Sacrifice Par Amarth: Chapter 3
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
Sighing softly, Harry slowly arched his neck and took in the imposing white building that soared into the sky above, jutting for what seemed like miles in either direction and fronting the chilly, crystalline blue water that lapped at the shoreline behind him. The building looked cold, impersonal, and un-like anything he had seen before - and very much not
like the kind of place he had been picturing when he and Buffy had decided days ago to go for help - days of travel by boat, plane, and finally taxi - the last of which was pulling away on the long, narrow private drive behind them.
Harry wearily lifted a hand and ran it through his tousled black hair, trying to smother it back into a semblance of order as his green eyes sought out his petite companion. "Can you please tell me again what we're doing here?" he asked, his voice betraying his doubts as he frowned at the soft plume his breath left in the cool fall air.
"The Watcher's Council owns the Centre now," Buffy explained, her green eyes taking in the impressive building for the first time as she hoisted her large black duffel onto her small shoulders, wincing as the strap fell into the groove it created during their travels. While it was true that she had spent over five months imprisoned in this same building, she had no memories of ever arriving or leaving by the massive doors that stood before her. In fact, she had no memory of the outside of the building at all. Instead, she was only left with the images, sounds, and smells of the many dank sublevels that the Centre stood upon - not to mention the cold that had haunted her for so long.
Startled, Harry turned towards the small slayer, absently taking her heavy bag from her as he shouldered his own. "You never mentioned that before," Harry returned with a frown as he trailed her up the many cement stairs to the heavy doors that fronted the massive structure.
Rolling her eyes at both the soft accusation in Harry's words, and the fact that he had taken her bag without even realizing it, Buffy crested the last stair and stilled before the doors that towered over her slight frame. "Gee, sorry about that," she replied with a wry smile. "I guess that it seemed like such a small detail in comparison to the months of torture and brainwashing," she finished as Harry dropped the bags at their feet - one falling so close that she had to dance back to avoid having it land on her toes. And by the smile that danced around the corners of Harry's lips, Buffy was pretty sure that it had been done on purpose. "Anyway," she continued, pointedly ignoring his baiting as she pulled her long hair away from her neck and lifted it up in a quick twist, "I'm sure that they can help us out," she added as she slipped a slim white stick amongst the loose strands and pinned them in place.
"If only we can figure out how to get in," Harry added as he tugged ineffectively at the tightly sealed door. Frowning, he turned away and allowed his eyes to roam over the sun that was shining so brightly over the green expanse of lawn - the chill of fall only beginning to color the trees' leaves. "They shouldn't be closed yet, should they?" he asked, not entirely sure of how different the business practices of the United States were from Britain. While this was his first trip to the States, he was still fairly confident that any normal business would be open in the middle of the afternoon on a Monday.
"No, they should be open," Buffy agreed as she studied the doors that, no matter how long she scrutinized them, continued to look quite impressive and very, very solid.
"Maybe they just don't like visitors," Harry suggested, trying his best to be helpful as Buffy leveled one of her patented glares in his direction. Smiling innocently, Harry contented himself to watching the slayer as she eyed the door speculatively for a few seconds before finally taking note of the little white box that was inset to the stone off to the right.
"Ah ha!" she cried, smiling triumphantly at Harry who had the good graces to look suitably impressed with her find, even as the small slayer pushed the button affixed beneath the speakers.
Within seconds a very tinny-sounding woman's voice crackled through the intercom system. "Can I help you?" she asked in a way that managed to sound both irritated and severely annoyed at being disturbed.
Frowning, Buffy eyed the speaker a moment, slightly startled at the open hostility she could hear in the stranger's voice. "I'm here to see Jarod," she returned, sharing a bewildered glance with Harry.
"Do you have an appointment?"
Frown deepening, Buffy eyed the intercom with evident confusion. "No, I-"
"Jarod is a very busy man and the head of our Research Department," the woman interrupted, her voice sounding even more frosty, if such a thing was possible. "You cannot simply push my button and expect to get in to see him."
