Sacrifice Par Amarth: Chapter 13
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
Time held no meaning in the sterile room in which they sat, each lost in thoughts and silent recriminations - and worse, the memories of what they had arrived too late to prevent. They had passed through the swinging doors, faces white, breathing erratic, eyes wide and fearful, and hearts beating and breaking over the uncertain fate of the young girl that had passed through the doors moments earlier. The potions had stabilized Celeste's shallow breathing and returned some semblance of color to her cheeks, mended some of the hurts while restoring the girl to consciousness, but the one thing that they couldn't do was erase the blank stare from Celeste's blue eyes nor make sense of her incoherent ramblings. They couldn't restore to Celeste what had so obviously been taken. Thus, in the end, they couldn't make her whole.
"Bertrone," Willow whispered, watery green eyes lifting from her pale hands as the tired watcher shuffled into the familiar waiting room, looking far older than she had ever seen him before. Instantly she and Tara stood to meet him as Xander and Faith joined them from their own chairs across the room. "How... how is she?" she asked as she instinctively entwined her fingers with her girlfriend's, drawing strength from her warm grip.
For a moment, Bertrone didn't know quite how to respond to the girl's tearful question, the doctor's words still whirling madly in his mind. Did he tell them of the splints that they had to place along each of Celeste's ten beautiful fingers? Did he tell them about the numerous broken ribs? About the one that had punctured her left lung? Did he tell about the narrow spikes that had been driven through her skin until they grazed her liver and ruptured one of her kidneys? Did he tell about the internal bleeding and the torn muscles, the lash marks, the swelling or the deep cuts? Did he tell about the ugly burn that even now marred his slayer's beautiful skin and that nearly cost his Celeste her right eye? Did he tell them about any of this? About the doctor's grim pronouncements about the length of her recovery - a recovery that not even magic could speed? No, he wouldn't tell them any of this, for there was only one thing they truly wanted to know. They didn't want to know about how his Celeste had suffered for they had seen the evidence of her suffering firsthand. Instead, they only wanted reassurances.
"It will take time, but the doctor expects that she will recover physically in time," he murmured, his voice heavy and his eyes bleak as he looked into their young hopes. "With the potions that we had given her and thanks to her slayer healing, she will most likely not even scar," he added, shrugging wearily. "But mentally..."
"They took something from her, didn't they?" Xander asked, recalling the confusion that had shone in the girl's blue eyes. She hadn't recognized them. Any of them. Not even her watcher. Instead, she had been hurt and confused.
"Yes," Bertrone sighed, tears burning in his gray eyes as he despondently turned away from the young people. "And that is something that she can never get back," he added before slowly walking back towards the door that would lead him to his ward. Without looking back, the aged watcher slowly shuffled down the hall and then paused in the open doorway of his slayer's room. Frozen on the threshold, his gaze slid over the tall girl, barely recognizable with skin as white as the sheets that she lay upon and covered in a myriad of yellowing bruises and gauze wrappings, with a crown of the darkest black surrounding her drawn face and trailing over the edges of the high sheet. Forcing himself forward, Bertrone gently eased the door closed behind him and moved until he was standing beside the high bed, one hand absently reaching forward to brush a strand of fine, black hair from her high forehead as his fingers played with the edge of her starched pillow.
There was no doubt in the mind of Watcher Monsieur Robert Bertrone that Dahmascus and Serantine were Hell Gods. There was no doubt in his mind that they were cruel. Instead of sparing his slayer, instead of killing her and giving her release, they instead condemned his beloved ward to a fate that was worse than death: to have whatever small part of her that remained be forever locked in a body that continued to live on. A fate that Bertrone was only now coming to understand, for in all ways that mattered, his Slayer was already dead and all that remained was a shell of the girl that he had loved more than life itself. He would have died for his slayer, and instead, she had died for her sacred duty. And just as the death of his father's slayer had destroyed the man that Bertrone had always loved and admired, he knew that the death of his beloved Celeste would destroy him just as well. For how could anyone survive the aching hole that the Hell Gods had just ripped in his chest?
"Ah ma petite," he murmured, his broken voice sounding unusually loud in the small, dark room as he gazed forlornly at his battered slayer. "You have done so well, so well indeed," he whispered as he gently bent low and brushed a dry kiss over her smooth forehead. "But now... now it is time for you to finally rest," he murmured as he slowly reached one trembling hand forward and then settled it heavily over her fair features - his large hand easily smothering her nose and mouth and blocking the air from entering her battered lungs.
