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The Penitent Man

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This story is No. 15 in the series "Shadow and Light". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: A human soul cannot be created or destroyed. So how then is an Orb of Thesula created?

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > PretenderphoukaFR1312,300294,21210 Dec 1110 Dec 11Yes
Disclaimer: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Productions. The Pretender is property of 20th Century Fox, MTM Productions, and Mitchell/Van Sickle Productions. I have no intention of violating copyright. There will be no profit.

Author's Note: Sometimes, a story appears, unfolding in a few short moments, and the challenge is not putting the ideas together, but putting them down quickly enough. This one appeared less than an hour ago. I'm typing as fast as I can. It will fit into the puzzle of storylines within the Haven and Home series, after the Pretender crossover, but before the Battle Royale.

The Penitent Man

Guantanamo Bay

The security clearances necessary to walk into a prisoner's private room in the hospital ward of the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp would have been impossible to even apply for had it not been for their previous work with Captain Riley Finn and Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. The news which had brought them hadn't been intended to stir them from their comfortable home and happier lives. It was only a chance comment by Buffy, spurred by a mention from Jarod, which had sparked an idea on Jenny's behalf. Calls had been made, plans put together, supplies located, and preparations made.

The flight and the following security checks had been unnerving. Jarod and Captain Finn were the only ones not rattled. Jarod, though, had a hard time holding on to his composure once they were inside the room. There was one patient. He occupied one of the two rooms marked “hospice”. Having cheated death on innumerable occasions, he was now out of chances.

William Raines, also known as Abel Parker, was dying of liver failure, an ironic ending for a man who'd never made a habit of imbibing but had smoked like a signal fire for the majority of his life and once even been engulfed in flame. His skin was an ugly yellow, matched by the sclera of his eyes. He was parched and bloated at the same time. His eyes drifted across the one man and three women who filed in, ignoring the soldier who closed the door behind them.

“Catherine,” he said, his voice raspy and broken.

“Father,” she answered, hers cold and inflexible.

Willow reached over and took her hand, giving it a squeeze.

Jarod picked up the chart and began looking through the pages.

“End stage liver failure usually results in hepatic encephalopathy,” he remarked. He kept his own voice even and controlled. “He may not be lucid.”

“I'm always lucid,” Raines answered, then coughed. “It's just a matter of-” He coughed again, racked and miserable. “Whether I feel anything about what I'm thinking.”

Of the four people there, not an ounce of sympathy could have been distilled from their expressions. Raines had multiple IV lines, an oxygen cannula, a urine catheter, a colostomy bag, and a dialysis port installed. Privacy no longer existed for him. Freedom hadn't either, since Jarod, Buffy, Finn, the FBI, and NCIS had dismantled his fiefdom of the Centre. Since then, he'd been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay as an enemy combatant – in part because he'd taken so much care to obscure his real identity, no one had been able to ascertain his nationality or his citizenship.

“You read my letter?” Jenny Calendar asked, the only one in the group to show any compassion in her expression or her voice.

“I did,” Raines said. “I agree.”

“It won't make your death any easier,” she reminded him.

“I know.”

“Why are you doing this?” Miss Parker demanded. “You murdered my mother, you did your level best to destroy Jarod's family. You're dying. There's no escape.”

“Samuel Johnson,” Raines wheezed.

Miss Parker stared at him, uncomprehendingly.

“'Depend on it, sir'” Jarod quoted, “'when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind marvelously.'”

Raines managed to cackle and hack at the same time.

“Tell me,” he croaked. “How else did you beat me? Go ahead. Gloat.”

Miss Parker turned away from him, so furious she trembled. Willow joined her, putting an arm around her waist.

“She hid Sidney's brother from you after you ordered him killed,” Jarod told him. “He died of natural causes after Sidney was able to waken him on at least one occasion.”

His laugh this time was a wheeze. “Good.”

“Mr. Raines,” Jenny interrupted. “Between them, even working against each other half the time, Jarod and Miss Parker managed to keep you achieving your goals every time you turned around. We don't have time for a catalog. You don't have that time.”

“Fine,” Raines managed. “How much time do I have?”

Jenny studied him, her eyes looking past the details of medical condition and the invasive support that had kept him alive this long.

“An hour or two. Tops,” she answered.

“He could just as easily last another week or more,” Jarod protested.

Jenny shook her head. “Willow, what do you see?”

Willow, a thousand times more powerful than Jenny but without the upbringing, the experience, or the insight, studied Raines.

“About an hour and a half,” she finally said. “His aura's bleeding off.”

“Can you pick up the cause?”

More inspection, which Raines found mildly amusing.

“Definitely physical, something already there, building, but . . . it'll be quick, and . . . it's going to hurt. A lot. His chest. His heart?”

Jarod looked away. “Liver failure messes up just about everything the blood does, including clotting. It sounds like a major cardiac infarction.”

Jenny nodded.

“How long does it take?”

“About half an hour to set up, and then, the spell is sealed at the moment of your death.”

“And you get my soul,” Raines continued for her, smirking with contempt.

“Yes,” Jenny answered, firm and sincere. “And I cannot be more clear about this, Mr. Raines. Whatever your beliefs, you do have a soul, and it will continue to exist after your mortal life ends.”

“Then it's just as well,” he coughed. “Purgatory instead of Hell.”

“No,” she answered, just as firm. “Delay. Then . . .”

“What?” he asked, curious for the first time.

