Sacrifice Par Amarth: Chapter 6
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
"We don't know and that's what we need you to figure out."
If only things could be that simple. Sighing, Buffy sat back in her plush leather chair and listened to the conversation that seemed to be going in circles around her. From complex wizarding spells to state-of-the-art brainwashing techniques, both Sirius and Jarod were in their element as the two men argued the merits and downfalls to the spells and procedures - each trying to decide which avenue would most likely explain her and Harry's erratic behavior. Buffy, on the other hand, was quickly coming to the conclusion that neither seemed to fully explain the situation. She knew firsthand what brainwashing was all about, and she could personally vouch that this wasn't the problem. It wasn't as though the ideas that were driving them were alien to her and Harry. Rather they seemed to be their own thoughts, feelings and intuitions - making it obvious that the real problem wasn't a foreign thought guiding them, but rather a lack of knowledge - a lack of remembrance of the very thing
that drove them. In other words, there seemed to be something missing from the puzzle rather than added to it - and by the way that Giles and Miss Parker followed the conversation, their eyes bemusedly traveling from one man to the other as the debate became heated, it was obvious that she wasn't the only one that shared in this conclusion.
Rolling her eyes as Sirius launched into a tirade on the virtues of wizarding magic, Buffy found her attention beginning to wane. In a way, the conversation was a shock to her system - a welcome shock. For the past two months, she and Harry had existed for nothing else but each other's company. And while their time together had been wonderful, deep down Buffy had begun to crave the presence of others: Giles, her friends, and everything that made up a past that seemed so distant and unimportant when faced with the strange drive to keep moving. But now, with Giles' knee brushing against hers and his green eyes constantly searching out her own, she couldn't help but be reminded of the things that had always driven her when the odds just became too much - and that was the friends that she had been missing. They had always given her a reason to keep fighting the good fight and now, when reunited with a few of the people that she had been secretly missing, Buffy feared that unless they could get to the bottom of the mess that she and Harry had somehow found themselves in, she may never be able to go back to them.
Shaking her head, Buffy forced a small smile for Harry as she tried to focus on the conversation - and briefly considered adding her own insight on the horrors of brainwashing - when she became distracted by a shrill beeping. Turning, she watched as Miss Parker lifted a small pager from the waist band of her skirt, frowned at the message, and then stalked from the room - disappearing for a few seconds before returning with a disheveled Remus Lupin. Immediately everyone was on their feet as the hugs, scolding, and explanations were repeated - and all registering in the background of Buffy's tumultuous thoughts as a new chirping interrupted the chaos. Frowning, she watched as her watcher quickly searched his pockets for his cell phone before backing away from the others, retreating to a corner of the room as he lifted the small device to his ear - and then met her eyes as he shared a few brief words with whomever had called before returning the phone to his pocket.
"Giles?" Buffy asked, slipping unnoticed from Harry's side as he was engulfed in yet another bone-crushing hug
from his favored 'uncle' and former professor, the older man's soft scolding falling away as she moved to meet her watcher a fair distance from the others.
"That was Samuel Fellows-"
"Your friend from the Council?"
"Head of the Council, yes," Giles agreed, his gaze turning distant as he mulled over his friend's urgent questions. "He sounded relieved to hear that you had turned up. He said that he and some others are on their way here right now."
"He and who others?" Buffy returned, frowning as she unconsciously wrapped her arms around her waist. Even if she did receive the memo about the Council being on their side for the moment, and had even met and received help from Mr. Fellows in the past, that did little to erase all of the bad that always seemed to go with the organization that had haunted her steps since first being called.
"He didn't say," Giles murmured, not bothering to mention that aside from a brief warning to stay there, his friend hadn't taken the time to offer much else in the way of explanation for his rather odd behavior.
"Giles, I don't-" Buffy began, her eyes sliding over to find Harry's questioning gaze resting on her - and then freezing as the room's occupants suddenly doubled with a whoosh of displaced air. Startled, Buffy felt herself instinctively stepping away, the small of her back colliding with Giles' solid frame as nine people appeared in the middle of the room, all grasping an edge of a small, white handkerchief. Stunned, Buffy felt her eyes widen as her gaze skipped over the very people that she had been longing for, as well as a few others: Willow, Xander, Faith, Tara, Ron, Hermione, Samuel Fellows, and the new slayer and her watcher - and all looking expectantly at the room's contents before they scattered.
"Oof!" Buffy grunted as Willow and Xander threw themselves at her, wrapping her in their tight embrace and squeezing her as they babbled incoherently, their loud voices trying to be heard over the others. Not that she understood a word that they were saying. Instead, with practically every single person in the room vying to be heard by the two teens, all that came out was a thundering din that caused Buffy to wish frantically for the quiet and serene tropical beach that she had left only days ago. Within minutes she was then traded off to Ron and Hermione, the wizard and witch taking their turn at adding their voices to the fray as they hugged her so tight that Buffy was beginning to have to struggle for each lungful of oxygen. And then, surprisingly enough, the two teens were replaced by Faith - her sister slayer herself - as the normally standoffish girl crushed her in a hug that Buffy knew left more than a few of her ribs bruised. And then... and then there was a sort of blessed reprieve as Giles wrapped a strong arm around her waist, his features tightened into a scowl that caused her friends to heed his glare and back away far enough to form a small circle around her. Across the room, she saw that Harry was captured in hiw own circle of friends and family.
