Sacrifice Par Amarth: Chapter 18
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
A numb silence had long ago fallen over the large, cluttered office - a silence that was broken only by the muffled sobs of one young witch as she sat huddled in the far corner, Professor McGonagall's meaningless platitudes whispering around the tomb-like room. Those gathered hailed from the different corners of the world, many of their faces streaked with drying tears or caked with flaking blood. Many sported wounds that had barely been tended to, while others openly wore their shock, horror, and above all else, their broken hearts for all to see. Instinctively they had begun to gather within minutes of the Hell Gods' departure from Hogwarts, using various portkeys to traverse the grand distances and to come upon the battlefield that now marred the castle's open courtyard. At first, each new arrival had been marked with surprise, but once all of the players had been gathered, the surprise had quickly been replaced with horror. A horror at the fact that no one had foreseen this. No one.
"It's as we feared," Giles stated, his sudden arrival causing more than one witch, wiccan, and muggle to jump in their seat as the watcher swept into the room, one hand absently fingering the thick gauze that was wound around his temple. "The wards are down and Buffy and Harry are no longer at the cabin," he continued, his voice grim as his eyes swept past many and landed on the aged Headmaster that sat behind his large desk.
"Dahmascus and Serantine?" Snape questioned, his silky voice low and troubled as he unconsciously straightened from his place in the shadows against one curved wall.
"No, Harry brought them down," Sirius replied as he shuffled slowly into the room behind the watcher, one arm wrapped loosely around his mending ribs as Remus abandoned his chair to gently lead his friend over and push him into the soft fabric.
McGonagall curtly shook her head, her small eyes flashing. "I do not understand any of this," she murmured, her voice hard and disapproving. "What happened?" she asked, her eyes straying to include everyone that was gathered in the room. And for a moment, it looked as though everyone was too stunned to try and answer before Willow slowly lifted her tear-stained face, her haunted eyes slipping past everyone until they fell upon the man that she and her friends had all come to see as a father in the past few years.
"We had no warning," she whispered, her face pale and covered with long, blood-crusted cuts that obviously hadn't been tended to in the hour or so since she had received them. "T-T-Tara and I, w-we heard something. It-It woke us up," she stammered as Giles moved forward and knelt before the trembling girl, one hand gently closing around her own. "W-We went downstairs and s-s-saw Faith a-and Dahmascus... Giles, the house is gone," she murmured, tears trailing from her large green eyes. "H-He burnt it down and w-we just got out a-a-and Faith..." she stammered, a sob choking in her throat. "W-w-we fell out the window and-and-and Tara," she hiccupped, the tears coming harder. "T-Tara caught me. B-But not Faith. Faith fell and her-her-her head... it's broken," she stammered, even as Giles gently pulled the girl in a soft embrace, his expression grim.
"Willow?" he prompted as the warm tears soaked through his heavy sweater.
"Tara stayed there 'cuz Xander's in surgery," she continued, her words coming faster as she clung tightly to Giles. "He-he-he hurt his shoulder - p-pinned to a wall. And F-Faith is in a coma-"
"Again?" Giles murmured, pulling away and staring at the girl in shock.
"W-w-we didn't have any time. Everything happened so fast!"
"And She-Bitch must have hit us at the same time," Gunn added bitterly from his place against one wall, looking extremely ill at ease in the strange office, surrounded by even stranger people he had only met for the first time a few scant weeks ago.
"Is everyone alright?" Giles asked, his attention shifting to the dark-skinned young man that was sporting a blackening eye, an arm that was held against him in a hasty sling, and a large, blood-stained bandage over his neck.
"No, everyone isn't," Gunn returned, his expression dark. "Cordy's dead.""What?"
Giles and Willow demanded at once, twin expressions of horror and grief for the fallen Scooby twisting their features as the rest of the room looked on in quiet sympathy.
