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(Meta) Director's Commentary on 'Legally Dead'

23rd January 2008 (17:59)

I was re-reading this fic and thought that it would be interesting (to me, at least) to set out a few of the ideas and intentions I had when I was writing it. As usual with my fic commentaries, I also get way meta-y: in this case, I've got some reflections on Kennedy's character and why she rubs so many fans up the wrong way, and on the nature of Willow's reaction to her deeds in season 6, and how it changed her. And what Willow is doing with that snake woman in my icon...

Legally Dead

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.

>> Kennedy and Willow apparently live in a penthouse in the downtown area of a large city, which must be worth millions. We know Kennedy's parents are extremely rich, so assuming the apartment was a birthday present from them seemed the most logical solution. Since Kennedy was 19 in season 7, by making her 21 here I'm assuming that at least two years, not 18 months, have passed between 'Chosen' and 'The Long Way Home' - the references to 'Casino Royale' and other pop-cultural things are making this seem more and more likely. 

>> In the original draft of the story, at one point I was going to have Kennedy use Slayer strength to bend a fire poker in half to prove to Willow she could take care of herself. In the event, that section didn't fit and got dropped. However, to have a fire poker you need a fireplace, and since a real coal fire in a penthouse seems a bit dangerous and impractical, I went for the replica gas fire. That bit stayed - since it starts the story in a relatively light-hearted way and also focusses on light and heat - a deliberate contrast to the ending of the story.

But she'd forgotten that her Willow was a California girl, 

>> And don't you wish they all could be California girls? Kennedy seems to be a New York girl, though, with her family home on Long Island.

who struggled in a city where the nights were actually cold. 

>> No, I don't say which city this actually is, because I don't know myself. Probably not Sao Paulo, though. Maybe Manhattan.

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? 

>> That would be Maggie Walsh, if you missed the reference.

But the fire was warm and cosy and flickered prettily and she wanted it.

>> Fire pretty. But trees not necessarily bad.

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. 

>> They're basically doing a version of the 'Passage to the Netherworlds' ritual that Willow and Tara did in 'Who Are You?' - Willow has sent her soul to another dimension to find out information, and Kennedy is watching over her and helping her return to her own body again. For Kennedy's opinion of magic before she got to know Willow properly, see 'The Killer In Me'. I'm assuming that she later bullied persuaded Willow to teach her some of the basics of magic so she could help her in situations like this.

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. 

>> I doubt that Kennedy normally feels threatened by Tara and the place she still has in Willow's heart - she's too self-assured for that - but she's worried about Willow's safety now, and uneasily aware that Tara would be much better at this particular job than she is.

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. 

>> I don't know if it's entirely clear from my writing, but I was trying to get across the idea that Kennedy was on the verge of giving up, thinking "I can't do this, I'm not good enough, I'm not a real witch like Tara was" - and then getting angry and resentful because she's not used to failure. But then she tells herself to get it together and get on with it, for Willow's sake, and forget about her own ego.

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.

"Kennedy."

"Welcome back, love."

She'd never admit how much it pleased her that the first thing Willow said was her name; 

>> Her name as opposed to Tara's name, that is... And of course she'd never admit that, both out of pride and because she knows to tread delicately about that area of Willow's life.

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.

"Well?"

"Hmm?"

"What did you find out? Did you get the key, or the map, or the whatever it is you wanted?"

>> There's a couple of things going on here. Kennedy still isn't particularly interested in magic and mystical things, she just supports Willow because she knows that's what her girlfriend is into. And Willow doesn't always tell her partner about everything she's doing, which is a bad old habit of hers she's never been able to kick, even if she doesn't mean anything actively malicious by it. She just doesn't want to worry her.

"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."

"I can't."

"Can't what? Can't tell me?"

"No, it's not that, of course it's not that. 

>> Kennedy probably sounded hurt when she asked "Can't tell me?", so Willow rushes to reassure her. Although Kennedy may have struck a nerve, and Willow might be feeling a little bit guilty, because there really ARE some things she's not telling her about this.