Overwhelmed at the group's sudden arrival and subsequent attempts to assure themselves of her well-being, Buffy took a moment as her gaze drifted over each person in turn. First came Xander, her friend looking a bit heavier than he had in the four months since she had seen him, but with a bright, goofy grin. Then came Tara - a girl that she had only met for the first time on the night that they battled Lord Voldemort - yet a girl that had been willing to risk her life to help a castle full of strangers. Even now, the taller girl smiled shyly at Buffy as she fidgeted between Xander and Willow, her warm hazel eyes sliding over her before turning back to Willow... Willow. Grinning, Buffy took in the short red hair and the long, gypsy-ish red skirt and the funky sweater - a far cry from the clothes that Willow had always sported in high school. Smiling, her eyes slipped past her friend as she instinctively searched for the boy that could always be found by her friend's side - and frowned as she came up empty. "Where's Oz?" Buffy asked as she turned back to the slender redhead.
"Oh... O-Oz?" Willow stammered, a fierce blush staining her cheeks as she bit her lip, her eyes slipping over to Tara and Xander before finally landing back on her best friend. "Well, you see... we, uh... we broke up a few months ago."
?" Buffy yelped before quickly clapping a hand over her mouth as though she could take back her startled statement by will alone. Wincing, she turned her eyes away as she berated herself for her complete and utter lack of tact. She knew how much Willow had loved the werewolf-y member of their little Scooby gang and she couldn't help but think of how much the break-up must have hurt the red head. But when she dared to lift her eyes again, she quickly realized that Willow seemed more embarrassed than hurt by the break-up. And for some reason, Buffy had the distinct impression that Willow had been the one to do the breaking. "Why?" Buffy asked, her eyes searching her friend's and more than a little surprised at what she found there.
"Well, I-I think," Willow stammered, her cheeks flaming so bright that they began to match her hair, "I think that-that my evil vampire double maybe had it right-"
"That killing, torturing, and causing general mayhem is fun?" Buffy asked dubiously.
"Uh, no," Willow quickly denied, smiling despite herself. "More like... well... remember when I said that I thought that she was kind of gay?"
"Yeah, you..." Buffy began, only to have her words trail off as her eyes widened in sudden understanding. "You - gay? But... but-" she continued as her eyes fell on Tara who seemed to be staring at any and everything but Buffy, her cheeks as red as Willow's hair.
"You too?" she asked, her mind trying to wrap around the strange puzzle that had been put before her. "Both gay? Together gay?"
"Way together gay," Willow confirmed with a bright smile as she entwined her fingers with her girlfriend's.
"And let me tell you how much fun it is to live with that
!" Xander added, rolling his eyes dramatically as he cast a quick glance to the couple beside him. "I may no longer be a teenager-"
"Barely," Faith added with a small snort.
"-but I'm still as hormonally-challenged as they come. And I'm pretty sure that those two visit my dreams every... and should be shutting up now," he finished as Willow threw her friend a scandalized glare.
"Wait- hold up," Buffy protested as she grinned at her friends, trying in vain not to laugh as Xander danced out of the way of Willow's slap, Tara all the while trying to hold back her girlfriend. "What do you mean, living with that?" she asked, her eyes sliding over to land on her sister slayer - dressed in her usual assortment of tight leather and jean, a sly smile lifting her painted lips.
"We're all living at my place," Faith explained with a small shrug as she gestured to the three teens as well as the new watcher and slayer who had been standing quietly off to the side - the Frenchman's curious eyes never quite straying from Buffy's slim form.
"You have a place?" Buffy parroted, obviously missing a connection or two as she looked blankly at the others.
"Wow, you really have
been out of the loop," Xander stated, wincing as he earned a slap from Willow for his blunt words.
"Faith's watcher willed her huge house in Sunnydale to her," Willow explained as she sent Faith a guarded glance. "It's become the new Scooby central."
And as Buffy's incredulous stare turned in the direction of the dark-haired slayer, Faith found it was her turn to uncharacteristically blush as she quickly tried to brush off Willow's words and everything that they implied. After all, she had an image to uphold. "Hey, what was I going to do with all that space?" she asked nonchalantly as she parted her hands before her. Not that she really fooled anyone - Buffy included. While Buffy may have been out of the loop for a bit, that didn't mean that she had completely lost the ability to read her friends and former enemies. "But enough about us, B," Faith added as she opened up their little circle, her eyes darting over to scan the dark-haired teen that had disappeared with Buffy for so long. "Where have you and Boy-Wonder been all this time? Because as I was telling everyone else, two months is a lot of time for nookie."
Ignoring the glib comment, Buffy instead focused on the question that had been plaguing her and the others as they tried to work through the dilemma that had united them once more. "That... that's a long story," Buffy murmured, sighing softly as she met Harry's eyes from across the room, not really wanting to go into an explanation for the third time in the past few hours for something that they still didn't understand.