"The bitch broke Cordy's back - paralyzed her, stabbed Wes, and then she drained Angel," Gunn summed up, the anger rolling off him in waves that were so palpable that it was impossible for everyone not to sense his pain. "But she didn't take his brain," he added, his eyes narrowing as he thought back to the demon that had taken over his friend's body. "She took his soul."
"Angelus?" Giles breathed, unable to stop the shiver from rippling through his form. While it had been close to three years since he had last encountered the master vampire, the memories of the torture that he had received at the vampire's hands were still far too near.
"He took me down," Gunn continued, his dark eyes narrowing as they fell upon his clenched fists, "and when I was out... Wesley said that he toyed with Cordy. Waited until she was conscious and knew what he was doing before he drained her."
"I-I-Is he dust?" Willow whispered, the tears trailing unnoticed now down her pale cheeks as the pain swelled until she thought that her heart would burst. First Xander and Faith, and now Cordy and Angel? If the pain didn't destroy them first, she knew that it would certainly kill Buffy when she finally learned of all that had happened. The girl carried the responsibility of the world on her shoulders as it was... but to learn of the death of so many that she loved?
"He should be," Gunn muttered, his features twisted and his fist clenching so tight that the wiccan was sure that she heard bones shifting. "He was about to do me, too, when the Host walked in, saw what was going down, and was able to get a tranq in 'im."
"The who?" Giles murmured as he vaguely tried to process everything that was happening far too quickly.
"The Host - Lorne. A good demon," Gunn explained as he waved away the man's question. "He's a friend and he... volunteered to baby-sit Angelus, who's locked down in the basement, until Wes gets out of the hospital."
"Good lord," Giles muttered, his hands absently reaching for his glasses as his head swung helplessly towards the only other person that didn't quite belong in this setting. Almost wishing that he could avoid asking, he hesitantly nodded towards the tall, dark-haired man that looked so lost, his large brown eyes filled with a pain that was so poignant that it instantly tore at what remained of his battered heart. "Jarod?" he asked, his voice once more breaking the stillness as all eyes swung towards the pretender that looked far older, and at the same time, so very young for his age.
"They both came to the Centre," Jarod slowly returned, his eyes not seeing any of the strangers that surrounded him. "They killed... no," he murmured, the first kindling of anger beginning to burn in his normally gentle eyes. "They slaughtered
sixteen of our people and... and they took something from Angela... from Parker." Closing his eyes, he leaned forward as he pressed his long fingers against the sockets, willing back the tears that threatened to break free. "She's gone," he whispered, understanding all too well the truth behind his statement. The third slayer, young Celeste, had been a resident of the Centre for the past few weeks as he strove to find a cure for her madness, only to finally come to the sad conclusion that whatever was taken from the girl was something that he was powerless to return. And now the young French girl had gained a roommate in the form of the one person that meant more to the pretender than anyone else he had ever known.
"And then the gods traversed the Atlantic," Dumbledore sighed wearily from behind his desk, his blue eyes flat and filled with sorrow, "where they killed five people at the Council of Watchers, including Samuel Fellows, before coming to Hogwarts. Thankfully Poppy reports that all that were injured here at the attack against the castle will heal with time, however, we are still short one wizard," he finished, his eyes falling on the desolate form of Hermione Granger as the young witch clung to her old head of house with trembling hands - yet even Hermione, a true Gryffindor, couldn't hide behind her tears forever.
Instead, the girl felt the weight of Dumbledore's stare upon her bent shoulders and with effort she slowly locked her sorrow and fear away as she straightened, her red-rimmed eyes meeting his. "How did this happen?" she asked, her voice low and steady as she held the headmaster's gaze before allowing it to slip past and rest on each witch, wizard, wiccan and muggle in turn. "How did they know exactly
where to hit us to hurt us the worst?" she asked as she pointedly looked once more to those that were gathered - those that represented the main groups that had gathered just a few short weeks ago. The ones that represented those that Buffy and Harry treasured the most. "They knew me. They knew Giles. They had a portkey!