Within seconds the instincts that had failed to be taken with his slayer's mind began to kick in as she began to squirm under his firm grip. Yet whether her blue eyes opened to search out his face, Bertrone never knew as his eyes were too hazed with tears, a deep sob wracking his body as the machines that were hooked to his slayer's lean frame began to sound their alarms. "Your fight is over," he whispered between choked breaths as the door crashed open behind him, a frantic nurse trying in vain to pry his arm away before hurrying into the hall for help. "It is time for the next slayer to be called," he added as his slayer's frantic movements began to slow. "Be at peace," he murmured as her movements finally stilled as he slipped into a fervent French prayer - one that was cut off mid-word as powerful hands gripped his arms and bodily tore him from his place and shoved him against the far wall.
"What in the hell do you think you're doing?! Faith demanded, her wide, horrified eyes locked on the broken man that sagged against the wall before her - the man that had become a stranger the moment that she had rushed in, alerted by the nurse's frantic calls, only to see a sight that had chilled her to her core. A watcher that was killing his slayer.
"I was doing my slayer a mercy," Bertrone murmured, his hollow gray eyes sliding past the dark-haired slayer until they were locked on the doctors that were frantically working over Celeste's still body. "She should be safe now. Her duty is done," he whispered hoarsely, idly aware of the other teens gathered around them. "And the next slayer must be called," he murmured, teary eyes turning back to the dark-haired slayer's furious brown eyes - just in time to see her fist rocketing towards him before everything exploded in a shower of fiery pain that quickly turned to the deepest darkness.
As the French watcher crumpled to the floor, Faith angrily cradled her hand against her chest, knowing that she had most likely broken the man's chin but not caring after what she had just witnessed. "And you wonder why I didn't want another watcher," she muttered, dark eyes raising to glare at the Scoobies, daring them to reprimand her for her actions. And when not a word was uttered, Faith turned back and spit on Bertrone's unmoving figure before angrily turning and stalking from the room. "I'm calling the Council."O o O o O o O
"You can take the call in here," Jarod explained as he stepped into his dark office, flipping on a desk lamp as the small slayer settled into the large armchair that he had indicated behind him.
"And you did say on your computer, right?" Buffy clarified as the Pretender's fingers flew over the keyboard situated before him.
"Yes, a video call," Jarod agreed as he threw the girl a smile. "It's generally how we keep in touch with Willow and the others," he explained as he pointed to the small camera that was mounted to the top of the monitor. "We're just lucky that you're still waiting on someone to arrive with a portkey to bring you to Hogwarts," he added, shrugging absently as he turned back and finished making the connection with a few small keystrokes. Seconds later, the screen before him flickered to life to reveal not Willow, but another Scooby's shadowed face.
"Faith," Buffy greeted, frowning softly as she took in the girl's pale features and the dark circles that lined her brown eyes. Turning, she absently nodded her thanks as Jarod silently slipped from the room, leaving the door ajar behind him, before turning back to her sister slayer. "What's wrong?" she asked, knowing instinctively that something had happened. And judging by the slayer's dark expression, whatever it was, it hadn't been good.
"The Hell Gods happened," Faith murmured after a slight pause, her expression darkening. "Celeste is in the hospital."
"Is she alright?" Buffy countered, her own features darkening as her hands clenched in her lap.
"No, she isn't," Faith returned as her eyes narrowed into thin slits. "The bitch and her freak cohort started the job, but it was the Kid's watcher that tried to finish it."
"What?" Buffy gasped, her eyes growing wide at the implications of Faith's words. "I don't under-"
"They took something from her, B - took something from her head and there's nothing we can do to get it back," Faith cut in, her anger falling away to reveal the raw pain that burned beneath the slayer's skin. "Bertie knew this and apparently decided that as her watcher, it was his duty to see it through and call the next slayer. They got her back, but not before the next slayer was called."
"Another slayer?" Buffy murmured, her mind frantically trying to keep up with the information that was being fed to her.
"Yeah, I've already heard from the Council," Faith sighed as she waved her hand irritably before the computer screen. "Some Asian chit that doesn't even speak English. Her watcher contacted the Council the moment she was called and Fellows is still trying to sort it all out."