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."

>> I took the name Nehushtan from Hebrew myth; it's the name of the brass idol of a serpent that the Israelites believed had great healing powers. ("And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived" - Numbers 21 ix)  In this context, it's the name of the green woman in my icon...

"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."

"What price?"

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.

>> Kennedy following in Buffy's footsteps, finding the local equivalent of Willy the Snitch and getting satisfaction from beating up demons for information.

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.

>> She's 'willing to pay the price', but she doesn't actually know what that price will be, yet. That's Kennedy: loyal but impulsive and rash.

"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..."

>> I'm conflating together various ancient myths here. Snakes have traditionally been associated with wisdom, and also with healing and the renewal of life - probably because they shed their skins and are symbolically reborn on a regular basis. Even today, the symbol of medicine is a rod with two snakes wrapped around it. In my version of the Buffyverse, all these myths are distorted echoes of the real truth, which is Nehushtan.  I'm assuming she's a goddess on the level of Hecate or Osiris... or, perhaps, Illyria or Jasmine.

"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?"

>> The idea here is that the Serpent in the Garden of Eden was Nehushtan, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is symbolic of the wisdom she taught to Eve - although hostile forces intervened before she could go on to teach her the knowledge of Life and Death. And since those forces won that battle, the story was recorded in such a way that the Serpent was made out to be the bad guy, and Eve a hapless and disobedient dupe...

Willow gave a pointed glare, a half-grin flickering over her lips.

"Bereishit, actually. Y'know, the original, not the derivative work? 

>> Bereishit being the Hebrew name for the first book of the Torah, which Christians refer to as Genesis. Willow isn't a practicing Jew anymore but she's still loyal to her heritage, at least when she wants to be.

If Moses had had Disney's copyright lawyers back then, think of the royalties we'd still be earning… 

>> Ooh, political satire. But just imagine if every copy of the Bible printed in the last 2,000 years, and every derivative work, had to pay royalties to the heirs of the original author...

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."

>> The concept of the man who reads feminist theory and learns the right jargon purely so he can impress politically-minded women and persuade them into his bed is an old one; it amused me to think it's the sort of thing Kennedy would do too. Although I do think she's being a bit self-deprecatory here; I don't believe she's actually that shallow, she just likes to play up her reputation sometimes. Hence the reference to her 'glowing smile': she really is in love with Willow, completely.

"So I'm just your latest pick up, huh?"

"You're my everything. Strong, powerful… and about to get even more powerful. 

>> An unconscious echo (on her part, of course, not mine) of how Willow herself described Tara in 'Tough Love'.

This Nehushtan guards the Tree of Life, huh? So you could live forever?"

"No, I don't think so. I'm only human. 

>> This may not always be true... I can see Willow ascending to Higher Being status one day. But that is not this day... this day, she's still mortal. And self-effacing. 

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. 

>> I deliberately called Kennedy 'the Slayer' here to remind the reader that she's a demonic powered killing machine, who makes death with her hands every day... Killing is her job and her calling. So she at least has reasonable grounds to be offended by Willow dismissing killing as something anybody can do - but it's only the truth, which Kennedy is well aware of.

"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…"

>> A bit of meta here. On the TV show Willow mentions several times that magic healing is difficult; and in 'Same Time, Same Place' she struggles even to cure her own loss of skin on her stomach. Yet in 'The Long Way Home' she's healing her own lobotomy and blinding, and then going on to heal a whole crowd of injured soldiers. Something clearly changed, and here I'm suggesting how: Willow learned the secrets of healing magic directly from the Guardian of the Tree of Life.

"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…"

"Well…"

Kennedy looked sharply at her.

>> Willow's already reached the conclusion that the only way she'd be able to reach Nehushtan would be if Kennedy were dead, but she's reluctant to say that out loud.

"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.

>> She's counting the body parts scattered around the landscape in the engraving.

"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?"

Well, actually...