"Well, then how about the cliff notes?" Xander persisted, his eyes betraying his worry and... something else.
Frowning, Buffy realized what it was that she saw in Xander's familiar brown gaze: fear. Eyes narrowing, Buffy turned back to her friends and forced her gaze to go deeper than surface trivialities, quickly becoming dismayed by the same emotion that she read in each of their guarded expressions. Something was going on, and whatever it was, it wasn't of the good. Even the new slayer and her watcher seemed to share in this fear - but their fear seemed to be of a different nature, more muted somehow - more untouched. Sensing his presence, Buffy turned and saw the same confusion in Harry's eyes as his green orbs moved back and forth between Ron and Hermione... and her. With a start, Buffy finally realized the truly unnerving aspect of the fear that the new arrivals seemed to share - and that was the fact that it was directed towards her and her alone.
"Something happened to us a few months back," Harry finally supplied, his concern growing as Sirius, Giles, and Remus seemed to pick up on the underlying tension that charged the air around them. "But we don't know what," he admitted, a small frown pulling at his lips as he absently rubbed at the scar that marred his forehead, more out of habit than any discomfort. He hadn't felt even the slightest twinge from the curse scar since Voldemort's defeat. Instead, he found his discomfort now had a new source.
"Well, I think we got your answers," Faith returned, her expression turning serious as she eyed her sister-slayer. "Me and the Kid ran into a couple of bad asses earlier this afternoon that worked us over real good," she continued, frowning as she admitted to the severe injuries that both had sported - and that had been healed by a few potions that good old Bertie always kept on hand. "We may look five by five now, but trust me when I say that we had our asses delivered to us on a platter."
"Vampires?" Buffy asked, her confusion mounting as Giles quietly moved to her side, her watcher laying a hand on her shoulder.
"Against two slayers?" Faith snorted before shaking her head. "Try again."
"Demons?" Giles asked, his irritation beginning to show.
"Gods," Celeste stated, her voice grim as she shot the smaller slayer a calculating look, as though sizing her up. "Or more precisely, Hell Gods."
For a moment a thick silence fell upon the room as the non-Sunnydale crew tried to digest this particular bit of information - and failed quite spectacularly. "Okay, excuse me when I say, huh?" Buffy stated, shaking her head quickly as her eyes scoured over the group, looking for more information - which was the cue that Samuel had been quietly waiting for.
"After their encounter, Faith contacted myself at the Council in hopes of more information on their opponents," he stated, his British accent clipping his words as his eyes danced over the dark-haired slayer. "When I was unable to reach Rupert, I, in turn, contacted Miss Granger instead. And while she hasn't had time to fully research the creatures, what she has discovered was quite enough."
Sighing, Hermione ran a tired hand through her long, auburn-colored hair - fully feeling the effects of being startled out of bed in hopes of finding some answers, only a few scant hours after joining Ron in that comforting warmth. Unfortunately, the answers that she found were hardly what she had been hoping for.
"Well, as my letters have stated, I work for the Council now," the former Gryffindor began, unable to resist throwing Harry a wounded look at the mention of the many letters that she had been sending her best friend for months now - letters that always came back unopened and untouched. "The Research Department, to be more specific," she added as she nodded towards Giles.
"And you found something about these Hell Gods - already?" Giles prompted, his forehead wrinkling in confusion as he eyed the young girl. The watcher knew that the witch was smart - she was, after all, the top student in her graduating class at Hogwarts and the Council had been lucky to acquire such an asset. In the ensuing months that they had been working together, that much had been proven to Giles time and time again. Not only was Hermione Granger a bright girl, but she was also impressively good at scouring over ancient texts and scrolls in order to find the exact information that was needed - a skill that she said was developed during her time at Hogwarts over the years when hunting for information as varied as the maker of the Sorceror's Stone to different hexes, jinxes, and curses to aid Harry during the Triwizard Tournament in their third year. Her love of the written word was no secret - but the part that boggled Giles' mind was the apparent speed and ease to which this information had been obtained. The Council's libraries were nothing if not vast, and a search for such specific information would usually take days, if not weeks of combined efforts from the many wizards, witches, and muggles that the Council employed. Yet, if Giles understood correctly, Hermione had already found some of the answers that they were looking for. "Has there been much recorded on them?"
"No, quite the opposite, actually," Hermione returned with a small, thoughtful frown. "The monk-"
"What monk?" Buffy interrupted, her eyes narrowing as she turned back to the dark-haired slayer.
"According to him, a friend of yours. Dead now," Faith returned evenly, her brown eyes never straying from the blonde slayer as Buffy and Harry turned towards one another, obviously straining for something - and coming up short.
Shaking his head in frustration, Harry wearily pinched the bridge of his nose. "You were saying," he sighed, gesturing for Hermione to continue.