Feeling numb and more than a little sick, Buffy slowly sat back in the plush leather chair, her head beginning to pound as Faith's words began to sink in. Celeste was gone - out for the count and it was all because- "I was too late," she stated, quietly voicing the words aloud even as they thundered inside her mind, her heart breaking as she realized how fully she had failed her friends. How fully she had failed Celeste. "I warned you too late," she murmured, tears clouding her eyes as she pictured the lively French girl that she had only truly gotten to know a few weeks prior. The girl that had been so full of life and love for her watcher. The girl that had been sacrificed for something that shouldn't have been hers.
"No," Faith stated, her voice solemn and serious as she broke in on Buffy's inner torment. "It wasn't your fault," she continued, her eyes burning with anger as Buffy slowly turned back to the computer monitor. "We went to look for the Kid right after Willow got off the phone with you, but we couldn't find her. So while Bertie gathered the group, I visited our old friend Willy and managed to beat it out of him that a couple of demons were in earlier that day, complaining about getting kicked out of their crypt by a couple of unknowns. B," she murmured, her eyes locking with Buffy's, "we just got there too late."
Buffy slowly lifted a hand to her forehead, feeling as though she had a hundred-pound weight attached to the limb. How could things have gone so wrong so quickly? First Sirius, and now Celeste and now... and now what were they to do? "I'm coming to the Hellmouth," Buffy murmured, her voice growing hard as she finally lifted her eyes to Faith's, daring the other slayer to argue - which was far easier than it would have been for anyone else, considering that Faith wasn't easily intimidated - especially by a fellow slayer.
"The hell you are," Faith snapped, her brown eyes turning stormy. "We don't know if they got anything useful out of the Kid, but from the way they were talking... it's better to be on the safe side of this," she murmured as her eyes turned away from the screen and stared at something that was just outside the view of the camera lens. "Listen, B - you should really get out of there. Get underground or something," she murmured, her eyes turning once more back to Buffy. And it was what was shining in her friend's eyes, more than anything else, that caused Buffy to straighten and finally pay attention to what her sister slayer was saying. For no matter what she and Faith had faced together in the past, the rogue slayer had never known the naked fear that was displayed in her dark eyes. "Buffy," she continued, startling them both as she used Buffy's given name for the first time in - well, probably ever. "Dahm and Ser? They're some bad shit. I mean some really bad shit. If you see them..." she murmured, her eyes once more drifting off-screen before turning back to Buffy. "If you see them, you run," she finished, her eyes growing hard.
"Don't fight," the dark-haired slayer cut in as her face grew larger on the screen as she leaned towards her own camera. "Just run."
Buffy slowly and reluctantly nodded her head. "Okay," she murmured, hating the feeling of the word as it slipped from her lips. "Okay," she repeated, this time more as a resigned sigh as she wearily rubbed her hands over her face.
Nodding once, Faith slowly looked away once more before smiling wanly at Buffy. "Gotta jet. Take care of yourself, B, and call if you need us."
"I will," Buffy promised. "Take care," she whispered as Faith nodded her head and then cut the connection, the screen fading into a blue haze that bathed her in its glow. Sighing, Buffy slowly leaned back in her chair, her eyes looking at nothing and everything all at once as she absently replayed the conversation in her mind. Go underground. Don't fight. Just run.
Startled, Buffy quickly jumped to her feet and turned towards the door, her eyes alighting on Harry's tall, shadowed form. "How is he?" she asked, her feet not quite willing to carry her past the desk and into the arms that she so desperately craved. Instead, she remained where she stood, her heart aching as she felt as though an entire canyon had been cut between them. Go underground. Run.
"Madam Pomfrey promises a full recovery if she can merely keep him in bed long enough to do so," he replied, his voice low as he stepped through the open doorway and crossed until he was standing before her, noting her pale complexion and the dark circles that lined her green eyes. "Remus is with him now."
Sighing in relief, Buffy fell back into the leather chair. "I take it you heard," she murmured, not bothering to open her eyes as she heard Harry settle on the edge of the desk before her. Not that she needed to hear him in order to place Harry's location. Her other senses were far more accurate for keeping track of her boyfriend.