Willow bit her lip, glanced down at the book on the floor.

>> Something you're not telling Kennedy here, Will? Guilty conscience, maybe? 

>> Actually, my idea here is that Nehushtan will only reveal her secrets to people who become her lover; it's a requirement she lays down for anyone who approaches her. Willow already knows this as part of her research. She doesn't really think it would be cheating on Kennedy, since it's purely a mystical ritual thing; but she's nervous that her lover wouldn't feel quite the same way about it. So, she doesn't mention it, since what Kennedy doesn't know won't hurt her. Old habits die hard...

"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."

>> The irony would be in the fact that he was killed by another immortal creature of evil, not by a Champion of Good.

"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."

>> And the danger Willow faces is that she'll become much more like Nehushtan herself. She's always been supremely self-confident in her own judgement. That certainty was shaken in the aftermath of her going dark in season 6, and while I don't think she's in danger of turning completely evil like that again, there's certainly a risk that as she attains power equal to that of a goddess she'll no longer consider mortal rules of morality binding any more.

"Nope. Still sounds evil to me."

>> And Kennedy, while perhaps a little naive, is the author's voice of common sense here. Nehushtan isn't necessarily evil in the everyday Buffyverse sense of the word, but getting mixed up with her is still incredibly dangerous. And not just in the 'getting horribly killed' sense, but dangerous to Willow's soul.

"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."

>> Every Willow/Kennedy fic I write will contain a passage where Willow reflects on the time she went dark. It's a rule.

"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. 

>> My view of Kennedy is that she comes across as arrogant only because she was never taught that her opinion is not worth hearing; she was never conditioned into sitting there meekly and letting other people do the talking. She doesn't actually believe she's better than everybody else, she's just impatient with people who act as though they're worse than everyone else. In other words, in social situations she acts like the Western cultural stereotype of a man rather than that of a woman... something which can feel very threatening to people who accept those stereotypes.

"Most people's mistakes don't almost destroy the world or kill their friends."

>> I honestly think that Willow sees the second of these as a greater crime than the first.

"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." 

>> And this is what I see as the primary lesson Willow learned from her black hair and veins phase. She used to have an arrogant assurance in her ability to fix anything or get out of anything. That received a rude shock when she discovered both that she was capable of making serious mistakes, and that there were some things she couldn't control however powerful she might get - that in fact, her power could be counterproductive. She also learned that she wasn't as nice and good as she thought she was; that she was capable of murderous rage and cruelty. 

For a lot of Season 7 these revelations paralysed her into self-doubt and inactivity, unwilling to take any active part in things out of fear that she's end up repeating her mistakes. Buffy's goading of her in 'Get It Done' and her own involvement in the Scythe spell persuaded her not only that she could still use her power for good, but that it was a moral imperative not to let her abilities go to waste. However, she's now a lot more cautious and deliberate in her actions: the 'mystical walkabout' referenced in Season 8 I see as her attempt to learn much more about herself and her powers so she can use them in a safe and responsible way, and know her limits.

In an ideal world, Willow would have also learned that keeping secrets from her friends is a bad thing. And that thinking that she can make decisions on their behalf because she knows best is arrogant and demeans them. Unfortunately, it's beginning to look as if that lesson didn't sink in quite so far as the others...

>> Willow grins at the 'taking precautions' line because of the birth control meaning of the phrase, which at least is one thing she doesn't have to worry about any more.

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.

>> The "You'll be a kite, and I'll be your kite string" conversation is from 'Touched'.

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.

>> Either Kennedy's a really good actor, or Willow is so horrified at the very idea of Kennedy leaving her that she doesn't realise she's kidding. Some things you don't joke about...

"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. 

>> "What do lesbians do on their second date?" "Move in together."

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. 

>> When she says 'Aha!' she may also lift one finger into the air in a theatrical gesture.

"'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."

"What?!"

"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."