" she exclaimed, her voice turning cold and hard as she glared at all those present. "How could they have known this?"
"T-they moved so fast," Willow murmured, her eyes lifting to meet those of the young witch. "By the time Tara and I were sure that we had done everything that we could for Xander and Faith, it was already too late. There wasn't time to pass on a warning... and we never thought that they would come to Los Angeles, or Delaware, or even Hogwarts. We didn't know."
"But somebody obviously did," Sirius murmured, his eyes narrowing dangerously. "They must have had inside help - help from someone that was close enough to-" he broke off as a shrill ringing echoed in the office. Confused, he and every other witch and wizard turned towards the noise and watched in puzzled confusion as Jarod instantly reached for a small, little black device.
"Wiccan enhancements," Jarod offered by way of explanation to the many startled glances he was receiving as he nodded towards Willow, even as he was flipping open the small phone. "Found something?" he asked, getting straight to the point as his eyes drifted around the room until they landed on Hermione's pale and trembling form. "Where?" he asked, his voice becoming strained. "Got it," he murmured before clicking the phone shut. "Broots just tracked a 911 call that came in for someone carrying Ron's ID."
"Where?" Sirius returned as Hermione's strained whimper escaped from the hand that was clamped tightly over her lips.
"The second Hellmouth," Giles cut in, his face paling as the implications immediately became clear to everyone in the room.
"He and a John Doe are being brought to Mercy Medical Hospital in Cleveland," Jarod added as the room erupted in chaos. Within moments Dumbledore had created two small portkeys and seconds later the most unusual group of all disappeared from the headmaster's office: a watcher, an ex-wizarding convict, a young witch, a pretender and a werewolf.O o O o O o O
Stumbling slightly as her feet found solid ground and as the insistent tug at her navel disappeared, Hermione bumped shoulders with Sirius and Remus as her red-rimmed hazel eyes took in the cold sunshine that burned over the snow-covered world they had been thrust in. Breath frosting before her, the young witch unconsciously wrapped her arms around her waist as she watched muggles stroll past their shadowed location, oblivious to the strangers that now walked in their midst as they bustled towards the large doors that fronted the impressive hospital.
"The rest of you should be alright, but I'm going to need some scrubs," Jarod stated quietly, more to himself than the others as Hermione glanced down at the sweater and pants the older man sported. Like the rest of them, his clothes were stained with blood and filth... the blood of friends and loved ones.
Wiping angrily at the tears that continued to burn her swollen eyes, Hermione turned away as Remus hurriedly transfigured the man's clothes into a pair of green doctor's scrubs that matched those that could be seen through the foggy glass. She was a sore and aching wreck, having refused Madam Pomfrey's healing touch. How could she seek aid when Ron's fate was still uncertain? And yet, with her face bruised and swollen, and with Giles' head swathed in blood-stained bandages, and Remus and Sirius more bruised than not, she still knew enough to realize that in a hospital, their appearance would hardly be noted. At least, not any more than any other patient that came to the building in seek of aid. However they didn't seek aid... they sought Ron. Ron and whomever had accompanied him, and most importantly, they sought him whole and sound. She couldn't handle losing someone else. She couldn't handle Ron sharing the fate of the flippant, loud-mouthed American girl or Samuel Fellows, a man who had become a good friend and employer in the past year. But most of all, she couldn't handle the thought of life without the boy that had started out as her tormentor, evolved into one of her best friends, and then swiftly took a hold of her heart until he became her past, her present, and most importantly, her future.
"Let's go," Jarod muttered, interrupting her thoughts as he led her and her ragtag companions from their spot in the shadows and out into the sun. Immediately they became swept up in the mass of people that funneled through the double doors and then into the massive hospital lobby. Confused, Hermione felt strangers jostle by her before Remus' firm hand folded around her shoulder as he gently steered her away from the crush of people and off to the side where Giles and Sirius were gathered.