For a moment, Buffy could only stare at the intercom in stunned silence. The woman's cold words and evident rudeness were so unexpected that Buffy forgot how to speak - but only for a moment, and then it all came back. After all, being the slayer wasn't all about the speed to outmaneuver your enemies or the strength to crush your opponents. Oh no. The package also came with the ability to glare with the best of them and a sharp wit to rival any two-bit secretary... or maybe that was all Buffy. Regardless, after realizing only days ago that she was in a situation that she could neither understand nor fight, Buffy found herself stepping up to the challenge of facing a foe that she could
fight - even if it was only a verbal battle. "Listen up," she bit out, her eyes narrowing dangerously, "Jarod and I happen to be old friends and are very close-"
A very unlady-like snort broke into Buffy's tirade. "You look awfully young to be an old friend of Jarod's," the woman responded dryly as Buffy unconsciously began to fidget before the intercom, one hand reaching down to smooth her wrinkled charcoal pants as the other picked at the long white jacket she wore over her thin sweater. "Besides, everyone knows that Jarod is seeing Miss Parker."
Buffy flushed as she realized the full implication of the woman's words, and Harry quickly stepped beside her, his eyes narrowed as he studied the simple white box. He may have been raised in a muggle home just like any other muggle, but it wasn't as though living with the Dursley's had been enlightening with his family eager to show him how the muggle world worked around him - no matter how curious of a child he had been. And presently, there was one simple matter that was occupying his thoughts. "How would you know what she looks like?" he asked, a childhood born on the wings of war coloring his voice with a suspicion that he coveted to this day - unable to relinquish its hold.
"Sugar, you've been on my screen since the second that little cab of yours rolled through the gates," the woman returned dryly as Harry turned, his green eyes searching out the elusive and hidden surveillance cameras that she hinted at.
"Well I don't care if I've been on your screen since we hit the states," Buffy returned, her arms crossed stubbornly over her chest. "I want to see Jarod."
Features becoming pinched, Buffy angrily stalked towards the little device and glowered at it. "Listen, Lady, we've come a long way, we're tired, we're jet lagged, I'm cranky, and you're really
starting to piss me off! I want to see Jarod!
"Well I don't care if you came straight from Timbuktu. You're not seeing Jarod without an appointment."
Releasing the breath that she had been holding, Buffy fought the overwhelming desire to get physical with the box in a very slayer-ish fashion and instead decided to try a new track. "Well if I can't get in to see Jarod, then I want to see Miss Parker."
In response, the woman's voice sighed through the connection. "Miss Parker is the head of the entire Centre. You can't just demand to see her. You need to have an appointment. So once more, do - you - have - an - appointment?"
Pasting a saccharine sweet smile on her full lips, Buffy slowly nodded her head. "I do."
"Hold on," the woman's voice echoed back as Harry sighed loudly beside her.
"Do you really think that's going to work?" he asked, having abandoned his fruitless task of searching for cameras to rub wearily at the bridge of his nose, his wire-rimmed glasses dangling from one hand - an act that was so reminiscent of Giles that Buffy almost smiled. Almost.
"I don't see you coming up with anything better," Buffy returned sharply as the intercom crackled back to life.
"I'm sorry," the woman responded, somehow managing to sound anything but. "I just checked Miss Parker's schedule and I don't seem to have you listed. I can't let you in."
Buffy growled as her hands clenched into fists that were so tight she was afraid she was going to draw blood. "Listen up! Either you open these doors or I'll open them for you!"
And in the face of a slayer's blinding anger the woman laughed - laughed in a way that no demon or other villain had ever dared to before. "I don't know what kind of places you generally frequent, but we are a reputable business and we don't just let any two-bit Britney Spears wannabe in off the street."
"Excuse me," Harry interrupted, flashing his most charming smile as he lay a restraining hand on Buffy's shoulder. And even though she surged against him, her slayer strength was still so nominal that she could merely tug ineffectively at his iron hold. "Can I please make an appointment to speak with either Jarod or Miss Parker?"
And in the blink of an eye the woman's hostility was gone as her voice sang through the intercom. "Of course. When would you like to get in to see them?"
"As soon as possible," Harry returned, trying to block out Buffy's exasperated shrieks. "Today, perhaps?"
