In response to reviews;
To Kristine: Wow, you’re my best reviewer out of everybody! Wish I could shake your hand. As to Willow, remember, when she babbles or is nervous, she tends to give secrets away. And I love the leering, sexual innuendo spouting Mulder the most!
The Cost of Redemption
God, I felt like throwing up. I didn’t, though. No matter how much I wanted to, I managed to hold back. I just kept holding her while she wept. I did everything possible to not think about what she had just confessed to me. I made plans for my family on their birthdays, on holidays, even my work. I thought of my last autopsy in great detail. I thought of anything to keep from thinking of this thing in my arms and on my lap. For fifteen very long minutes, I held her. Then, thank God, she finally fell asleep in my arms. I placed her on the very same couch that I had just risen from and carefully stepped back. When I was a safe distance away from her, I realized that I was rubbing my hands and arms as if to remove a contaminant. I just felt so… unclean. I took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of my nose to help relieve the pressure I could feel building up in my head. With one more look at Willow, I left to go into the bathroom.
Christ, what a mess. I carefully shut the door and then stared into the mirror. My youthened features stared back, totally blank, without an expression. My eyes were flat and lifeless, my skin looked a little pale, my lips were a thin, compressed line, and my nostrils were flaring slightly. Turning my attention to the rest of my head, I noticed that my hair was tangled and looked lifeless. Overall, I felt used. How could my father have asked this of me? Did I live my life in such sin that I deserved that… that monster to be introduced into it? God, I felt dirty. She had soaked my shirt with her tears and the idea that I had her body fluids next to my skin revolted me.
With a snort of contempt for myself, I hastily locked the door and turned on the shower. I wanted to throw my clothes away, but luckily, common sense ruled in my favor. I stripped quickly and tossed everything in the hamper before climbing in to the shower. Putting a large dollop of soap on my loofa sponge, I started to scrub the skin of my arms.
I couldn’t seem to feel clean, no matter how hard I scrubbed. Angrily, I turned the knob for more hot water until I could barely stand it. It felt good to imagine that the heat from the water was helping to burn her touch from my skin. I still felt filthy, so I switched to applying the soap directly with my hands. I could feel my skin aching and burning from the abuse that I was placing on it, but I couldn’t stop. When my hands hurt too much to keep scrubbing the back of them, I switched to my arms. When they began to burn as if I had placed them straight into a fireplace, I switched to where her face had been laying on my chest. I just had to get every last vestige of that horrible creature off of me. I was already dreading having to interact with her in the future, so I stayed. I let the scalding water pound and beat on my skin until it felt numb. When I started to loose feeling, I simply scrubbed harder. When the numbness gave way to pain again, it was glorious! It felt as if I had accomplished my goal, that I had managed to cleanse myself of her to the last drop. I gloried in the feeling of my flesh crying out in agony. I relished the way the water on the bottom of the shower turned pink with my blood before it went down the drain. It was like I was washing the blood from her sins off of me, allowing me a feeling of triumph.
Now don’t get me wrong. In the back of my mind, I was properly horrified with my actions, but my emotions were running wild with me. That… that… that thing… sleeping on my couch revolted me on such a deep and primitive level that it overrode my more modern sensibilities. Everyplace on me that touched a part of her had to be cleansed in the fire. If I couldn’t live through the purifying feel of actual fire then I would take the metaphorical one of my shower. Becoming clean was of paramount importance; nothing else mattered to me at all.
Everything was going fine until the hot water began to run out. When I felt the water begin to cool, I cursed softly and pushed the knob in to turn the water off. I had to admit, even though I was in a great deal of pain, I felt cleaner then when I had stepped in to the shower in the first place. Granted, the skin on my arms was rubbed so raw that it was seeping blood and the skin on my chest was rubbed hard enough to split the skin in places, but I did feel purified. I imagine that this is how the victims of rape feel like, but I’m not totally sure. All I know is that I felt better.
After drying myself off with my towel, I opened my medicine cabinet, and withdrew a tube of anti-bacterial cream. With the greatest of care, I rubbed it into my raw skin to prevent infection. I reveled in the pain whenever the cream was massaged into a particularly raw spot as if it were a badge of honor for what I had endured from that creature in the other room. When I finished, I looked at my mostly white towel and was slightly dismayed to see how much of it was now pink with my blood. Instead of hanging it up to dry, I wadded it up and threw it into the miniscule trashcan that I had sitting next to the sink.
Finished, I returned my attention back to the mirror and examined my face once again. My skin was flushed from the heat of the shower, but my eyes now sparkled again. My lips were more relaxed and my hair still looked tangled, but it was a lively mess rather than hanging limply. I looked good and I was pleased with my appearance. True, I was back to having the appearance of a twenty year old, but I thought I carried it much better than the first time around.