Sharing a concerned look with Ron, Hermione kneaded the soft flesh of her lower lip before timidly going on. "The monk was able to provide Faith and Celeste with the names of the Hell Gods, and they happened to ring a bell. You see," she continued, her earlier hesitation forgotten as her eyes began to sparkle in excitement. "The Watcher's Council acquired an old text a few years back that mentioned our two Hell Gods. Apparently, three Hell Gods - Glorificus, Dahmascus, and Serantine - all ruled over one of the rather nastier hell dimensions. They all hated each other and were constantly waging war upon each other. However, approximately five hundred years ago Glorificus, the strongest of the three, was able to drive them from their dimension and into ours-"
"So you weren't kidding when you said that they were Gods," Faith cut in, a small smile playing around her lips that was completely at odds with the daunting information that Hermione had uncovered.
"Hell Gods, yes," Hermione agreed with a small frown.
"Which does explain the hotness," Faith sighed, her eyes getting a familiar, far away gleam as she unconsciously cocked one hip to the side, her lips lifting in a saucy grin.
"You thought the evil Hell Gods were hot?" Xander asked, not quite sure why he was so surprised by this revelation.
"Hell yeah!" the dark-haired slayer stated, her eyes snapping back into focus as she grinned at the tall teen. "Dahm was so yummy that I couldn't decide if I wanted to fight him or eat him right there!" she added as she spared a glance to the raven-haired slayer that was standing beside her - and blushing a deep scarlet color. Unable to resist, Faith turned to Xander and winked slyly at him before nodding pointedly to the youngest slayer.
Following her gaze, a wicked grin lifted Xander's lips as he took in the girl's obvious embarrassment at Faith's words. Then, schooling his features he rolled his eyes before turning back to Faith. "Like your taste can be any judge," he snorted, softening his words with his own exaggerated wink - one that the youngest slayer missed completely as she seemed to be trying her best to go unnoticed. "Your little conquests can hardly be called GQ material."
"Xander, you shouldn't be so hard on yourself," Faith broke in, grinning cheekily as Xander's mouth dropped open, his face burning a bright red as Willow and Buffy both turned wide eyes towards him.
"You... and Faith?" Willow sputtered, her quivering finger dancing between the two. "How... I mean, when.. no - why?" she croaked as Tara held her close and began smoothing down her hair, whispering sweet nothings as Buffy tried in vain to stifle her giggles.
"I like to think of it as charity work," Faith shrugged, her smile growing wide as Xander's embarrassed flush turned into an indignant shade of deep red.
"Anyway," Xander cut in pointedly, his eyes narrowing on the dark-haired slayer. "The point is that I think we need an impartial judge," he added, growling the words as he turned and brought everyone's attention to the tall slayer that was vainly trying to hide behind her oblivious watcher. "So, Celeste - were they really that hot?" he asked as he cocked a dark brow at her young features.
Pale face burning bright red, Celeste slowly straightened as she stammered for a response. "Well, well yes - yes t-t-the God was... he was very nice looking, yes," she finally stuttered, her eyes looking everywhere but at the level gray eyes of her watcher. "But I really couldn't say about the female," she hurried on as she chanced an apologetic look in Willow and Tara's direction. "I-I do not like women in that-"
"Hell," Faith broke in as her grin broadened, "I don't like playing on that side of the field either, but the chick was so hot that even I was starting to question my ways."
"And as I was saying," Hermione broke in pointedly, her cheeks stained the same color as her boyfriend's hair as her eyes darted incredulously to the brassy American girl, "that was close to five hundred years ago." Sighing as the attention was once more drawn back to her and the topic at hand, Hermione's gaze drifted back to the notes that she pulled from the pocket of her long skirt. "From what I've been able to find," she continued, eyes darting over her neatly printed writing, "they are unable to exist in our world in their true forms and thus, at first they were forced to share a body with a human host. They have since learned that by taking the essence from those that populate our world, they are able to stay in their own immortal bodies."
"So they've been feeding on us for five hundred years?" Buffy asked, her nose wrinkling slightly in disgust at the image that brought to mind. "Ewww!"
"How have I never learned of this before?" Giles murmured, oblivious to Buffy's words as he absently pulled his glasses from his nose to polish the spotless lenses on the hem of his sweater. "In all of my years with the Council, my time at Hogwarts... surely someone would have known something?"
"To have been surviving on our kind for so long..." Remus whispered, his own mind trying to process this information. "How could this have been kept secret?"
"From what I've been able to learn," Hermione offered, "everything has been kept so silent because both Dahmascus and Serantine have never been about mass destruction nor ruling our world - nothing that would have garnered our attention. Instead, they have been almost single-mindedly pursuing one thing since their arrival in our dimension-"
"An all you can eat human essence buffet?" Xander quipped, even though he already knew the answer. In a way, he almost wished that his answer was the real one.
"The Key," Celeste murmured, answering for them all as she thought back to the monk's dying words.
"What key?" Harry asked, even as the word triggered a memory that seemed half forgotten. A vague recollection of darkness and light, strangers and friends, of fright and urgency and words... words unspoken.
Key," Hermione corrected, frowning softly as her eyes drifted from her best friend to the tiny girl that stood beside him. "From what I've been able to gather, the Key will somehow allow them to return to their dimension - but it has always been protected by a brotherhood who vowed to keep it safe until their dying day - the same brotherhood that recorded all of this almost two hundred years ago in the same book that the Council so recently acquired."