"Where's Jarod?" she murmured, unconsciously taking a step closer to the older men, each a person that she had come to love and respect over the years. Remus had been her teacher, Sirius had been their protector, and Giles had become her co-worker. After narrowly escaping death by the hands of a hell God within the past hour, such a small comfort was something that she found herself craving intensely.
"Right here," Jarod replied as he joined their little group, his brown eyes continually moving around the bustling lobby. "I found out that they took the John Doe to surgery and Ron is in a room down the hall," he stated as he began leading the way through the mass of people and then down a wide, brightly lit hallway.
"Surgery?" Sirius returned as he hurried to catch up to the pretender. "What does that mean?" the dark-haired wizard continued, his face growing pale as they continued down the twisting hallway. while no one had spoken the words aloud, it was obvious what everyone was thinking - who everyone instinctively knew this 'John Doe' to be. And while Sirius knew perfectly well what wizarding surgery was, he had heard only vague rumors and ghost stories about what such a thing meant for muggles.
Yet whatever response that the pretender may have given went unheard as they stopped before an open doorway, Hermione's eyes sliding past the sterile walls and hangings and landing on the young man with fiery red hair that was lying on a long white bed, large men dressed in white struggling against his feeble movements. "Ron!" she gasped, tears flooding her eyes as she hurried past the others and began pushing the strangers aside. "Oh Merlin, Ron, what did they do to you?" she gasped as she finally cleared a way to his bedside, her large, tearful eyes taking in the bruises that marred his freckled face, one eye swollen shut, and the blood that trailed down from a swollen lip.
"We've got it covered," Jarod added as he and the others followed the young witch into the room, the three wizards pushing the orderlies to the side as they flanked the young Gryffindor.
"Who are you?" one of the orderlies demanded as he wiped away a thin trickle of blood from a small cut on his cheek.
"A visiting physician," Jarod calmly returned as Ron's weak struggles began to slow as Hermione's soothing murmurings seemed to penetrate whatever pained haze had caused the young man to lash out. "We have it," he repeated, gently stressing the word as he nodded pointedly towards the door.
"You can have him," the angry man stated as he and his co-workers began backing towards the door. "Crazy nut - he's your problem now," he added before storming out.
Ignoring the muggle's angry words and even the friends that surrounded her, Hermione gently ran a hand through Ron's matted hair, tears streaming down her cheeks as she quickly bent down and pressed a kiss against his forehead. "Ron, what were you thinking?" she murmured, her hands shaking as she went about smoothing the sweater that he wore, frowning at the rips in the heavy fabric. "You shouldn't have done that," she continued, admonishing him softly around her hiccups as she tried to convince her heart that her love was alright. That he hadn't been killed. That he-
"So pretty... so pretty...."
Confused, Hermione slowly pulled away as she stared at her boyfriend, her red-rimmed eyes narrowing. "Ron? What are you on about?" she asked, her words softly spoken as his head slowly turned until his one beautiful eye was settled upon her, a stupid grin lifting his bloody lips.
"So pretty... so very pretty," he repeated before reaching up and patting the top of her head.
Shaking her head slowly, Hermione felt as though someone had punched her in the stomach as she felt all of the air leave her in one terrible blow. Frozen, she could only stare at Ron in horrified confusion as Jarod slowly moved beside her, one large hand cupping Ron's chin and forcing him to turn towards the pretender.
The older man shook his head as he gently released the young wizard, his eyes falling down to his tightly clenched hand. "I'm sorry," he whispered, instantly recognizing what had happened to the brave teen. And as the young, auburn-haired witch began to sob brokenly from beside him, he knew that she, too, understood the fate that had fallen upon Ron. She understood what had been taken from Ron Weasley - and what could never be given back.