"Enough," Harry agreed, his voice solemn as his eyes traced over her tired features. It seemed like forever since he had seen her eyes crinkled in delight as a smile lifted her full lips. Could it really only have been a few weeks since Christmas and when the future had seemed so bright, if even for just a few days? "I stopped by the hotel in Malaysia on my way to get our stuff. We should leave soon."
should leave soon," Buffy corrected with a sigh as she finally opened her eyes in time to see Harry's features settle in a small frown. "Harry, you shouldn't come with me - not this time," she explained as she leaned forward and caught Harry's large hand in her own. "You should be with Sirius right now - and besides, you're just putting yourself in danger by being with me. It's me they want," she added, her words falling to a whisper as an image of Celeste came unbidden to her mind's eye - the image of Sirius so battered and broken. Two innocent people that had been hurt to keep the Key safe. Two people hurt to keep her
safe. Sighing through her tears, Buffy lifted glimmering eyes until they were locked on Harry's face, one small hand lifting until it cupped his smooth cheek against her skin. "Harry, I'd die if anything happened to you," she admitted, hearing the truth behind her words even as Harry gently slid forward until he was perched on his knees before her.
"Nothing will," he promised as he lifted Buffy's hand from his cheek and pressed a kiss against her warm skin. "And besides, Remus won't let Sirius out of his sight - not after this," he added, a small, tentative smile pulling at his lips. "And I couldn't leave you even if I wanted - which I don't. You didn't leave me to face Voldemort alone, and I won't leave you now. We're in this together."
"Yes," another voice added from the open doorway behind them. Turning, the two teens watched as Samuel Fellows stepped into the dimly lit room, a small smile lifting his tired features. "You two are in this together. And neither are you alone."O o O o O o O
Buffy watched as the red sun cast its sparkling rays through the leafy fronds of the palms that surrounded her large blanket, the heat from the soft sand soaking through the thin cotton and warming her glistening skin. The heat was like a soothing balm against the fear and uncertainty that had been dodging her every thought for the past few months - a warm lull that penetrated the guilt and despair that she had warred with since learning of Celeste's fate and which caused all of her worries to float away on the surf that crashed against the shore of the beach a few feet away. "Hmm... now this is more like it," she murmured, her eyes fluttering shut against the setting sun's bright rays, a contented smile pulling at her lips.
"You could say that again," Harry agreed as he propped himself up on an elbow, one hand running through his messy black hair as his eyes drank in the sight of Buffy's golden skin - all curves and skin and very little material. "I think that the Caribbean will always be my favorite place in which to go underground," he added as his hand gently swept away a few grains of sand from her flat stomach.
Catching Harry's hand in her own, Buffy cracked one green eye at her boyfriend, grinning despite herself as her eyes skimmed over his broad, tanned shoulders that tapered down into a narrow waist that ended just above the upper lip of his swim shorts. "Just so you can always see me so scantily clad, Mr. Potter?" she asked as she smiled slyly at her boyfriend, loving the way the warm breeze tousled his perpetually messy black hair, the azure sky a perfect background to their paradise.
"Well, there's that," Harry agreed with a small smile. "And then there's that," he added as he jerked his thumb behind him.
Sitting up, Buffy followed Harry's gaze to the dozen or so Council wizards and witches that were standing guard up and down the deserted beach, their black robes obviously stifling despite the cooling charms they had placed on the heavy material. "Yeah, we never got this kind of entertainment in Malaysia," Buffy agreed, shaking her head as one wizard lifted his wand and muttered a soft spell that caused a spray of water to fall from his wand's tip and splash over his sweaty face. "Although, they do kind of detract from the romantic ambience we had working for us last time, don't they?" she asked absently as she caught one particularly matronly witch eyeing her black bikini with evident disdain.
"A bit," Harry admitted as he scowled at another wizard that couldn't seem to keep his eyes from Buffy, either - although the look in his eyes was far from disdain. "Yet you know as well as I do that there was no way either Giles or Mister Fellows were going to allow us to disappear again - not to mention how Sirius would have felt on the subject had we the time to ask him."