"And apparently their dying day was today," Faith added with a small frown. "The last of the monks bit it early this afternoon, and with his overly dramatic dying breath, he passed the mantle on to us," she continued as she jerked a thumb at herself and Celeste.
"But why now?" Jarod asked from his position across the room, his arms crossed casually across his chest as his eyes danced over the group, some friends, others strangers. "Why were these Gods able to finally get the better of these monks after five hundred years?" he elaborated as the silence thickened.
"Sounds to me like they learned teamwork," Miss Parker suggested from beside him, her brown eyes thoughtful as she reclined against Jarod's chair. "If they really hated each other that much, they were probably working against each other, and not with each other - something that I know from experience will get you nowhere," she added as she spared a brief smile at Jarod.
"So basically they're immortal, invulnerable, and crackers to boot," Sirius surmised, ticking the points off his fingers.
"Don't forget that we're their favorite lunchable," Xander added with a small grimace.
"And they're all hot and bothered over this key thing that you two are now the official bodyguards of," Buffy continued, casting a small glance at Harry as startled at her words, a frown pulling at his lips. "Or does that make me a bodyguard too, by default?" Buffy added, turning her attention back to the others as she beamed at them. "Because did I forget to mention that the PTB have invited me back into the Slayer Club? Apparently my membership was only suspended and not revoked after... and why aren't you guys going with the shocked woo hoos?" Buffy finished, her smile crumbling as her eyes narrowed at her friends. "Giles was all with the bone-crushing hugs and the recriminations. What gives?"
Sighing, Willow shared a glance with the others before gently dropping an arm over her best friend's shoulders. "Somebody already let us in on that," she admitted as Giles, Sirius, and Remus all sent her confused glances, even as Harry grew more pale.
"The monk," Faith said, even as Harry's legs gave out beneath him.
"Harry!" Buffy cried out as she struggled beneath his weight, all the while cursing her slowly-returning strength. Too slowly. "Harry?!" she asked again as Sirius appeared beside her, one strong arm wrapping around his godson and helping Buffy to lower him to the floor. Immediately Buffy was struck with flashbacks of one warm spring afternoon when Harry fell from his broom, his hand clutching his forehead as he screamed in agony. Only this time, there was no agony - just confusion and worry as Harry's green eyes blinked slowly before focusing on her worried features. "What's wrong?" she whispered, one tanned hand reaching out to smooth a stray lock of black from his suddenly-pale features.
"I remember," he whispered, his voice a choked whisper as a thick silence fell over the room.
"Remember what?" Buffy returned, a feeling of deep cold filling her veins as she wondered if she truly wanted to know.
"I.. I remember that night - in Switzerland. I remember the monks," Harry whispered, his eyes losing their focus as he seemed to relive that night. "I was sleeping but something woke me up. The knife was gone and then they came out of the shadows and forced me into the kitchen - they had the knife," he continued, his words falling in a dazed rush as his eyes closed briefly before opening and focusing on her beautiful green eyes. "You were there and they... they..." he choked, his eyes growing wide.
Instantly, Buffy knew that she didn't want to know - knew that she didn't want to know about that night. Yet even as she knew that, she already felt the walls that she herself had constructed, crumble around her memories as it all came rushing back. She could taste her fear as she struggled against her faceless assailants in the dark kitchen, cursing fate for leaving her so weak and defenseless. And then Harry was there as they forced her onto the table before her world was filled with light and pain.. so much pain. Gasping, Buffy felt arms grip hers as the remembered pain brought her to her knees. There was light, pain, and then so much darkness.
"Buffy," Harry whispered, his voice so soft as she slowly opened her eyes and looked into his sad green eyes. "Buffy, you're the Key. The monks made you the Key."
"They put something inside of me - made it a part of me," Buffy whispered, closing her eyes briefly as she struggled in vain to stretch out her senses to find this alien part of her. "Harry, what is it? Can you feel it?" she whispered, hating the tremor in her voice as her eyes lifted to his.
Closing his eyes, Harry stretched out with his senses, his magic touching her own and feeling her barriers willingly fall away before him. Straining, he reached within her and felt that magical core that made her the slayer - that made her Buffy. But somehow... somehow it felt different now. She felt different. Swallowing the lump that was suddenly lodged in his throat, Harry opened his eyes and reached for Buffy's hand. "It's there," he said simply, wishing he could do anything to take away the stark fear that radiated from Buffy's green eyes.
"Well get it out! Can't you - can't you just take it out?" she pleaded, oblivious to those that stood around them - and even to the tears that dripped down her cheeks.
"Buffy, I can't," Harry whispered, even as he wanted nothing more than to do just that. "The monks said so themselves. It's a part of you now, just as the Slayer is a part of you."
"But I don't want this a part of me," Buffy whispered back, sniffling softly as Harry drew her into his arms, allowing her to rest her cheek against the soft leather of his jacket as her hair fell as a curtain around her.
"Just as, for so long, you didn't want the slayer to be a part of you," Giles murmured as he knelt beside the two teens, one hand falling on his slayer's small shoulders. "But in time, you learned to accept that part of you and you realized that who you are never changed. Just as you will do with this."