>> A female friend once asked me why I'd never considered growing a moustache, and added that if she had the ability to grow hair on her face, she'd have tried it in every possible combination. This pararaph is respectfully dedicated to her. :-)  And the 'writing her name in the snow' thing clearly inspired my recent drabble about Faith and Buffy in Cleveland...

"You're weird. 

>> I think it would be in character for Kennedy to think that turning into a man for a while would be an interesting and fun thing to do, while Willow is rather more conventional and strait-laced.

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?"

>> As we've seen, Willow has already reached this conclusion right from the start... although she wasn't unwilling to hear Kennedy suggesting some alternative ideas just in case one of them might actually work. I also think she was reluctant to come out and say openly to Kennedy "I could only do the spell if you were dead", because that would be a horrible thing to say to your significant other. 

However, there is a darker interpretation: that Willow was actually hoping that Kennedy would reach this conclusion herself, unprompted by Willow, so she would be willing to go through with the mystical death and think it was her own idea. I don't actually believe this myself (but I'm only the author, what do I know? :-) ), but the possibility is there that Wilow's subconscious was prompting her down a path that would horrify her if she realised what she was doing.


"So? Buffy died. You brought her back from the dead. You can do the same for me."

>> Kennedy can be pretty naive and tactless sometimes. This is one of those times. To be fair, she wasn't in Sunnydale when all the aftereffects of that spell were happening, and only met Buffy after she'd more or less recovered from her year-long depression.

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."

>> This is even more difficult for Willow because - as we know but Kennedy doesn't - she blames her decision to resurrect Buffy for leading indirectly to Tara's death and all that followed from it. So part of her sees what Kennedy is asking her to do here, all unknowing, is to become world-destroying Dark Willow again.

"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." 

>> I love it when a bit of cold, ruthless Willow peeks out all unexpectedly.

Kennedy winced, and Willow stretched out her hand in mute apology.

>> A pedant might ask how it can be 'mute' apology if Willow's next words are "I'm sorry". :-) My excuse is that she did the hand-stretching thing first, as an apology for her harsh words, and then offered the spoken apology next as a back-up...

"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.

>> As well being as an easter egg for Spuffy fans with the mention of soulless vampires, this paragraph serves to tell us that Kennedy really believes that being faithful to your lover is important, and that cheating is wrong. Just to rub it in that what Willow is planning to do is a betrayal of Kennedy's trust... and why she's not amused at the joke. Guilty conscience again. Also, Willow has clearly told Kennedy what happened in 'Doppelgangland'... and it seems that Kennedy is curious about the idea of Slayer-vampire sex.

"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."

>> It's debatable whether the big floaty head in 'Villains' was Osiris in person or one of his minions, and whether Willow actually killed him or just badly hurt him and drove him out of this dimension. Either way, she's clearly someone that even gods should think twice about tangling with...

"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. 

>> We know that Kennedy learned how to use a crossbow at the age of eight. And that Giles told Buffy that according to official Council training doctrine, she would have to master weapons such as the quarterstaff before he taught her the crossbow. That implies that Kennedy's Watcher taught her melee weapons skills at an even earlier age. The 'Jesuit' remark is a reference to the famous saying attributed to them, "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man."

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."

>> I don't see Kennedy as someone to shy away from unpleasant truths... and her urge to be the best is also part of her character. Plus, as she admits, she's known she was a Potential since early childhood, with all the indoctrination that implies.

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.

>> Oh yes she is. Not in a personal, "I want to beat her" way, more in a "she's the model I've got to measure myself against, and if possible surpass" way.

 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?"

>> Has Willow had this planned all along? Surely not. (See my comment above...) But maybe she had the thought and rejected it, but now sees that Kennedy is determined to go through with it. She's not happy about the risk, but the ritual with Nehushtan is something she really wants to do...

"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;

>> Meta here; this is my own opinion on how Angel's curse really works. The 'Ritual of Restoration' is the name of the spell Willow casts in 'Becoming 2' and 'Orpheus'. 

 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."