Murmuring soothing platitudes, Remus stepped beside the heartbroken girl and pulled her into his warm embrace. Shaking his head slowly, his gray eyes fell upon his former student as tears burned in his own eyes. Seven years... Ron had survived seven years of mishap and danger while at Hogwarts. He had survived the war and Voldemort, only to be lost a few scant months later at the hands of a god. And this time, Ron had gone willingly in order to save the one that he loved most.
"Who are you?"
Startled, everyone turned towards the open door where a young, unformed police officer stood, his eyes warily taking in the small, unkempt group. "They're friends of the patient," Jarod smoothly explained as his sorrowed brown eyes fell upon the sobbing young witch.
Following his gaze, the cop's expression softened as he took in the heartbroken young woman. "Poor kid," he sighed, awkwardly shaking his head as he glanced towards the battered patient. "Something's wrong with his head," he added, instantly wishing he could take back his words as the girl's cries seemed to intensify and as the gray-haired man shot him a dark look.
"Did you find a girl as well?" Giles asked as he stepped towards the cop, his eyes hopeful. "About five feet, two inches, blonde, green eyes... real small?" he continued, his voice breaking as the man slowly shook his head.
"I'm sorry. We just found the two boys."
"The other boy," Sirius cut in, his eyes frantic, "is he alright?"
Once more, the only thing the officer could do was slowly shake his head. "Last I heard, they were taking him up to surgery. He had a gunshot wound to the abdomen," he explained as the blue-eyed man's knees buckled beneath him as the other man with the glasses struggled to support him. "They... they're not sure if he's going to pull through."
"Harry," Sirius gasped, finally voicing his fears aloud. Who else could Ron's companion have been? The coincidences were too great. Ron was taken, and by the time anyone thinks to contact Harry and Buffy, the cabin had been abandoned and the two were gone. Then Ron turns up with another young man... Harry. "We need to get him back to Hogwarts. Now," he stated, his energy returning as he ignored the cop's confusion and quickly turned back to the hospital bed where Ron was beginning to become agitated by Hermione's broken sobs.
Nodding swiftly, Remus gently disentangled Hermione from the front of his robes and passed her off to Jarod. Turning, he then looked sadly at his former student, the young Weasley's babbling beginning to echo in the small room as he began to rock back and forth on the bed. "I'm sorry," he murmured as he lifted his wand, his sad eyes locked on the boy, "but this will make it easier on all of us," he added as he slowly waved his wand. "Stupefy
As Ron flopped back on the white bed, his cries finally falling silent, Giles quickly stepped forward and gently pulled the boy forward until he was draped over one shoulder. Grunting, he slowly straightened, ignoring his aching body's protests as he turned towards the door - where the cop was now staring at them in growing confusion and alarm, his hand already reaching for his sidearm.
," Sirius muttered, stunning the muggle before he could harm himself or anyone else. With Remus' help, the two wizards caught the man and gently pulled him to the side where they deposited him on the other side of the room, hidden from the open door. "Jarod, where's this surgery?" he asked as he straightened and followed the pretender into the hallway, Remus, Hermione, and Giles with Ron quickly on their heels.
"This way," the pretender murmured as he swiftly moved down the wide hall, leading his procession that was gaining more attention by the moment. His companions were all now openly displaying their wands, Hermione included, and when that was combined with Giles' awkward burden and their bruised, bloody, and overall battered state, it was nearly impossible not
to garner unwanted attention. Nonetheless, no one tried to stop them as they quickly made their way through the crowded hospital, Jarod navigating the unfamiliar hallways with ease as he followed the posted signs this way and that until, finally, they pushed through the double doors that were marked 'surgery.'