Sighing, Buffy heard the wisdom in her watcher's words as she reveled in the warmth of Harry's embrace, and the strength that radiated from her watcher's weathered hand. He was right, of course - not that it really made any of it any easier at the moment. "Can't a girl ever catch a freaking break?" she muttered crossly before slowly pulling away, smiling awkwardly at Xander as she accepted his hand and allowed him to pull her to her feet. Sighing, she irritably scrubbed the tears from her face as she turned back to her many friends, all staring at her with expressions that ranged from worry to pity - but all bordering on love. Well, except for Celeste's watcher. No, he just looked intrigued.
Sighing once more, Buffy allowed her gangly best friend to guide her to the familiar black leather couch and gratefully sunk onto the plush, cool material, her mind whirling as she thought over the complete and utter unfairness of her life. First the PTB decide to make her a slayer and she gets to watch her first watcher get killed. Then her parents get all wacky and next comes the divorce and the upheaval that lands her in Sunnyhell. Then the PTB get into full swing and bring on the Master, death by drowning, Angel-turned-Angelus, Miss Calendar's death, Kendra's death, and Angel taking some time out in Hell courtesy of none other. All of which is followed by an amazing encore of Faith arriving on scene, Faith turning evil, the mayor's ascension, her mother's murder, her imprisonment in the Centre, torture, brainwashing, evil medical procedures that left her a mindless, killing zombie, and then comes Hogwarts. But of course no break there. Nope, new friends, new life, amazing boyfriend - and an icky bad ass to defeat which results in no more slayer powers. But to top everything off, because of course I don't deserve a break yet
, I get to be a key now too. Yay me! Now I get not one, but two
evil and invincible hell gods coming after me to use... and when did I start speaking that out loud?" Buffy finally asked as she became aware that once more she seemed to be the center of attention.
"Somewhere around the mindless, killing zombie bit," Harry offered helpfully as he sagged onto the couch beside her. "Although I did enjoy the bit about the amazing boyfriend," he added with a small smile as he entwined his fingers with hers. "You were talking about me, right?"
"Well, there was that time with Percy on the astronomy tower - and Snape in the dungeons," Buffy smirked as Harry snatched his hand from hers, a look of stark horror twisting his features.
"Oy! Enough already!" Ron added, his face a very sickly shade of green as he fell dramatically into a wide, leather armchair, Hermione settling comfortably on his lap. "As if that greasy git wasn't already haunting my every nightmare!"
Rolling his eyes at the children's antics, Giles pointedly cleared his throat before focusing back on the current problem at hand. "Well regardless of Buffy's past exploits, the fact remains that if the monks were so insistent that Buffy and Harry remain clear of the Hellmouth, they certainly can't go back to Sunnydale."
Frowning, Willow wanted nothing more than to argue Giles' bleak statement. However, the logical part of her had to concede that the watcher had a point - even if it pained her to admit it. Even though they had spent a few brief weeks with Buffy while she recovered at Hogwarts, and a rather dismal three months with her after she was freed from the Centre, the fact remained that Willow had precious little time with her best friend - her real best friend - since their graduation over a year ago. The very idea that she'd have to go even longer without seeing her friend, especially after just getting her back, was heartbreaking. Then again, since when was life ever fair for the Scoobies? "If not Sunnydale, then where? Where can
"Into hiding," Giles answered immediately, his voice firm.
"No," Buffy argued, a small frown pulling at her lips as she fought against her rising annoyance. This was her and Harry they were talking about, and after living for so long where the two went wherever the fates took them, to have someone sit down and try and plan her future without her... well, it certainly wasn't going to happen if she had anything to say about it. "No, we've been hiding long enough," she continued, her eyes daring Giles to contradict her.
"Buffy's right," Harry agreed, his eyes darting to Sirius and Remus, silently begging them to hear him out before voicing their own concerns. "We can't just sit back and hide anymore - not when we know that we have the power and strength to help-"
"Help who?" Sirius broke in, ignoring Remus' restraining hand. "Harry, you're just a-"
"I'm eighteen now, Sirius," Harry interrupted, his green eyes flashing defiantly at his godfather. "In any country, that means that I'm an adult now and free to make my own decisions."
"I was going to say that you're just a wizard," Sirius finished, lifting a placating hand before continuing. "Voldemort is dead now, which means that you're free to do whatever you want. Play Quidditch professionally or-" he broke off as Harry began to slowly shake his head, a small smile playing across his lips.
"Sirius, I've spent the last seven years of my life fighting against Voldemort and using my magic to help people. It's too much a part of me now - I just can't stop," he stated with a small shrug. "Besides, you know as well as I do that I'm not just a wizard. I'm the Boy Who Lived," he finished with a cheeky grin that Sirius could never refuse as his godfather ruffled his messy black hair before settling on the couch beside him.
"Either that or you've just been hanging around a certain slayer for too long," Sirius retorted as Buffy grinned beside the teen.