"I'm sorry, young man," the woman returned, her voice sounding extremely apologetic, "but both Jarod and Miss Parker are out of the office for the day."
"WHAT?" Jerking her arm free of Harry's hold, Buffy shoved him aside and stalked towards the intercom. "Why didn't you just say so in the first place?"
"You never asked," the woman responded, her voice smug and coated with ice.
In that moment, Buffy saw red. It wasn't that she was normally this impatient or so easy to get riled. In fact, for years Giles had worked with her to control her temper and to stay calm and collected in the face of an enemy. As her watcher had always stated, anger would only blind her and facing an opponent blind would only bring death - something that Buffy had never been eager for, no matter how
bad things got. Well, okay, for a time there she had been kind of looking forward to that as she stalked the streets of Sunnydale after her return from the Centre, looking for something or someone to take it all away. But now? She was usually much more calm, collected and... well, more Buffy. But after months of running and not even realizing it, after learning that something was wrong and for once, not knowing how to fight it, and after endless hours and days of traveling to get here - Buffy was on her last rope and the secretary was about to find out what a dangerous position that could be. Body tensing, Buffy felt her muscles coil as she prepared to spring and-
"Buffy, what are you doing?"
And as quickly as it had come, the red drained away as Buffy turned away from the harmless little white box, her green-eyed gaze trailing over the tall man that stood quietly on the steps behind her and Harry. His brown hair was a little shorter and spiked in every direction, and the dark jeans and light tee-shirt visible through his open leather jacket showed a body that was still toned to that of a man much younger than his years, but his eyes - his brown eyes were the feature that caught and held her own as they gazed at her in open confusion.
"I was about to smash through this door and kick your secretary's ass," Buffy responded dryly as she allowed her muscles to relax and for the uncommon rage to seep away, a small smile lifting her lips as she nodded at the Pretender.
"And how exactly were you planning on getting through the door?" Harry asked, reminding her of his presence as his own eyes did a quick sweep over the stranger. "You're not strong enough," he added as his green eyes turned back to the small blonde that was currently glowering in his direction.
"Yeah, but I bet your head is," Buffy countered as she crossed her arms stubbornly over her chest. In retrospect, she probably could have handled the situation a little differently, but then again- "Besides, it's not like you were exactly a ton of help."
Rolling his eyes, Harry slowly bent down and retrieved their bags. "And what was I supposed to do?" he asked as he tiredly lifted a bag to each aching shoulder. "Levitate a pineapple? You're right, maybe she has an acute fear of flying fruit-"
"Aviofructophobia," Jarod cut in with a small smile as he broke in on their little argument, taking the larger of the two bags from the young man as the lanky teen threw him a bewildered glance. "Aviofructophobio - the fear of flying fruit," Jarod explained with a small shrug.
"Oh." For a moment, Harry didn't know what to say in return to that as he threw a glance at Buffy, who merely shrugged in return. "I, uh... I guess that I didn't quite realize that there was such a thing."
"There probably isn't," Jarod agreed, his smile growing and causing a dimple to form in each cheek, small laugh lines appearing around his warm brown eyes. "But then again, you never can tell these days. And no, Janet doesn't suffer from it. She's just naturally mean," he added as he moved towards the large doors and punched in a code on the keypad by the handle. "It's one of the reasons Miss Parker hired her for the job," he continued as he led the way into the Centre, not missing the glare that Buffy threw in Janet's direction as they walked past. "While the Centre may no longer be owned by the Triumvirate, we still have a lot of ongoing projects that could be dangerous if they fell in the wrong hands - especially since the Watcher's Council has started to send us some rather... interesting projects," he added, smiling enigmatically as his eyes swept over his two companions.
Buffy looked as tan and fit as ever, her charcoal slacks flattering her slim form and her golden hair bleached even lighter by the sun and pinned in a messy twist behind her head. But more than that, she looked tired. Dark circles lined her eyes and she carried herself as though weary, not only physically, but drawn down emotionally as well. He also couldn't help but notice the way that Buffy and her companion seemed to instinctively draw together as they walked through the wide halls of the Centre. Both seemed lost in a world that was populated only by each other - and as the young man wrapped his arm casually around Buffy's waist, the small slayer leaning into the gesture, it was obvious that they shared a familiarity that was borne of much time together.