It was only then that I discovered that I had forgotten to bring a change of clothes with me. Cursing softly under my breath, I quickly reviewed my options. Most likely, Willow was still asleep on the couch and I could make the short sprint from the bathroom to the bedroom. Then I considered the fact that she was a woman… there wasn’t a fundamental difference between our bodies, so what did it matter? Then I remembered the fact that she was gay, and as such I had to consider the possibility that she might consider me sexually attractive.
Ugh. That was a horrible thought. I could feel my face twist in distaste when I thought of that. True, I had thought about what it would be like with a woman in some of my more idle moments, but I had never seriously considered actually doing it. It was mainly a very minor plot in some of my wilder fantasies. To actually take a woman to bed with me boggles my mind to such an extent that it just freezes up on me. No, that’s one possibility that I would avoid at all costs. Not only is it personally distasteful to me, but also it is absolutely revolting to consider Willow as a sexual partner.
Sighing, I turned off the fan and cracked the door to look out. I didn’t see any sign of movement, so I scampered into the bedroom and barely avoided slamming the door shut as I slapped the lock into place. Picking my most unflattering and baggy set of sweats, I was dressed in no time. Now what do I do?
She’s avoiding me. I can’t really blame her, it’s what I would have done in her place, but it still hurts. I know that I’m a monster and I appreciate the fact that she didn’t call me one. Oh, she tried to hide it, but I could tell. I could feel her tense up as I told her my story. I felt the way she leaned away from me even as she tried to provide comfort. When I could finally get my shaking body under control, I feigned sleep to free her from me. I was grateful that she placed me gently on the couch instead of merely throwing me off her body to the floor, but within a minute of letting go of me, she was in the shower washing off my stench.
I suppose that I have to get used to such things. I can almost see the sense of evil radiating from my skin to foul the very air around me. I don’t blame Dana a bit for wanting to clean my filth from her body. I just wish that it didn’t hurt so badly. Damn these tears… won’t they ever quit? Sniffling and crying quietly, I make my way to the kitchen to get a paper towel or two. Anything to absorb this damned never-ending trail of tears. I guess that this is what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life.
“Please, Goddess, make the pain go away.” A whispered entreaty to the Goddess escapes my lips almost without my knowledge. Why does the pain have to feel so overwhelming? I hope that Dana can hide her loathing of me pretty good. At least that way, I can pretend that she actually likes me. I’m pretty sure that Mulder will accept me for Dana’s sake if not his own. But Dana is the one I have to live with.
I look over at the butcher block and select the chef’s knife. The blade was eight inches long and looked extremely sharp. I turned the knife over a few times and watched the light play along the length of the blade. Just think, a quick swipe and everything would be ended. I close my eyes and lay the knife flat and perpendicular to my left arm. Gripping the handle securely, I slowly stand it up so that its weight is on the sharp edge of the blade. Just as I’m about to jerk it towards me, I can feel the geas within me preventing my actions. All I can do is stare at the blade resting across my wrist through tear streaked eyes as my hand refused to complete the action that I require of it.
Shakily, I lift the knife clear of my skin and lay it on the counter. Not once do my eyes leave the silver blade, flashing and glinting in the light as if to laugh at my futile actions. I squeeze my eyes shut in a desperate attempt to at least slow the flow of tears and jam the paper towels against my eyes to soak up my tears. It is now clear to me that I will be unable to take the easy way out. It’s certainly ironic that the woman who can kill an entire planet of life forms one-by-one would be impotent when dealing with her own body.
The Goddess has placed a geas within me. What else did she place there while I was unconscious? What commands lay within me just waiting for the correct trigger to activate them? What changes were done to my body? These questions and more spun through my mind in a never-ending circle of terror, horrifying me to imagine the worst. Scampering back out to the living room, I sat down on the floor in front of the big bay window and let the sunlight stream in to land on my body. Staring at the light that fell on me for a few minutes, I could feel myself calm down. It wasn’t a true calm, but merely a rest for my body before the next bout of grief and despair returned to wreck havoc with me. It was, however, enough calm for me to check something out real quick.
Quickly centering myself, I cast a simple spell and opened my eyes. Holding my arms up, I could see my aura flickering and dancing across my skin. I was surprised by how bright it was, expecting to see a large amount of gray or black within the mists. Looking down towards my heart, I could see a strange loop and swirl pattern over my chest that I had never seen before. Using my ‘second sight’ so to speak, I let my consciousness slide along the loop and swirl patterns trying to discern exactly what they were. The loop was quickly related to health, but it wasn’t until I made the connection between the swirl and my life force that the true magnitude of the horror made itself clear.
