm legally dead, you visit Nehushtan, she tells you all the secrets of healing magic, you come back, and then you bring me back. And you make the world a better place."
"Yeah. Assuming that I can persuade Nehushtan to share with me. That's our biggest problem now."
"That's easy. She won't be able to resist you."
Willow blushed and shrugged uncomfortably, didn't meet Kennedy's eyes. After a moment, she said, "You know, if she kills me, I won't be able to rescue you. You'll stay dead too."
"If she kills you, I wouldn't want to come back."
And after that, there was no need for further words.
It was midnight, five days later. The full moon shone in through the wide windows of Kennedy's apartment. She was lying, once more, on the rug in front of the fireplace. Willow finished her chanting, then dipped her finger in the jar and drew symbols in blood on Kennedy's body. Her forehead. Her chest. Her stomach. Then she took the powder, and sprinkled it carefully in a circle around the rug, about the still form of her lover. Said the words, and the dust burst into lambent green flames that curled up around them, floor to ceiling, shifting in an eternal silent dance.
She looked into Kennedy's eyes then. A long, searching look. Kennedy said nothing, but nodded slightly. And Willow took up the silver dagger. Its blade glittered cold in the moonlight as she placed it against Kennedy's chest, over her heart. Spoke the final words, began to press down.
A single drop of dark blood welled up, ran down and around Kennedy's torso until it stained the rug crimson.
Willow hesitated. Her hand trembled, tears filled her eyes. But then Kennedy's own hand lifted, closed around her own. Pushed down with Slayer strength, drove the dagger home. Straight through her heart. Silver light flared and faded. Then nothing.
Weeping, Willow disengaged her hand. She looked into Kennedy's eyes: they were open, but cold and lifeless. She almost wanted them to be accusing, but they were just empty.
She looked at Kennedy's right hand, still holding the dagger. There was no blood, except the single drop from before. She took her dead lover's other hand, clasped it around the first. It moved easily, no rigidity in it. It felt warm beneath her touch.
She stood then, looking down at the motionless body. At the dagger. Almost knelt then to pull it out again, but stopped herself. Kennedy had done this for her.
Kennedy had trusted her.
Willow didn't know whom that made into the biggest fool: Kennedy or herself. But she was free now. Every woman who had ever dared to love her was dead. Death followed her, death surrounded her.
Perhaps Nehushtan could teach her the secrets of life. Bring back balance. Give her choices.
And that was the most frightening thing of all.
Willow turned away from Kennedy then. She felt the magic rising within her. Her eyes turned cold and black. She spoke three words, and the world itself twisted and tore around her. A wound opened in reality, spilling light out into the void.
She stepped through it without a backward glance. The portal closed behind her, leaving the room empty and cold and silent as the grave.