"Hear that Giles? Sirius thinks I'm a good influence!" she chirped, enjoying the lighthearted moment for what it was worth. "Besides, while Harry may have a choice in this, I don't. I'm a Slayer, which means that the sacred duty mumbo-jumbo all still applies."
"And the Council could always use another slayer, and we'd never turn down the help of the wizard who defeated Lord Voldemort," Samuel quickly put in as he smiled fondly at the short blonde and the lanky, black-haired teen that sat beside her. "There is much darkness in this world, and not all of it is so willing to sit so placidly on the mouth of Hell."
Grinning, Buffy nudged Harry gently. "I think we just got a job offer," she mock-whispered before tilting her head to the side, as though pondering his words. "How's your health plan?" she asked as she steepled her fingers before her.
"Quite excellent," Hermione offered as she reclined against Ron's broad chest. "The best I've seen."
"And travel?" Harry asked, a boyish grin lifting his lips.
"Extensive travel with a hefty budget to see to your needs," Samuel vowed with a solemn nod.
Smiling despite himself, Harry looked to Buffy and awaited her brief nod before turning once more to the head of the Watcher's Council. "We accept," he said simply, responding for the both of them as Buffy's hand tightened within his own.
"Which is all well and good," Xander cut in from his place against the wall, "but what about the rest of us? Because obviously you Watcher people are going to get with the research, but hello? Remember the big bad hell gods we have back in Sunnydale?"
Sighing, Willow slowly tucked a strand of red behind one ear as she tilted her head to the side. "Xander's right," she said, frowning as she turned her mind back to the current problem. "Dahmascus and Serantine probably don't know that the monk is dead, seeing as how Faith went back to retrieve the body only a few minutes after leaving it, which means-"
"They will come for us," Celeste finished, her arms wrapping around her small waist as she thought once more of the horrors that they had faced mere hours before. "Faith and I are well known in the demon world in Sunnydale. It will not take long for them to learn of us and to find us," she added, her words becoming hard as she unconsciously straightened. "And when they do, there will be little to aid us," she murmured, her eyes dropping to the floor before her.
"Yet you will fight as you were meant to," her watcher quickly added, his gray eyes cold and hard - and hiding the fear that was making his heart hammer faster than ever. He knew that he would never forget the sight of his slayer returned to him, bloody, bruised and so very battered. She had battled a God and by some miracle had lived to tell about it. Somehow.. somehow he knew that such a miracle would not come again. "Tu es forte, ma petite," he added, his low-timbered words meant for her ears alone. "C'est ton destin."
"Je sais, Monsieur Bertrone. Je sais," Celeste returned with a small, weak smile before turning her eyes once more to the group.
Frowning, Faith watched this murmured exchange for a moment before quickly turning back to the others. She knew that the Kid was strong, that she
was strong, but the Kid did have a point. They tag teamed a god and they had been lucky to get away as battered as they had been. Somehow, Faith doubted that even if Buffy had been able to join them in the fight... somehow she doubted that even three slayers would have been enough to turn the tide - especially if Ser decided to join in on the fun. But as she thought back to the fiery-haired goddess, a slow smile began to twist Faith's full, painted lips. "So maybe fighting isn't the answer.... and did I really just say that?" she asked as the Sunnydale group snickered beside her. Rolling her eyes, the dark-haired slayer continued. "Ser said something about having little time. Maybe if we just keep them busy for awhile-"
"Yeah, but what's time to a god that's already been here for centuries?" Ron cut in, joining the conversation for perhaps the first time as he shifted in his over-stuffed chair. "Their idea of a little bit of time could be another couple of centuries for us," he added as he ran a hand through his short red hair.
"Regardless, I think that Faith has a good idea," Giles stated, his eyes growing thoughtful as he nodded once to the dark-haired slayer, oblivious to the girl's surprise that for once, he was actually agreeing with her. "If we can keep them distracted and far away from Buffy and Harry, that will buy us at least a little more time to learn more about the Key and to hopefully discover whatever time table they're working from."
"With a little bit of the monk's hair, Snape can have a batch of Polyjuice Potion prepared within the next month," Remus added thoughtfully. "Until then, someone can use a glamour spell to put up a good front of this monk and lead them away from Sunnydale and keep them occupied."
"Someone who?" Samuel asked pointedly, a frown pulling at his lips. "What you're proposing is very dangerous: a veritable game of cat and mouse with a pair of Hell Gods," the older man pointed out grimly as his dark eyes swept over the gathered wizards, witches, wiccans, watchers, slayers, and muggles. A very eclectic group, to be sure - but the real question was whether or not such a group contained a person that was crazy enough to volunteer to do what was needed. As if he even needed to ask.