Hoping and praying that I was wrong, I sent my sight into the bathroom to view Dana and was shocked at what I saw. Her aura had large, ragged holes throughout her body. Her aura was in tatters, more so than I had even heard of in my life. Her colors were good, but most of her aura was simply… missing. It was almost as if had died. But sure enough, there on her chest was the familiar loop and swirl pattern. Closing my eyes again, I canceled the spell and drew my legs up into my chest. What was I going to do? I pondered that question even as the tears came back with a vengeance.
I sat on the bed, my hands fidgeting with each other in my lap. I didn’t want to leave the room and face… her. I really didn’t know what to do. I had accepted this assignment and right now I really wished that I had turned it down. My one and only consolation was the fact that thanks to my cancer, I wouldn’t have to put up with it for long. Six weeks on the outside and I would be finished. Thanks to my medical training, I knew that the last two weeks of that period I would be too weak to do anything with her anyway. I would be placed in a hospital and waiting to die. How did I get into these situations?
I recognized the fact that I was going through a period of self-pity, but I really wanted to avoid that… thing… lying on my couch for as long as possible. I just couldn’t see her as a human being anymore. I ranked her right up there with the serial killers that Mulder and I had chased over the years. What really bothered me was the fact that she was so evil and would get away with her crimes. What was there that could convince God to give her a second chance? I just didn’t understand it. I sighed loudly and slipped off the bed onto my knees at the foot of the bed. Turning around, I knelt over the edge and placed my palms together with interlaced fingers and closed my eyes. It was a familiar ritual from my childhood, and one I fell into easily.
“God, I’m not sure that I can do this.” I licked my lips nervously before continuing. “I know that your teaching says to turn the other cheek, but I don’t think that I’m strong enough. Her very crimes are so heinous that I’m filled with revulsion for everything about her. Her touch alone is anathema to me. Her simple presence fills me with disquiet. Please, God, find another who is kinder and stronger than me for this task. I’m finding myself weak and filled with doubt. Amen.” A simple cross, made with my right hand over my body, and I open my eyes once again.
“Are you sure that you’re not strong enough, child?” A deep voice came from behind me, scaring the crap out of me. I jumped to my feet and spun around to see a man dressed in a three-piece blue business suit leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest.
“Who are you?” I ask nervously, flicking my eyes towards my nightstand, which held my backup pistol.
“You may call me Michael.” He smiled softly, as if amused by my reaction. I nodded slowly even as I took a step closer to my hidden weapon.
“What are you doing in my apartment?” I asked, trying to distract him from what I was doing. It was one of the first lessons I had learned in basic training: keep asking questions of the perpetrator to diffuse his tension and slow his reaction time before drawing a weapon.
“I’m here in answer to your prayer.” He smiled at me, not moving an inch even as he pinned me in his gaze with the deepest blue eyes I had ever seen before. The color was like cobalt with a strange light hidden deep inside, causing the entire pupil to almost glow. I felt my breath catch in my throat as I gasped when those amazing eyes lined up with my own. It was like he could see inside me, to see what sins weighed on my immortal soul. It felt like I was being judged and found wanting, which caused a sense of shame to well up within my chest even as I tried to fight the sensations.
“What?” I was confused, not sure what exactly was happening. I tried to shake my head to clear it of the fuzziness that I could feel starting to creep in, but it was to no avail. Then I tried to take a step away from him, but again, I could feel my body fail to respond. Strangely enough, the panic that I was expecting never started. Even though everything about this man should have caused every alarm within me to be screaming for action, there was nothing. I was simply unable to either look or move away from him.
“You accepted this task and yet the first time it becomes difficult, you wish to be free of it. Is this the limit of your faith? Do you only believe when things go well?” His voice resonated around the room. I could feel it vibrating in my chest, causing a strange sense of comfort even as the words themselves filled me with dread. I knew what he was talking about, but I couldn’t form a response. I opened my mouth to say something but nothing came out.
“This child is your responsibility, Dana. You agreed to take her in and guide her. Yet when you learn her tale, you become the coward and run away. Why would you do this?” He asked me, even though from his tone I could tell it was rhetorical. Sure enough, he continued. “Hers is a tale of whoa, filled with courage, hope, despair, love, and even hate. Yet the only piece you hear is the hate, not the other pieces. Strange. Do you know that she helped to save her entire world several times? One time, she did it all by herself. But you would not let yourself learn of her valor and honor. She falls to the darkness and you condemn her for eternity. Is this what our Lord teaches?” His eyes glowed with righteousness as he talked, boring into my eye sockets. I felt ashamed and dirty again, like I was a child who had disappointed her father.
