"This isn't what was supposed to happen," the voice speaking was a woman with a soft southern twang. Not the sound of Phoenix, but somewhere further east.
Everything was still red-black, and he felt nothing from his body. Considering that the last thing he remembered was a fistfight with David, that meant either it was very important to listen to this woman, or a very, very bad sign that things had gone horribly wrong. Maybe both.
"Then what was?" Michael tried to see the woman, to see anything.
"Depends on who you ask. Max wanted you and your mother to become part of his family. He had... well, he did have some decent qualities, but not enough to make up for the fact that he ate people. His plan was you and your mother as vampires, possibly helping guide David and his friends into being a little less eternal rebellious teenagers."
"I didn't like that plan then, and I still don't," Michael thought he was frowning.
"I wouldn't expect you to like that one. Or David's plan, which was yet another eternal teenager running wild and eating people. He wouldn't have wanted to keep just anybody, so he considered it to be a good thing that he wanted to keep you. A sign of resourcefulness, that he thought you could adapt. You did kill him by the way, which made him both impressed and angry."
"That's disturbing," Michael had no other way to describe the idea that David had been impressed that he'd almost killed him, then really killed him. But he was very pleased to think that this time David was dead. "Wait, who else was making plans about me?"
"Giles wanted to help you, to find a better solution than the one you used." The woman sounded almost wistful. "He's good like that, even if he doesn't always find what he wants."
"How would you know?" Michael tried to focus on the woman's voice.
"I knew him, for a while. Before I died," she sounded sad now.
"You're dead?" Michael still couldn't see anything, couldn't feel his body. "Am I dead?"
"I've been dead for a little while now. But that's... time's funny on this side. Time, dimension... the Giles you met might not be the exact Giles I met, but he's still Giles, if that makes sense. To use your brother's comic references, think of your world as Earth One, and mine as Earth Two - almost but not quite the same. So who I am isn't really important here," she spoke again.
"Ohh," Michael wanted to blink and stare at her in surprise, but he still couldn't see or feel anything. It was disturbing to realize just how much he'd picked up listening to Sam when her explanation made perfect sense to him.
"So who else had plans, and did those get derailed as well?" Michael wasn't sure he'd like the answer, but if he wasn't dead, it might be important. Considering that this woman said she was dead, it could still be important anyhow.
"A group of entities... we call them Powers. They call themselves The Powers That Be, and yes, there are capitals there," she sounded like she might be smiling. "Their plans involved you getting tangled up with Buffy, continuing to change, and Buffy winding up in another completely messed up painful relationship with a vampire, one with the chance to damage everybody around. They could yank her around by threats to you, and yank you around by offering hints about a possible cure and taking them away to keep everything just so, then let you turn when they wanted Buffy to self destruct and get replaced with someone new to yank around. And all the while, they'd still look like the side of good."
Michael didn't have words vile enough to convey what he felt. He tried anyhow.
"S-some of those must have come f-from Giles... and Anya?" the woman sounded curious and slightly appalled.
"Ummm... sorry," Michael wanted to duck his head and felt a bit ashamed at using such words in front of someone that might be a gently raised nice girl. She at least sounded that way. "I don't like those plans either."
"So what happens now? Things with Buffy... she found out and decided to cut things off hard and fast." The memory of her expression, the utter despair and revulsion on her face still burned.
"I've been working with a few other Powers. These don't like what the main group are doing, but haven't got the numbers to openly fight. They're trying to get a bit more free will, more presenting information and choices and less follow the path or else."
"Choices are good..." Michael paused, feeling like he was missing something. He thought about what she'd said for a few moments, hearing a part of his mind sounding remarkably like Giles mutter 'for God's sake, you have a brain, use it to come up with the answer. Do you need to be told everything?'
Feeling embarrassed that it took him so long to figure out what she meant, he mumbled, "Ohh. You're saying that these other powers have managed to give me some choices. What are they?"
"The first option is that you can die and slip on to your judgment. I don't know what that judgment would be, but if you're ready to go, to be done with your life, you can. You had some awful situations, and had to cope with things beyond any reasonable expectations. Add in the nasty chest wound and massive blood loss..." There was a pause, and then she sighed, "If not for the plans They were trying to force you into, you'd probably just die without another option."
"A bit depressing, but I knew there was a risk." Michael paused, and then asked, "What other options do I have?"
"Your second choice is actually pretty close to a situation someone else is in, though hopefully with a lot less brooding. Willow and Anya tried a lot of magic to prevent an evil vampire with your face and memories from waking up and causing problems. There is an option for you to be... I guess a vampire with a soul and a conscience is the shortest description."