"Excuse me! You can't-"
Ignoring the muggle woman that was anxiously trying to bar their way, Sirius pushed past her as his eyes swept the wide glass that looked into the many different rooms that branched off from the main room that they had entered. "Harry," he murmured, his voice a whispered plea that was torn from his throat as his blue eyes locked on a familiar lock of unruly black hair that was all but hidden by a man in a nearby room. Hurrying forward, the ex-prisoner burst through the doors, his eyes sweeping past gleaming silver trays that sported so many different sharp knives and tubing that Sirius felt the color drain from his face. It looked as though he had stumbled upon a torture chamber.
"Gerroff!" a scratchy, familiar voice whispered fiercely from the bed before him as pale hands struggled against the mask that was being forced over his face.
"Son, we need you out for the-" the man cut off as he was roughly shoved to the side as Sirius quickly took his place.
"Harry?" he murmured, his eyes taking in the familiar face of his godson, brilliant green eyes staring bleakly from a face that was far too pale. "Harry, answer me," he ordered as his eyes swept down to take in the bandages that were pressed against his godson's bared abdomen - bandages that were already soaked with his blood.
"Sirius?" Harry murmured, obviously confused as his eyes squinted, trying to make out the blurry image above him.
Sagging against the bed as he realized that for whatever reason, his godson had been spared from having whatever had been taken from Ron, taken from him as well, Sirius smiled through his tears. "I'm right here," he murmured, his voice choked as Jarod cursed quietly from beside him. Turning, he watched as the pretender hurriedly tried to staunch the bleeding as Remus quickly banished the rest of the people from the room, placing a locking charm on the door as the others crowded around the narrow gurney. "You're going to be just fine. We're taking you-"
"Buffy," Harry gasped, his eyes squeezing shut as the pain intensified, robbing him of his breath and causing him to gasp for air. "French watcher-"
"Bertrone?" Giles supplied, cautiously stepping closer as his features began to tighten, all of the pieces falling into a nasty place.
"Took her," Harry sighed as the pain began to color the edges of his vision black. "Couldn't-"
"Shh, it'll be okay, Harry, we'll get her back," Sirius promised as Giles began to curse the French watcher's name in so many languages and so colorfully that the wizard was sure that even he would have had cause to blush. Then again, with his godson's blood pouring from the wound that someone had inflicted upon the boy that had long ago taken the place of the son he never had, he found himself agreeing wholeheartedly with the watcher's sentiments. But then even that grim thought was forgotten as Harry's eyes fluttered for a moment before slowly sliding shut, his dark lashes a stark contrast against his pale cheeks as his breathing became shallow. "Jarod?" he demanded, his eyes growing wide as he quickly turned to the pretender for answers - answers that he was almost afraid to hear.
"We need to do this fast," Jarod returned, his eyes narrowed upon the boy's pale features. "I think the bullet may have hit his liver and he's already lost too much blood... he's fading fast," he admitted, his voice grim as he raised his eyes to meet Sirius' haunted gaze.
Feeling as though someone had seized his heart in a strong metal vise and was slowly squeezing it for all they were worth, Sirius numbly nodded his head. "Poppy can heal him. Poppy can heal him," he murmured, unsure who exactly he was trying to convince with his quiet mantra. Moving slowly and with great care, he gently slipped one arm beneath his godson's broad shoulders, the other sliding beneath his knees, and then gently cradled the young man in his arms. "Poppy can heal him," he murmured again and again as Jarod's blood-stained hands pushed down on the wound. "Poppy can heal him," he repeated again, refusing to look away from Harry's still features as the others quickly gathered around him. "Poppy can heal him," he stated one last time, his words a choked plea as they activated the portkey and disappeared with a swirl of bright colors just as a security team rushed in behind them.O o O o O o O
With a sharp gasp, the darkness that had encased Buffy was suddenly ripped away, her senses coming alive in a rushing torrent that was dizzying to the small slayer. Confused, she lay perfectly still, her lungs barely contracting around the shallow breaths that she took as she tried to sort through the overwhelming information that assaulted her bewildered mind. This awakening was unlike any form of unconsciousness that she had ever before experienced. For one thing, she didn't hurt. Usually, a return to the conscious world was always accompanied by some ache or another, usually centering around her head and the injury that brought about her unconsciousness in the first place. But this time.. this time there was nothing.