“Forgiveness starts with the heart, child. If you cannot find the forgiveness within your own heart, how will you show her how to find it in hers?” He paused for a second, but it was long enough for my eyes to fill with tears, blurring his image. I let them fall, making no effort to abort their path down my face. “Do you know that she condemns herself more than you possibly could? She truly regrets what she has done and wishes to make amends, but it is impossible for her. Her world has been rebuilt, but she can never set foot there again. She will forever be an outcast, never a true part of the world around her, because she retains the knowledge that she doesn’t belong there.” I cried, but remained silent. Fat tears of shame, grief, and regret poured down my face to collect on my chin only to drop down and soak into my sweatshirt. I faced downwards and closed my eyes as the magnitude of what her punishment would be sank in.
“She must save enough people to make up for her crimes before she can be allowed to rest, Dana. To insure this, she will not age. She will retain her youth, traveling through time, observing everything she cannot have.” He paused again and stepped forward to grasp my chin gently and lift my face. His hand felt warm and soft; the absence of any calluses made it the softest skin that I had ever felt. He waited until I opened my eyes and stared at him before he continued. “You are to be her guide and guardian. By accepting this assignment, you have been given many gifts that will make themselves known over time. One of these gifts is your newfound youth. Another is the retardation of your own aging. The last… the last is a choice.” He waited for me to nod my understanding before bringing up his other hand. Balanced over the palm was a sparkling ball of green light. It was beautiful; the way the surface shimmered and danced excitedly, throwing shards of green light around the room. I felt my breath catch again as I became fascinated with how wonderful this vision was.
“If you accept this gift, you will discover a wonderful power of your own in the fullness of time.” He smiled softly at me even as my eyes remained riveted on the ball of light. “Do you wish this?” He asked softly. It was all I could do to nod my head like an awe struck child being shown a pretty bauble. I was lost in the shimmering waves. I watched as he placed his hand next to my heart and the ball floated slowly over to me and sank into my flesh. I expected it to burn and be incredibly painful, but there was nothing beyond a mild coolness and a tickling sensation between my breasts. I was amazed.
Michael chuckled loudly when the ball was completely absorbed, but I felt complete for the first time in a long time. For the longest time, I had felt as if pieces of me were missing, like someone had taken parts of me and replaced them with something unfamiliar. Now that feeling was gone. I felt so… good… that I had to smile so hard that I thought my cheeks would crack from the pressure.
“Thank you.” I whispered to him, sure that the awe that I was feeling would show up clearly on my face. He nodded in reply, his facial features softening from their harness from before.
“Do you think that you can accomplish your task now?” He asked, stepping back away from me. That was a difficult question to answer, to tell you the truth. On one hand, she had done horrible things. On the other, she was on the downward spiral for a long time without anyone warning her or trying to stop her until right before the end. Could she be truly repentant? If she was, then I could help her redeem herself. If not, then I don’t know what I would do. Funny, but I had never doubted her story when she was talking about demons, vampires, and Hell Goddess’. If it had been Mulder, I’m pretty sure that I would have demanded proof.
“I think… that I can try.” I stated calmly and clearly. “If she tries to redeem herself, then I can forgive her.”
“Much better, but not quite good enough.” Michael said with a smile. “It is not her job to earn your forgiveness, Dana. You cannot accomplish your goals without first forgiving her yourself.” I thought about that. He was asking for something the church had asked for all my life. I had to forgive her and have faith that she would respond correctly. I suppose that it was fair. After all, if I forgive her, then I’ve done my part of it. The sin wouldn’t be on me after that. Just like that, I felt the hatred and contempt that I had been holding for her disappear. I felt… better… lighter somehow. It was as if a large weight had been lifted from my shoulders and set me free. I felt another smile creep across my features as I met his gaze once again.
“I forgive her.” I stated clearly. His smile was reward enough. I felt like I had pleased my father in a way as a feeling of warmth crept over me, like a hand was cradling my heart within my chest, providing comfort to me.
“Whenever you have difficulty, simply ask for strength. Yours is a difficult assignment, but the Creator is willing to send you strength as needed.” He palmed my cheek and I could feel his power flow through me. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I could feel a flame burn through my veins, but causing me no pain. It felt… weird. When the flame finally died, I met his eyes for the final time. “Be with God, child. Keep the faith.” Just like that, he was gone and I was alone. I glanced around, but there was no physical sign of his ever being there.
Closing my eyes, I took stock of my body. I felt like a new person. Aches and pains that had been bothering me for months were now absent. I opened my eyes and rolled up my sleeves to see my raw skin had been healed to its former glory. Pulling the sweatshirt away from my chest, I saw that the skin there had been healed too. I smiled to myself, sending a small, silent prayer of thanks skywards.
I forgave her, and with that, I had been set free. It was only then that something Michael had said began to penetrate.
“Wait a minute! What do you mean I won’t age?!?”