Curious, Jarod's gaze swept over the teen, not recognizing him from his forays into Sunnydale. He was tall and lean with messy black hair that shot out in all directions. His clothes were simple: dark cords and a thin red sweater, topped by a short, black leather jacket. He carried himself confidently and with an athletic grace, but it was the piercing green eyes that were hidden behind a pair of thin, black-rimmed glasses that caught Jarod's attention - and the way that they studied every person that they passed with a suspicious glance - and the way they softened whenever they drifted to the small girl that leaned against him. Despite the small war of words that he had witnessed on the front step minutes earlier, it was obvious that the two cared a great deal about each other - and that something was quite wrong.
"It's been awhile," Jarod commented, breaking the silence that had fallen over the trio as he led the way down a brightly lit hall in the Centre's upper reaches. "We haven't heard anything about or from you since you sent that letter with the returned guns," he added, hoping to lure the young woman into conversation. And when that proved ineffective, Jarod tried again. "Miss Parker and I were beginning to wonder if you'd pulled one of your disappearing acts once again," he added, his voice growing soft as Buffy finally drew away from her thoughts and smiled tiredly at the pretender.
"We've been traveling," she returned, shrugging her small shoulders as Harry snorted beside her.
"Yeah, you could say that again," he agreed, unconsciously pulling Buffy closer against him. While Buffy seemed to relax further with each step they took, obviously completely comfortable and feeling quite safe in the man's presence, Harry found himself unable to let go. It was strange, because he knew that if Buffy trusted the man and this place, he should as well. On the other hand, the knowledge of what had been done to her within these same walls, combined with the strange desire to simply grab Buffy around the waist, fling her over his shoulder and to flee from this place and far away from anyone who knew them, was so powerful that he found himself fighting it with each step. The distrust and uneasiness because of what had been done to Buffy was understandable, but the other, more fierce emotion was so alien that only after his friends' howler was he able to see that it wasn't truly his own. Well, that wasn't true either. It was his own feelings, his own desires to keep Buffy safe, but it was the knowledge of why
he wanted to do this that was so frustrating. So frustrating because it just wasn't there. The only thing he had to go on was his intuition and his gut instinct - the gut instinct that was currently telling him that his best option was to just take Buffy and continue traveling and hiding. From what - well, once more that was the question.
Becoming even more curious at Buffy's vague answer, Jarod forced himself to respect her silence as he twisted the knob of the door beside him, leading the teens into the large, spacious room beyond.
Green eyes sweeping the large room, Buffy took in the modest and tasteful decor, the long leather couch and comfortable armchairs, and the massive mahogany desk and swivel chair that stood to the side. Not to mention the impressive bank of windows that looked out on the water that sparkled like jewels beneath the afternoon sun. "This is your office?" she asked, smiling as she took in the shelves of books that lined the back walls, the titles so varied that they hinted at subjects as diverse as medicine, law, hunting, sky diving, and ancient history - not to mention the few familiar tomes on demon lore and magic.
"Yes, this is it," Jarod agreed as he followed Buffy's eyes with his own, a proud smile lifting his lips. It felt good to be able to show off a bit to someone who, like he, had experienced the worst that the Centre had to offer. "Broots, Sydney, and Miss Parker all have similar offices down the hall - even Angelo has his own space now."
"You don't remember him?" the pretender asked with a puzzled glance. "Miss Parker said that Angelo was the one that tipped her off about Lyle's dealings with you. If it wasn't for him, she probably never would have learned about what Lyle was up to."
Smiling wryly, Buffy slowly drifted over to the long leather couch and settled onto the cool material with a small, grateful sigh. "I wasn't exactly yay me during my stay here... then again, this isn't quite what I expected, either," she admitted with a frown as Harry settled on the couch beside her, his long frame stretching out as his eyes slipped shut, a pleased smile pulling at his lips.