Within several minutes it was decided that Sirius would be the one to take up the dangerous task - not that it was a decision that was easily made with both Harry and Remus adamantly objecting the choice. Then again, Sirius did have a strong case - stronger than any of the others that had volunteered, a list that included the likes of Harry, Remus, Jarod, Giles, Xander, and Faith. The slayer was the first one to be knocked from the list, seeing as how once away from the Hellmouth, neither the polyjuice potion nor the glamour charm would work. Then came Xander and Jarod as it was quickly pointed out that while both knew how to handle themselves, they were still only muggles that would be defenseless against the Hell Gods. Then Giles and Remus were both taken from the list as neither the Council nor Hogwarts could really do without either for however long the chase lasted. In the end, it really came down to Harry and Sirius - a battle that Harry never really stood a chance for. Buffy needed Harry, and the Aurors could do without Sirius. Sirius was a strong wizard in his own right, trained in defensive magic and used to being on the run. And more importantly, Harry was Sirius' godson and their last remaining link to the two friends that they had lost more than a decade ago. Overall, the answer was as simple as that, and even Harry's offer to accompany his godfather was refused, for as Sirius had pointed out, Harry's place was now with Buffy.
Thus it was only hours after being reunited that the group once more parted ways. Buffy and Harry left the Centre with Giles, Hermione, Ron and Samuel Fellows, bound for London and the official headquarters of the Watcher's Council in order to get everything sorted. Likewise, Sirius and Remus accompanied the Sunnydale crew back to the Hellmouth - Remus set with the task of collecting some of the dead monk's hair for the potion while Sirius... while Sirius once more went on the run.
"Are you sure about this?" Remus asked yet again as Willow and Tara finished sprinkling a fine powder in a circle around his friend's lean form, the dim candlelight flickering in the large basement. While the original plan had been to use a simple glamour spell to keep up the charade, the two wiccans had argued that a stronger, nature-based spell would be more appropriate for the first contact with the Hell Gods - more believable.
"For the hundredth time, Moony, yes, I am quite sure," Sirius sighed as he flicked a stray raven strand from his eyes. "We both know that I was the best person for the job," he added as his blue eyes slipped over his closest friend - a man that showed his years far beyond what was due to him.
Sighing, Remus wearily lowered himself onto a hard chair at a nearby table that was loaded with ancient books and scrolls. "Yes, I know - but that doesn't make accepting it any easier," he admitted with a hard frown as his eyes absently took in the strange room that was divided between a library and gym. "I've already lost one Marauder to death, and another to deception... I couldn't stand being the last," he added, tired gray eyes lifting to meet Sirius' sad gaze.
"And you won't," Sirius promised, idly wondering if he'd be able to keep to that vow. "But if this means keeping Harry safe, then there's really no question about what needs to be done. James would have wanted nothing less from us - from me," he added, his voice dropping as his thoughts turned unbidden back the to the young man that had been lost to them seventeen years before. "James and Lily trusted me to look after Harry should anything ever happen to them, and I've spent twelve of those seventeen years in prison and another three on the run. Somehow, I doubt that's exactly what James and Lily had in mind."
"Somehow I doubt that any of this is exactly what they had in mind for Harry," Remus returned dryly as he slowly abandoned his chair and moved until he was standing before his best friend. "No one intended for any of this to happen as it has, yet there's not a one among us that can take full responsibility for the way things have gone. Besides, I think that twelve years in Azkaban is punishment enough for whatever imagined misdeed you've done. You need to let it go and think on all that you have
done for Harry... and more importantly, you need to concentrate on not getting yourself killed and taken away from him forever. He loves you, Padfoot, and while he has the rest of us, you're the one that has come to take the place of the father that he never really had a chance to know. To have you taken away from him now... I think it would be one blow too many on a life that has already been far too hard on him."
Smiling sadly at his friend, Sirius reached a hand out and clasped Remus' hand tightly, allowing his friend's words to warm him. "I'll be careful," he promised, as he allowed his friend to slip free. Turning, he then nodded to the two girls that were standing quietly off to the side, obviously trying not to intrude upon their privacy. "Let's do this," he murmured, waving them forward.
"One spry monk, coming up," Willow agreed as she stepped forward, reaching out and taking Tara's hand in her own.
And as the strange magic was cast, Remus slowly retreated into the shadows, his eyes never quite leaving those of his friend as the blue melted away to be replaced by an unfamiliar pair of worn, brown eyes. Sighing, he watched as the monk's guise slipped over his friend's lean body, melting clothes, hair and stature to create a stranger in his friend's place. Minutes later the slayers were summoned and together, Sirius, Faith, and Celeste slipped into the dark night, intent on locating the hell gods and allowing the game to begin. And throughout it all, Remus continued to stand back in the shadows, his eyes taking in everything and his unspoken words clogging his throat.
The fear was thick in the room and even though it was never mentioned, the fear rested in everyone's minds and could be seen in their eyes as Willow, Tara, and Xander each hugged the dark-haired slayer; the French watcher, Bertrone, curtly nodding at the French girl as his hands trembled behind his back; and as Remus watched his friend disappear into darkness. The two slayers and his friend were off to find a pair of gods - the slayers with hopes of avoiding conflict this night, while the wizard was meant to lead them into the deadliest of games. And Remus... Remus was left with trivial assurances.
Things were different this time. While Sirius was to bait the hell gods, he was never going to actually try and engage them. If they got too close he could apparate to safety. He wasn't running from the magical law this time, and he could fire call or owl them as he wanted - he could even take a short break and visit Hogwarts or vice versus.
He would be alright.
He had to be - for the sake of all those that loved him.