Then there was the small matter of the extremely hard floor that was pressing uncomfortably against her back, the cold seeping through the gritty cement and chilling her bared flesh - which was another thing. Last she remembered she had been dressed for the cold winters of the Smokey Mountains, yet while she could feel the familiar press of her cargos around her hips and legs, the sweater and jacket she had been wearing were most definitely missing, and it seemed that only her thin cotton tank had remained. When she added that little fact to the uncomfortable way her body seemed glued to the floor, the dank, musty smell of a building which hadn't seen life in far too long, and the soft murmuring of unfamiliar voices around her... well, it certainly left more unexplained than not.
"I thought that you said you could wake her," a soft, beautifully feminine voice stated - one that caused the fine hairs on Buffy's arms to tingle.
"I did and she is," a familiar French voice stated, its tone brusque and frosty. "From her reaction, I'm guessing that she has never before been stunned."
Stunned. She had been stunned. By Celeste's watcher. In Cleveland. With Harry.
"Harry," Buffy gasped, her eyes instantly opening as she struggled against whatever force pinned her to the ground. Green eyes growing wide, Buffy frantically turned her head one way and then another, taking in the barren room with a passing glance before narrowing upon Dahmascus, Serantine, and Robert Bertrone. "Where are Harry and Ron? What's going on?" she demanded, her voice hard as she continued to struggle against her invisible bonds, only to become disheartened as her limbs seemed to only jerk slightly in response to her frantic movements.
"So she is," Dahm agreed, smiling as he settled his gaze briefly on the seething slayer before he gracefully moved towards a table that was pressed against a far wall.
"Where are Harry and Ron?" Buffy repeated, feeling her anger build as the god ignored her - and feeling her anger swell around her fear as the dark-haired god casually lifted a long ceremonial dagger before moving back and kneeling beside her.
"So the monks really put the key in the slayer?" he asked as he twirled the dagger in one hand, Buffy's eyes unwillingly tracing the gleaming blade's every move.
"Evidently," Ser agreed as she knelt opposite of Dahm, her eyes narrowing as they swept over the slayer's prone form. "I can almost see it inside of her, just waiting to come out."
"Come out?" Buffy murmured, knowing that she didn't like the sound of that. And as Dahmascus began to casually toss the twirling dagger back and forth between his beautiful hands, the slayer found her eyes slowly slipping shut as she tried to calm her ragged breathing. They were tormenting her. Playing with her.
Then again, what could you expect from a pair of Hell Gods? Crackers and tea? Not likely. Besides, it wasn't as though they were the first to have ever held her at a disadvantage as they played up their hand. She had experienced five months of such cruelty when she was in the hands of the Centre. She had borne this before and she could do it again.
"Blood, do you think?" Dahm questioned as he deftly caught the handle of the blade in one hand and drove it expertly into Buffy's side before she had a chance to catch her breath or prepare herself for the pain - and pain there was.
Feeling her breath forcefully driven from her lungs in an arc of agony, Buffy's eyes pinched shut as her features twisted into a grimace of pain. Unbidden, tears burned at her eyes, wetting her lashes as she muffled the sobs that threatened to break free. She was sure that she had received more grievous wounds during her time as slayer - wounds far more threatening and painful... but damn if she could think of any at the moment. Actually, Buffy was quickly realizing that thinking at all was becoming near impossible as the pain caused an alarming weakness to spread through her paralyzed limbs.
"You didn't hit anything vital, did you?" Serantine asked, her muffled voice creeping through the pain as she felt warm fingers rub along the blade that was buried in her side before slowly pulling away.