"Well, there've been a lot of changes since Miss Parker took over. It's not the same Centre that we both knew," Jarod offered with a shrug as he settled his own long frame in a plush leather chair opposite of the teens.
Smiling, Buffy batted her anxiety away as she eyed her friend. "You look happy."
"I am," Jarod agreed, his smile mirroring Buffy's own as his thoughts slipped to all of his good fortunes. His life was his own now and he was nobody's property. He was a man who had parents who loved him, a beautiful little sister, and a brother that he shared with the woman he loved. It was a strange family, but one that he wouldn't trade for the world. When you added to that a man that he had always thought of as both a father and a mentor, and another man that was a friend even when they were enemies, his life was truly complete. He was doing what he did best, using his natural gift as a Pretender to help those that needed helping. And this time, he did his work for people he trusted and he knew that his gifts weren't being misused. It was everything that he had ever hoped for and more - and it was due in large part to the small girl that sat opposite of him. The girl that, despite her warm smile, radiated so much confusion and fear that it was impossible for someone as sensitive to those around him not
to notice. "And you look troubled," he stated, bringing his observations to the table and giving her the opening to tell him what was really going on.
Sighing, Buffy felt all of her worries come crashing down with Jarod's simple words. "I am," she admitted with a small ghost of a smile as she reached out and took Harry's larger hand in her own, his green eyes blinking open and focusing on her. "Jarod, I'd like you to meet Harry Potter," she murmured, her smile becoming more genuine as Harry took his cue and sat forward, clasping hands with Jarod as the pretender's eyes grew wide, sweeping over him with a new intensity.
Harry Potter?" Jarod questioned, his curiosity piqued.
Rolling his eyes, Harry automatically rubbed a hand against the lightning-shaped scar that was hidden beneath his tousled hair. "You never mentioned that he was a wizard," he murmured, throwing Buffy a tired smile.
"I'm not," Jarod quickly countered as he sat back in his chair, his elbows resting on either arm rest and his fingers steepled before his chin. "But I've been doing some research about your world since receiving Buffy's letter, and she did
give us a pretty extensive run down of her time in England. Plus, you were mentioned... a few times," he said, grinning innocently as Buffy blushed at his words.
Smiling softly, Harry turned to the small girl sitting so comfortably beside him. "You mentioned me?"
"Just the important stuff - like how I was going to work on your fashion sense," Buffy returned, smiling innocently at him as her eyes took in the clothes that suited him so well. "I couldn't very well be seen around the world with a guy dressed in black dresses, now could I? Besides, look at all that I've accomplished in the past few months! You could pass for a muggle!"
"Robes, Buffy, they were robes," Harry returned with a resigned shake of his head. "And besides, if I must dress like a muggle while in the muggle world, that means that you must return the favor and dress as a witch the next time we pay the wizarding world a visit. I think that some of the older witches and wizards were quite scandalized by your... dress..." he murmured, his voice trailing off into a thick silence. For a moment, their light-hearted bantering distracted them both from the reason of their visit, but all too quickly their mirth was forgotten as the simple mention of the wizarding world brought to mind all that they had forsaken and all that they had lost. And what they had regained only to keep it hidden from those that they loved most.
Sensing the change in mood, Jarod frowned as his eyes drifted from one teen to the other. "I take it, then, that this isn't a social call."
"Unfortunately, no," Buffy agreed as she shared a knowing glance with Harry. "We need to get a hold of Giles and Harry's godfather, Sirius Black, and... and we'd rather keep Sunnydale out of this one," she admitted as she felt Harry's hand tighten around her own. "At least until we find out more. And since I sincerely doubt that Angel's number can be found in the white pages, we figured that you were our best bet," she added, forcing a small smile as Jarod stared worriedly at the two.
It was obvious that they were both leaving a lot unsaid - a whole lot, from the looks of it - but for the moment, none of that mattered. "The Council keeps a pretty tight ship," Jarod murmured thoughtfully as he abandoned his chair to move around his large desk, one hand reaching for the phone as he booted up his computer with the other. "Then again, I'm sure that they must have a database with all of that information listed somewhere - and if it's on a computer, between Broots and I, we can get it in no time."