Sirius?" Buffy asked, a small frown playing at her lips as Harry sighed audibly beside her. While it had only been a week since Sirius had turned up, Sunnydale had been attacked, and she and Harry had gone underground, it already felt like ages to the small slayer. For while she and Harry had already played this game before, somehow it was different this time. She was, once more, a full-fledged Slayer who had been doing her sacred duty up until a week ago. And now... well now, it once more felt like she had been cut from the team - only this time, it wasn't a lack of slayer strength and stamina that kept her from her job. And despite the relaxing nature of the beach, Buffy couldn't help but realize that the gnawing feeling that she felt at the back of her mind was none other than boredom. Complete and utter boredom. What she wouldn't give for a good fight right about-
Yet whatever idle musings she had been entertaining, nor whatever response Harry was going to give to her question, were both quickly forgotten as a woman's scream rent the balmy air. Scrambling to their feet, the two teens turned as one and watched as a tall, beautifully sculpted man with raven-dark hair, clothed in loose-fitting khaki pants and a billowing white shirt literally ripped one of the Council witches limb from limb, her red blood spilling from her broken body and painting the white sand crimson.
"Dahmascus," Buffy whispered, knowing instinctively that this was the infamous Hell God that had wreaked so much havoc with her friends and the one that had stolen Celeste's sanity. Fists clenching at her sides, Buffy started forward even as the other Council guards overcame their shocked horror at the gruesome sight and hurried to meet the God, numerous spells rolling off of their lips. But within seconds Buffy's steps were halted as Harry gripped her upper arm in a vice-like grip.
"No, Buffy," he cautioned, his eyes narrowing upon the Hell God and the devastation he was causing amongst their guard's ranks. "You remember what Faith said-"
"I'm not going to run and leave these people," Buffy quickly ground out as she shook off his arm, only to have it replaced by both hands on her shoulders as he spun her around until he was looking into her narrowed green eyes.
"I don't want to run anymore than you do. But sometimes you don't have a choice," Harry retorted, his eyes flashing as the memory of the Tri-Wizard Tournament rose unbidden from his mind. That day he had faced Lord Voldemort himself when he was no more than a scared, traumatized fourteen year old kid. That day he had listened to his dead parents' urging and he had run for all that he was worth - and by running, he had lived to fight another day. He had lived to see the day when Lord Voldemort finally fell by his hand. And as Buffy's green eyes slowly met his own, he knew that Buffy was fighting with the fact that in her case, she had never run. She was a Slayer, and Slayers didn't run from a fight.
Sighing, he quickly changed tactics. "If you stay, you're just going to give them what they want," he murmured, praying that his words would get through to the small girl even as a man's agonized shriek broke above the pained chaos just a few feet down the beach, the small slayer tensing under his hands as her eyes slid shut. "Buffy, there's nothing we can do here - either of us," he murmured, his voice softening as he gently turned her so that she could see for herself the way the god walked straight through whatever incantation was tossed his way. "This is no place for a Slayer or a Wizard - we need to take the portkey and go," he whispered, hating the decision that was being forced upon them even as he realized it was the only way.
Trembling beneath his touch, Buffy slowly stepped away, her arms wrapping around her small frame as the pained cries of the Council guards fell eerily silent. A silence that could mean only one thing. "Let's go," she murmured, fighting the nausea that was welling up within her as she finally opened her eyes - and froze as she took in the tall, red-haired woman dressed in a simple cotton shift that stood behind her boyfriend, her thin arm snaked around Harry's neck in a hold so tight that with the slightest of pressure, the goddess could snap Harry's neck faster than Buffy could reach him.
"Serantine," Buffy murmured, her eyes narrowing on the gray-eyed goddess before sliding to Harry's wide green eyes - eyes that were slowly, and pointedly moving from her own face and down to the blanket beside her. Slowly, Buffy followed his gaze until her eyes locked on the simple white handkerchief that lay so innocently on the beach blanket beside her.
"The third slayer," Serantine returned, her voice a musical caress that was carried on the warm breeze as she smiled innocently at Buffy. "Whatever happened to the Chosen One?"
"Oh, we thought that we'd spread the love a little," Buffy returned flippantly, throwing the goddess a brief grin as she began to edge closer towards the blanket - only to freeze as her senses screamed at her in warning - a warning that came too late. Muscles clenching almost painfully, Buffy dove towards the blanket, her fingers stretching towards the portkey - only to be knocked aside, her breath leaving her in a painful gasp as she tumbled onto the sand.