>> What Willow is proposing here is not to actually kill Kennedy, but to fool the universe into thinking she's dead - by making sure that her heart stops beating, she stops breathing, and her soul leaves her body. In symbolic and mystical terms, that's the same as being dead. Actually, in practical real-life terms it's not entirely unlike being dead, either...

"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!"

>> 'Fricking' because Willow isn't angry enough to swear for real yet...

"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?"

>> Is Kennedy old enough to still use metaphors about VCRs and cassette tapes? Well, her parents were probably early adopters so she grew up with them...

"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?"

>> This is an assumption based on the fact that Iyari Limón is Mexican and therefore Kennedy can be assumed to have at least some Latina blood... and she may possibly have been named 'Kennedy' after American's most famous Catholic president. Also, note that I'm preserving the usual Buffyverse vagueness about the afterlife...

"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. 

>> The Buffyverse also seems remarkably short of people with strong religious beliefs, considering it's set in the modern-day United States... Willow's father and Riley are the only exceptions I can think of. 

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*. 

>> She was blushing when she said that last part.

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. 

>> In fact, probably the last thing Buffy would have wanted to talk to Willow about, back in Season 6. She might have been more comfortable talking about it later, but it's the sort of thing that's awkward to bring up in conversation...

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?"

>> Buffy's primary impression of being in Heaven was that she was complete, and didn't have to worry about anything else ever again. Of course, it might not have been actual Heaven, just a special reward from the Powers for her self-sacrifice - with no guarantee that the same thing would await a normal person dying in normal circumstances.

"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.

>> This is an example of Willow now being willing to recognise her limitations, and admit that she doesn't always get it right...

"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."

>> ...and this is an example of her still thinking she knows best, and deliberately concealing information to avoid unpleasantness.

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. 

>> That pesky guilty conscience again - Willow knows that her seduction of Nehushtan will have to be literal, not metaphorical.

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.

>> Aww.

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.

>> The green flames are the protective circle Willow mentioned, to shield Kennedy's vacant body from passing demonic forces. The symbols on her flesh are to preserve it intact and uncorrupted while she's dead. Let's not ask where Willow got the blood in that jar she's using. Pale moonlight, green flickering, blood and silence - these are all symbolic of death.

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.

>> The idea that Kennedy's ritual death would require an actual, physical knife through the heart only came to me while I was writing this, but I think it makes the ending far more powerful. It's a deliberate echo of Angel cutting Connor's throat in 'Home'. Note also the emphasis on silence and coldness.

>>"And in her right hand / A silver dagger / Says that I / Can't be your bride." - traditional ballad

A single drop of dark blood welled up, ran down and around Kennedy's torso until it stained the rug crimson.

>> Yes, that's meant to be a shocking image. Willow's swimming out into deeply dangerous waters here.

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.

>> At the final moment Willow can't bring herself to kill another of her lovers. (Yes, Tara's death wasn't really her fault. Try telling her that.) So Kennedy has to do the job herself. That's important: this was done with her full consent and participation.

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.

>> Pulling out the dagger would end the spell and return Kennedy's body to life. (Her soul, we can assume, is still close enough to return by itself at this stage; later on, Willow will have to go look for it.)

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. 

>> Willow has an emo moment. :-)

Perhaps Nehushtan could teach her the secrets of life. Bring back balance. Give her choices.
And that was the most frightening thing of all.

>> Would you really want a fallible, imperfect, insecure human like Willow to know the secrets of life and death? Does the thought scare you? It certainly scares Willow. How will>> she choose to use that power? How will having it change her?
The fact that it frightens her is perhaps the only hopeful thing: she's on the path to learning wisdom.

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.

>> But she's still deeply, deeply scary. Willow doesn't adapt herself to the world; she changes the world to suit her own will.

She stepped through it without a backward glance. The portal closed behind her, leaving the room empty and cold and silent as the grave.

>> ...

Comments

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th January 2008 01:12 (UTC)

Thanks!

Though I was trying to phrase that paragraph carefully enough to not offend any of my flist who are Kennedy-haters. :-)

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