Come to DustTitle
: Come To DustRating
: 15, mostly safe. There is mention of femslash, though nothing too graphic.Disclaimer
: Anything you recognize is owned by someone other than me. Joss Whedon owns Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and all characters therein. A whole load of people and companies that are not me own the Stargate franchise and, specifically, Stargate: Atlantis. Spoilers
: Buffy through Season 6. Stargate: Atlantis through most of Season 3. Summary
: They had heard of a healer protecting a Wraith-ravaged world. When they uncover the mystery behind her power, they will stop at nothing to use it to protect a galaxy.Notes
: The title is from Cymbeline, by William Shakespeare and interpreted through Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress: "Every wearied body must late or soon return to dust".Additional
: This is the second version of the story. I elected to rewrite parts of it to help alleviate the fact I’m backing myself into a corner of out-of-character-ness I might never be able to escape from. There is something good that comes out of constructive criticism. There is nothing good that comes out of the bad, unless you're like me and work with politics. A lot has changed; the basic plot has remained the same. I invite you to read this second helping and I hope you enjoy it. Special Thanks
... to Kirablackfire for the beta.- - - - -
The Angel of Death is known in many forms. To a witch, the Angel is felt through the world, a ripple, an intuition, knowing that one life would soon cease to exist.
It was this that Tara Maclay felt one morning as she walked through the halls of the University of California-Sunnydale. The common energy that surrounded her was still there, but around her was the sense of foreboding, the sense that something was about to change. In her mind, she could sense that it was close, but it wasn’t dangerous. It was tangible, though. And it was coming.
It would be hard to warn the others it was coming. Buffy, the slayer, had enough to worry about, with coming back to life and Dawn and her issues with Spike and the evil trio. Willow was out of the question. There was too much hurt there, the bond of trust between them broken by Willow’s spell. She wasn’t quite ready to take the steps towards forgiveness yet, especially after what happened to Dawn. Dawn was the soft spot in Tara’s mind, but Dawn wouldn’t be able to do anything to help her. Giles was gone. Anya and Xander were still fragile.
This was something she was going to have to figure out without her family.
It happened in the café.
She had just sat down with her cider and her art history text when she felt the Angel sit across from her. Death wore an intriguing face, young and wholesome, and looked at her with remarkable tragedy.
“You know,” was all she had to say.
“I—I do,” Tara replied, cursing her stutter in that moment, her fingers trembling against the shiny pages of her book. “I could feel you.” She swallowed hard, asking the question she knew she didn’t have the answer to. “When?”
“It’s more complicated than that. Death always is.”
Tara exhaled and nodded, keeping her calm gaze on the woman, waiting for her to continue. After a moment, the woman smiled. “You’ve accepted it.”
“I’ve accepted a lot in the last two years,” Tara murmured. “It’s been quite a ride.” She was aware that her voice was close to breaking, yet Death seemed to be in no hurry.
“Things have changed. You know this. You feel it.”
“I do.” She had felt it for some time now, since Buffy was brought back. It was growing stronger week by week, an unforeseen evil gaining strength on them.
“You won’t see it. You won’t have to.” Tara lifted her chin again, calm blue gaze, the personification of Mother Earth, meeting the angelic face greeting her with death. “Your time is at an end.”
“I—I’ve known, now,” Tara said quietly, looking away, eyes filling with tears. She didn’t want to leave this life. Not now. Not yet. “It is my fate.”
“Not entirely.” The woman looked down, smiling slightly. “Your skill is needed elsewhere.”
“My skill?” she asked skeptically. “What skills? I’m not a slayer, or a demon, or a powerful witch, or—“
“But you are a power, in your own right. The power of the earth, you control. You can call to it as freely as you can breathe air. And you know the planes, astral planes that exist far from this plane. Death can take you away from this. You have power, but the will of these humans holds you back. Not even the slayer can offer you what exists out there. Your heart may bind you here, but your soul does not.” At Tara’s long, searching look, the Angel smiled again. “Death is only the beginning.”
“Will…” Swallowing hard, she tried again. “Will it hurt? Death, I—I mean?” Curse her stutter.
“You won’t see it coming. They never do.” She was speaking of humans, now, and their ignorance of the person watching over them, awaiting their souls for Heaven.
“I—I don’t understand why I’m the one—“
“I’ve seen the fate of this world. It will be hard and dark and bitter. This world will break your heart. I have seen the paths of those you care most deeply for, and their paths will be broken, fractured. The gift of your death will offer a fate that no force of darkness can see coming. It will begin with the one you love.” The Angel noticed the look of dawning realization on Tara’s face. “A higher power has sought you out, my dear girl, for a calling that no slayer or key or vampire or dark-powered witch could ever hold. Your life here will be extinguished in a matter of days. If you wish to give your forgiveness, now would be the time.”