Smiling, Buffy followed Jarod around his desk and pushed his phone away long enough to give him a warm hug. "Thank you," she murmured, smiling as she felt one of his strong arms wrap around her small waist. "I know that it seems like I only drop by when I need a favor," she added as she pulled away, one hand reaching up to cup his smooth cheek. "Sorry about that."
Grinning, Jarod lifted his hand until he captured her small digits in his own. "If it weren't for you, I'd still be running from the Centre," he returned, squeezing her hand gently before releasing it and turning back to the phone, punching in the familiar extension. "Trust me when I say that it's the least that I can do," he added as Buffy nodded once before returning to her seat beside Harry, just as the other line was picked up. "Broots? I have a new project for us..."O o O o O o O
Muttering softly to himself, the aged man worked trembling fingers through the thin, almost translucent pages of the heavy book that rest on the hard cement floor beneath him. The past few months had aged him far, far beyond his years and now he looked more the part of a brittle old man than the wizened leader of his brethren that he had been earlier in the fading summer. Just as the warm summer months had drawn to a close to make way for the bitter, chill air of winter, so had his hope and energy waned as his brethren had fallen at his heels. Now, only he remained to carry on the vigilance.
The time was drawing near and yet the appointed time couldn't come soon enough. He and his brothers had planned on carrying their secrets until the time had passed and when they could be free - either that, or bring them to their grave. But now he was alone and knew with a sick certainty that he couldn't hold out - not much longer. Instead, he had to find the other two. They hadn't planned on involving them, but someone had to know his secret. Someone had to carry on the knowledge and keep it safe. Keep her safe. And so, in the end, his travels had brought him to the one place that he and his brethren had fought so hard to avoid.
And all to no avail. He was standing near the mouth to Hell and far too close to the appointed place for comfort. They were here and they would find him. He had led them far away from the treasure that they sought, had led them for many months - but now the chase was over.
Suddenly, his wandering mind snapped back into focus as one trembling finger stilled on a single entry in the long list of information that was stored in this great book.EUSTICE P
383 Elmwood Dr Sunnydale. . . . . . . . . 385-1526EVANS Andrew & Cheryl
1A Oak St Sunnydale. . . 385-7854 Bob & Cathy
383-C Archer Ave Sunnydale. . . . 385-6489 Faith
2335 Sunset Ave Sunnydale. . . . . . . . . . 385-3829
Heaving a sigh of relief that his long search was finally over, the monk quickly memorized the address listed and flipped the book shut. With slow, tired movements he pulled himself to his aching feet, brown eyes sweeping over the large, abandoned floor of the warehouse that he had called home for days now. The Dagon Sphere was gone, and with it his only protection. He could only hope that it would help those that had found it more than it had ever helped him or his brethren.
With that thought to guide him, the monk slowly began making his way across the large expanse, his eyes locked on the large steel door that allowed admittance to the high floor - and froze as something pounded on the door from the other side.
He was too late.
Swallowing his fear, the monk slowly began backing away, his eyes trained on the door that was beginning to buckle beneath the onslaught. "The Beasts," he murmured in his native tongue, eyes desperately searching for another way. But there was no other way, which was exactly why he had chosen this place to be his refuge. Only one way in and only one way out.
Heart hammering against his chest, the monk could do nothing but watch in fascinated horror as the steel door was pounded right off of its hinges, the heavy metal crashing to the floor in an explosion of dust. Gasping, the man staggered back a few steps as he struggled to find clean air, eyes lifting to take in the two forms that stood silhouetted before him.
They were as beautiful as they were deadly, the man tall and slender with hair the color of midnight that framed his face in short curls and eyes the color of deep violet, the woman just as tall and slender with hair the color of fire, lush and long and curly against her fair, porcelain-like skin and eyes the gray hue of a misty morning. Oh, they were indeed glorious to look upon - until one looked into their cold, hard eyes. There was nothing human in their gaze and it chilled the monk to the core.
"There you are," the man called out, his voice deep and beautiful.
"We've been looking all over for you," the woman added, her own voice as melodious as his, both a wonder to listen to. And both edged in steel - a steel that would be his undoing.