"Like that Angel guy?" Michael wanted to make a face. "No way. I like cheeseburgers and pizza with garlic breadsticks and I really like not getting third degree burns from stray sunbeams. I'll pass on that idea."
He swore he heard her giggle.
"Is there another choice?" Michael didn't know if he'd like the other options any better.
"Third choice is to wake up, possibly end up with some serious long term injuries from stabbing yourself through the chest, and maybe end up an advisor to other hunters; hunters who are in better physical shape. We could arrange for you the get more information, and arrange for you to meet possible allies."
"Got to admit, I don't care for the maybe crippled aspect of that plan," Michael muttered.
"Fourth and final option is for you to wake up, but wind up still what we'd call partially changed. Stronger, faster, accelerated healing. A bit more light sensitive, you might need to pick up blood from local butcher's shops, but Willow's spells would have made it so you wouldn't change the rest of the way. You'd just still have the temptations of a blood thirst. You'd be able to go into a fight with more of the monsters on a physical level," she explained.
"So I can die, I can wake up human and possibly crippled, or I can wake up with fangs and find myself fighting monsters for the rest of my life?" Michael wasn't sure he liked any of those options.
"I said we'd managed to get you a few choices, I didn't say they were all good ones," she paused before continuing in a softer tone, "Sometimes we don't have good choices. Mine weren't."
Michael felt like a jerk. "I shouldn't yell at you, I guess it isn't your fault. This whole thing just sucks."
"Sometimes yeah, it just sucks. Time's bendy here, think about things as much as you want. Once you make a choice, you're stuck with it, so be sure you're really sure," she cautioned.
While Michael had absolutely no intention of waking up as a dead vampire, he figured he should really consider the other ideas carefully. Especially since none of them sounded like the sort of thing he could change his mind about. Final facing God judgment scared him. Being a vampire of any sort, even without turning to ashes in the sun, scared him; especially since he'd barely resisted the temptation so far. Waking up horribly injured didn't sound good either.
Three bad options and one that was unacceptable.
End part 1.
Michael didn’t know how long he thought about the options the dead woman had mentioned. He didn’t like the fact that he’d compared his situation to a comic book character in the middle of a story arc. And he really didn’t like the way she’d mentioned these other Powers tugging people along the path they wanted. Like rats in a maze…
When lab rats didn’t go on the right path, how many scientists just tried again? “If I wake up still all human, what’s to stop them from trying again? Trying some other way to make me their obediently pushed along vampire or almost vampire?”
“Not much. Mostly the need to make it look like someone else’s choices and actions caused it instead of their meddling.”
“So I could end up back in the same situation, almost killed or mortally wounded because of a vampire, but without these rebellious Powers for Good keeping the Meddlers distracted enough to give me some options?” Michael hoped he was wrong.
“Unfortunately,” she agreed.
“Let’s not risk that one then. And no dead vampire me either.” Michael tried to sound as firm and determined as he could.
“Which means either dead-dead and facing judgment or not quite a vampire and fighting temptation,” the woman murmured.
“Neither of which sounds particularly encouraging,” Michael wanted to sigh. He didn’t even know if he could sigh here, in this between place that might not really exist.
“Much as I’d like it to be otherwise…” the woman’s voice trailed away. “We’re trying to change things. I have high hopes that we will change them. But those changes won’t be fast enough to affect your choice now.”
“Wait… you said Willow and Anya did some magic spells to keep me from turning into an evil vampire?” Michael wanted to ask a little more. This was a big decision, and he wanted to be informed. “Explain that a little more, please?”
“Most vampires, when they’re turned, their souls go on. Max and David… their souls were long gone on to judgment before you met them. With the soul goes the conscience, the sense of right and wrong and the difference being important. A soulless vampire will still have an idea about right and wrong, they just won’t care beyond how it affects them. It isn’t a perfect thing, because plenty of people with souls still don’t worry too much about right and wrong. But they wanted to make sure that your soul would stay with your body as long as your body was intact, and figured this would help keep you from turning into an evil vampire. Since you said you wanted to be c-cremated if you died…”
“Cremation means no more intact body,” Michael finished.
“Their spells also mean that if you wake up a vampire, you’ll still have your soul and your ideas of right and wrong. If you chose to be a living not fully changed vampire, you won’t be as strong, but you won’t catch fire from the sunlight.”
“Would I get older? Could I wind up changed the rest of the way?” Michael wasn’t sure if he’d like her answer. He wasn’t even sure he’d like any answer.