Tara stood up, suddenly realizing that the rest of the world had been passing her by. The Angel rose as well, looking out at the people milling in the sunlight on the sidewalk, looking rather amused. “They can never understand how it works with us.”
“They won’t understand death.”
“It is unfortunate, really.”
“I—I have one more question.”
“Of course.” The Angel turned back to look at her.
Tara’s gaze was on her textbook, a book that, in a few days, would no longer be necessary. “What will I remember?”
“What would you like to remember?” Tara frowned, surprised by the answer. The woman smiled again. “You will know your strength and your soul…”
“I… I don’t know if I can remember my life here and be there and not be…”
“You would rather not remember your time with the slayer and her friends?” Death asked quietly. Tara nodded mutely. “I can understand that, but to remove those memories would remove them all. This is a rare opportunity granted to those that balance a world of light and darkness. The world you will see will be very privileged to have you looking out for them.” At Tara’s confused look, the Angel laughed. The sound was as chilling as it was enticing, cold and black. “The powers that have chosen you have not chosen you to walk a world and do nothing, now. They will expect a return, which you will know when you come upon it. Now…” She said, turning back to the window, “my time is up and I must return. And you… I have your promise?”
“I promise,” Tara offered weakly.
If there was one person she wanted to see before she died, or left the plane of Earth, or whatever it was called, it was calling her in the direction of the Summers’ house.
“Things fall apart. They fall apart so hard. You can’t ever put them back the way they were.”
“Tara?” Willow asked softly, looking up from her book.
“I'm sorry,” Tara replied. “It's just... you know it takes time. You can't just have coffee and expect—“
“I know,” Willow sighed, ashamed.
“There's so much to work through. Trust has to build again, on both sides... you have to learn if you're even the same people you were, if you can fit in each other's lives, it's a long and important process and…” She paused, knowing what she wanted, knowing full well the reason why she was standing here. “Can we just skip it? Can you just be kissing me now?”
Even as Willow rushed her, even as she threw her heart back into the mix, even as she satiated herself for the last time and even as she gave the forgiveness she so desperately needed to, she knew that she would never again feel as complete as she did right now.=)==(=
It was a different world, on the other side of death. Things were bright, sharper in contrast and just felt… differently. She couldn’t remember how they felt before, but she was quite sure it wasn’t this awkward.
She walked down a path, weaving in and out of trees.
She walked into a valley, and it was filled with death.
There were bodies everywhere; strewn carelessly on the ground as though dropped from above, many with burns and some were shriveled, as though dried and abandoned. All of them were in a state of decay and rot and the scent was absolutely…
Tara turned from the scene, raising a hand to cover her nose as she backed away. Her hand intuitively reached for the ground and she felt the swell of air as her magic took affect again. She looked at her hand, at the dirt spiraling at the ground.
“Are you—are you from the village?”
The language was familiar, so familiar that it was, in fact, her own.
“I’m sorry?” Tara asked in reply.
“Were you from the village?” the woman asked, pointing to the bodies around her. Her voice was muffled as there was a scarf wrapped around her mouth and nose. Dark eyes surveyed her warily underneath a fringe of hair. The features were delicate and, oddly, memorable.
“The one that was destroyed by the Wraith?” the woman asked sharply. “We’re from the city, and so far no survivors have been found.”
“Wraith,” the woman replied tragically. “Hundreds are dead and even more are missing, all because of their hunger.”
The air was moving again. Tara’s hand slowly clenched into a fist and she felt the magic fade. Something about saying she was right felt right. Slowly, she nodded.
“Oh, praise the Ancestors!” the woman murmured, clapping two hands to her brightly-colored scarf. “Here! I have a survivor here!” She ran off into the woods, her cheerful yelling belying the tragedy of death surrounding her.
Tara slowly milled about the bodies, looking to faces of those she would never know, seeing the deaths of the men and women whose stories she would never tell. These were the faces of a world, a world she was here to… what…?
There was little she could remember, aside from waking up and looking around, seeing a world that was bright and sharp and rich with color. But the real secret laid in her fingertips, gently skimming the earth, her fingers digging into the dirt. There was life in this world. Not all of it had been stripped away by these… Wraith
If this was the path that was chosen for her, a path given to her so that she may serve powers greater than even time itself, so be it.
Word soon spread of a survivor amongst the wreckage of a Wraith culling on the surface of an unremarkable planet known as Sadayna. Within a year, a new story was told, that of a healer with the power to stop the Wraith curse. The news spread out to allied planets, and to star systems further away, but little more was said.
On the planet of Ferin on the outreaches of the system, a small trading outpost was conducting business with the expedition of Atlantis when word was received of a healer with such power. Though suspicious, since the last time had warranted the death of half of a civilization, there was a reason to investigate. Any edge over the Wraith was worth any investigation, even if it turned into another disappointment.