Groaning, she weakly spit the gritty particles from her mouth as she lifted her head, her eyes narrowing on the sight of Dahmascus as he slowly bent to retrieve their portkey. "Oh, now I don't think that you'll be needing this," he murmured, his voice low and melodious as he tore the key into miniature shreds that drifted away on a warm breeze. And then, before Buffy had a chance to regain her feet he was beside her, having moved so fast that not even her eyes could follow him as his hand latched onto her arm and forcibly pulled her to her feet and twisting her around until her back was pressed against the hard planes of his chest. Grimacing as two strong arms wrapped around her slim waist and pinned her arms to her sides like twin bands of steel, she could do nothing as she felt her feet lift from the ground, her lungs protesting against the constriction against her ribs.
"So you're the one who has my key," his low, melodious voice whispered against her ear, a soft breath of air fanning against her hair and tickling the delicate skin.
"I don't... I don't have your key," Buffy gasped as she struggled against the arms holding her, her eyes growing wide as she realized that she couldn't
. It was as though she had been catapulted back an entire year and she was still under the restrictions of the drug that stole her strength when in reality it was the strength that was wrong. And only then did Buffy finally understand what Faith had been trying to tell her all along. It was only then that she truly understood what it meant to fight a God, for demons and vampires didn't stand a chance against a slayer and for a time, a slayer could almost come to believe that she was immortal. But a God? Against a God, a slayer was just another girl. Against a God, a slayer was mortal.
"No," Serantine murmured thoughtfully, her head tilted to the side as she looked past Harry's tanned shoulder and inspected Buffy as though for the first time. "You don't have our Key, do you?" she asked as a slow smile lifted her full lips. "Clever monks," she murmured, feeling the boy begin to struggle against her grip as Dahm stared at his counterpart in confusion.
"She doesn't have
our Key," Ser repeated, her smile widening as she locked eyes with the girl. "She is
Closing her eyes, Buffy's body sagged weakly in Dahm's hold, her mind whirling. The Gods were strong - too strong even for her slayer strength and Buffy knew that there would be no breaking free. And with no portkey, there was no way to escape even if she could find a way free of his iron grip. And while Harry certainly didn't need his hands free in order to use his magic, the other wizards and witches that were to be their protectors had already proven that his magic would be of no aid against them. Yet that didn't mean that Harry couldn't escape whatever fate awaited her. Opening her eyes and willing her fear and panic away, Buffy locked gazes with Harry. "Get out of here," she whispered, her words falling so quiet that she doubted anyone heard.
Yet no one needed to hear for all it took was one look at Buffy's lips for Harry to see what she wanted of him. She wanted him to apparate to safety. She wanted him to abandon herself to her fate to save himself. And while Harry didn't exactly have the oxygen to laugh at her absurd request, what with Serantine's choke hold and all, he thought that he got his message across well enough by the narrowing of his eyes as he scowled at her. He wasn't leaving without her. He would never
leave without her. And as Harry's eyes locked with hers, the young wizard reached out with his magic in a way that he hadn't done since a fateful night months ago - a night that had cost them both dearly. And as Buffy's eyes widened in realization, he knew that she felt his unasked question as she closed her eyes, her features tightening in discomfort and then pain as he reached into the core of her slayer magic and drew upon the very stuff that gave Buffy her strength. And then, for the first time since Lord Voldemort's downfall, Harry and Buffy disappeared with a small pop of displaced air as they apparated to the one place that Harry had ever truly felt safe. Which of course left two Hell Gods extremely disappointed and very empty-handed.
Frowning, Ser's hands fell to her sides as she glared at the empty patch of beach that had been her young captive only moments before. "I thought," she murmured, her voice hard and even, "that the Council member we tortured said that shouldn't have been able to happen. That without their key thingie, she shouldn't have been able to go anywhere."
"Apparently our source wasn't completely forthcoming," Dahm sighed, his narrowed violet eyes turning to glare at his counterpart.
"So now you're doubting my methods of interrogation?" Ser returned, her body shaking with ill-contained wrath. "I can guarantee you that the woman told us everything that she knew."
Ignoring Serantine's anger, Dahmascus merely shrugged as he turned away, his eyes tracing the path of the falling sun. "Then it would seem that she was simply misinformed and that we need someone a bit closer to the source of the problem."