“You’d age but much slower. If I’m reading Willow and Anya’s magic right, you can’t be turned unless it’s right now, you’d just end up dead-dead. I’m almost positive about that…” the woman paused. “Willow’s much stronger at the magic than she thinks, and Anya’s been doing magic for a very, very long time.”
“If I wake up a living vampire,” Michael paused, attempting to shudder at the idea. “If I go that route, is there any way to lessen or reverse the changes later? To make myself human again?”
“I’ve been told there are ways. I don’t know what they are, I don’t know how accessible those ways are, or what they entail, but it is at least possible.”
Michael considered his two options. Become a living vampire with a slim chance of fixing that and trying to stop the monsters out there; or dead and facing eternal judgment. Bad option and really intimidating option.
He had no idea how long he considered the two choices. Thought about his early childhood, and the occasional trips to church here and there. Thought about the monsters he’d seen in Sunnydale. Thought about channel surfing and seeing shows on Sunday mornings. Remembered Max and David and their hold over Santa Carla. Thought about how Xander and Anya and Willow and Oz had been willing to help him.
In the end, Michael decided that he wasn’t willing to bet eternity on being good enough to face God. He didn’t like the idea of being any sort of vampire, but… Everything any religion said about the afterlife was that those who weren’t worthy had an eternity of torment, or just stopped being. Or maybe got reincarnated, according to a few of them.
“I’m more scared of facing eternal judgment and being found unworthy than dealing with being a little vampy around the edges,” Michael admitted.
“And thinking more won’t change what you do and don’t fear,” the woman’s voice was soft.
“Not really. So how does this work?” Michael asked.
“Now… you just wake up.”
End part 2.
Michael gasped. He could feel his body again, and everything seemed to one large ache, punctuated by a very sharp pain though his chest and a smaller sharp pain at his throat. He had a memory of stabbing David, of feeling the bite of the wood in his own chest and David’s fangs in his neck. His mouth felt very dry, and there was a tube going down his throat. The lights felt painfully bright, and there were so many strange smells…
A woman in medical scrubs came into the room, her hands raised. “Please calm down, please stop flailing about…”
Michael settled a little, partly from her words and partly because his movements were making his chest hurt more. He tried to ask what was going on, why there was this tube in his throat, but the tube garbled his words.
“Please try to be calm. I’m not sure how much you remember about what happened when you were brought in,” she paused, and then shook her head. “I’m going to assume you don’t remember anything. Your friends called an ambulance, and you were brought to the hospital last week. Some sort of wild animal attacked you, and it bit right at the base of your neck where it meets the shoulder. We’ve had to give you a series of shots just in case the animal was rabid, but you probably won’t notice any residual tenderness from that considering the wound to your chest. You’re on a ventilator right now to assist with your breathing. One of your lungs tried to collapse after your injury. There’s also an intravenous tube in your arm, this is helping keep you hydrated, and you were suffering from blood loss from all your injuries.”
Michael blinked at her. He had broken memories of the fight with David, though no idea how he’d wound up at a hospital. It did make sense with the bite and getting stabbed… his lung had tried to collapse? Ouch… well, he knew it was painful. He’d also known about the blood loss. Hospitalization made a lot of sense.
Why had he expected to just wake up and be fine after his talk with the dead woman?
He didn’t know how long he’d be in the hospital. Hopefully not long enough to need to worry about craving blood or getting extra growly and showing fangs.
But one thing was certain – he wasn’t going to go back to live in Sunnydale. Buffy had ended things with him, and he couldn’t entirely blame her for that, even if he hadn’t liked it. Giles hadn’t found an answer. Returning would just risk getting tangled up with Buffy and bad memories and might give those meddling Powers just what they’d wanted. He had no intention of playing to their tune. He didn’t want to be a puppet on strings of hope and despair, and Buffy deserved better than getting yanked around and eventually broken by another boyfriend gone fanged and crazy.
Xander could get his stuff back. He could write… maybe email and call would be better. He didn’t know where he would go, if not back to Sunnydale. Maybe he should try to figure that out while he was still in the hospital. Have a plan before he left.
A better one than his last plan.
And it might be good to stop assuming anyone would find him a solution. Hoping for an answer seemed to be how the Meddlers wanted to manipulate him. That sounded like if there was an answer, it wouldn’t be easy to find. Might not even exist now.
So, no Buffy. No Sunnydale. No easy solution to his problem.
But at least the dead woman was convinced Willow and Anya had made it so he couldn’t become a dead vampire. That was something. Not much, but something. He’d just have to help elsewhere.
End part 3.
End Lost Boy 10: Lost Hopes.