Gasping through the pain, Buffy watched through watery eyes as Dahm carefully eyed the wet blood that stained his fingertips, a frown pulling at his features. But as another wave of pain rocked her small body, Buffy quickly turned her attention to the goddess that slowly pulled the beautiful dagger from her side, a wet sucking noise echoing grossly from the open wound, and tossed it absently to the ground beside her. Frowning thoughtfully, the fiery-haired demon leaned forward and inspected the bloody mess before slowly, torturously digging her fingers into the stab wound.
Gagging around the pain that caused darkness to blur her vision, Buffy wanted nothing more than to scream her agony aloud as her finger nails clawed at the cold cement beneath her. But both of these desires were robbed from her by the heaving breaths her lungs fought for and by the heavy press of whatever spell locked her body to the floor. But then, even the need to breathe seemed unimportant in comparison to the words the gods spoke.
"No, the energy isn't in her blood," Ser murmured, shaking her head as she looked down at the panting girl in confusion.
"Then where is it?" Dahmascus snapped, his patience obviously waning.
"Someplace... you'll never get it," Buffy gasped, her watery green eyes narrowed fiercely upon the duo as a wave of dizziness caused the room to tilt around her.
"Where?" Dahm demanded as he glowered at the small girl.
"I'll never tell," she sing-songed back, a hiccupped laugh causing her features to crease in pain as she grinned idiotically at the duo. Not that the Hell Gods would get it. The bad guys never
got the references that she always hit them with. Besides, it wasn't exactly as though this was a monumental stride in quippage... although, she figured that she had to get some
points for the fact that the quip was even made, what with the whole deep stab wound in her side.
Drawn back from her rambling musings by a loud, inarticulate cry of vexation, Buffy watched through pain-glazed eyes as Dahmascus rose from beside her and stalked from the room. Smirking despite her pain, she reveled in this small victory - until the soft caress of warm skin upon her cheek drew her wandering attention to the beautiful goddess that continued to rest at her side. Buffy noted the pinched lines of the woman's steely gray eyes and the full lips that were set in an unforgiving line. "I'll never tell," Buffy repeated, stifling a pained moan as the hurt radiated through her body.
"As with your friends," Serantine returned, a slow smile pulling at her lips as Buffy's fight with the darkness was instantly forgotten.
"My.. my friends?" she stammered, her unwavering attention focused on the cold glimmer in the red-head's eyes.
"Oh yes. Your friends never spoke either - yet their refusal bought them naught save pain, death, and loss," she murmured, her smile lifting as Buffy's head slowly, inexorably began to turn back and forth in desperate denial. "Dahm spoke of the dark-haired male in Sunnydale - the one that he skewered to the wall of a burning home," she murmured as Buffy felt her stomach tighten as though she had been punched.
"He also spoke of the red-haired witch and the dark-haired slayer that fell from a second-story window, and the remaining witch that burned with the other," she continued as Buffy's physical pain was replaced by the agonizing pain in her heart.
"I, myself, released the true demon from his cage in the City of Angels and left him to feed on his mortal companions - the vampire who will forever be without a soul."
"In Delaware we killed many and took from the woman that was said to have run the complex, while at the Council and the magic school we killed and maimed many, including the head Watcher as well as the man that was said to be your own."
Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid, Snape, Remus, Sirius, Hermione... Giles
"And in Cleveland... you saw what we did to your red-haired friend," Serantine continued, her smile turning obscene as Buffy's eyes slipped shut - a single tear tracing down her cheek.
"And as for the boy that was with you... what was his name again? Henry?"
"Harry," Buffy corrected despite herself as the vise tightened around her heart until she could feel nothing, see nothing, and feel nothing beside the pain that had become her entire existence.
"Apparently not even a wizard can avoid a bullet," Serantine murmured, her final blow to the small slayer as she climbed to her feet and slipped from the room. They would have to return before long to see that their Key didn't bleed to death, but until then the goddess was content with the damage she had wrought.
Her friends. Her family
. Attacked, hurt and destroyed.
To protect her.