“It depends on what we use the Orb for. There have only been a handful of them ever made. So far, all but one has been used to endow a vampire or other soulless entity with a human soul. Most vampires have spent lifetimes killing and torturing. When given a soul, they . . .”

“They pay for their crimes,” he exhaled, satisfied. “And then?”

“Most ensouled vampires don't last very long,” Jenny told him. “There's one exception, but even he eventually died. Then the soul reaches its eventual destination.”

“Hmmm,” Raines grunted. “Time off for good behavior?”

“I have no idea. You understand, there's a reason why these are so rare. People who believe they possess a soul usually try to take care of it. They're looking forward to what lies beyond the veil. People who haven't . . .”

He smiled at her, cold and hard.

“The soul suffers,” Jenny told him. “There's no way around it.”

“I'm not interested in theology,” he wheezed. “Why do you want it?”

“There will come a time,” Jenny answered, “inevitably, when we'll need another Orb of Thesulah. There will be a vampire that we can't afford to destroy, that we need to turn. Once in an age, there's even a vampire who requests it. A vampire with a soul can tip the scales between the end of the world and its survival.”

“You're enough of a ghoul,” Miss Parker grated. “You'll probably feel right at home.”

“Kate,” Jarod began.

“Kate,” Raines repeated. “That's what I called your mother.”

“You. Don't. Talk. About her,” Miss Parker raged.

“You look just like her,” he continued. “She was the best thing ever to enter my life. I should have listened to her.”

“What did she say?” Jarod asked.

“That people . . . weren't toys or experiments, playthings or chess games. That the glee I took in arranging things so carefully was weakness not strength, folly not cunning.”

“No wonder you killed her,” Miss Parker spat.

“That . . .” Raines fought for breath, “was bungled. I didn't intend to kill her.”

He stared at her, for a moment, his eyes windows into an empty soul. She stared back.

“You look just like her,” he whispered.

He closed his eyes and focused on breathing.

Willow turned to Miss Parker, put a hand against her cheek, where tears were beginning to spill.

“Katie, remember the prophesies,” Willow told her.

Miss Parker nodded, and the two shared a tender kiss.

It was interrupted by a breathless laugh.

“So you get more from your mother than just your looks,” Raines whispered, smiling.

“What?!” Miss Parker demanded.

“She wanted children,” Raines told her. “More than anything. She even quoted Scripture at me once. 'Give me a child, or I shall die.' That sort of thing, though, at the time, required a husband, and your mother was too honest to dupe anyone. Not even me or my brother. Her sister tried to warn her.”

With this, he nodded toward Jarod. “Your mother. She knew evil when she saw it. So did your father.”

“No wonder deathbed confessions get their own category on tv tropes,” Willow muttered.

“Jenny, can you get started?” Jarod asked.

He so rarely asked for anything, that Miss Parker left off her scathing rejoinder, and Willow and Jenny turned to their supplies.

The set up was not the hardest part of the preparation. That had been done long before, when what would become the Orb had been created. Once the circle was laid out, with limitations for latitude, longitude, season, planets, the name Raines' was given at his birth and those of his parents and brother, and a litany of symbols to represent the acts of his life – the majority of them ugly and twisted upon themselves.

Raines was made as comfortable as possible, which was not very. Jenny draped over him lengths of silk in gold and black and sunset red. The last cloth was a whisper of silk so light it was transparent and stirred with each of Raines' breaths. His hands were brought up to his chest, and in them was placed a sphere of rock crystal in shards, bound back together with a silver gray thread. Every plane of fracture met precisely. Even the tiniest broken grain was in place. Every fault line and break radiated from the center of the sphere, giving it the appearance of a glimmering dead star within the otherwise clear and flawless ball.

Raines' breathing grew stentorous. He strained for each inhalation and fought against each exhalation. Without the IVs, his skin grew dry, but cracked under the strain of the fluids retained by dead kidneys, poisoned by a dead liver. His face swelled. His breaths gurgled as his lungs filled with fluid.

“Does he have to . . . suffer so much?” Jarod managed to ask.

“Souls don't come cheap,” Jenny answered. “It won't be long now.”

Several more long moments passed. Jenny sat beside Raines, her hand covering both of his.

“Katherine,” Raines whispered.

“Yes,” Miss Parker managed.

“You . . . are so much . . . like . . . your mother,” he managed. “It makes me glad.”

She turned this time towards Jarod, who put his arms around her and kissed her forehead.

It was only another minute or so, when Raines gasped, and his breath was cut off. His face bent into a grimace of terrible pain, and he clawed at his chest, pressing the crystal sphere into his sternum. He arched, and his heels scraped against the bed. Willow pressed her hand against her mouth. Miss Parker buried her head against Jarod's chest, and he held her tightly. Jenny kept her hand on Raines'.

He coughed, and it became a rattle of pain that lasted several seconds before ending. As it did, a light blossomed in the center of the crystal sphere, like a new star being born. It grew until its light obliterated all shadows in the room, and Willow, holding her hand in front of her eyes, could see the outline of the bones in her hand.

Then, the light shrank until it was held within the orb, and the lines of fracture and breakage had transformed into the radiant spars of a newborn star. The light within shifted, casting beams of light no wider than a child's finger. Jenny took it from the dead fingers of a man who had cast evil upon the world as if it were bread on the water. She held it up for a moment as the other three stared in wonder.

“I never would have thought,” Jarod said, “after all he's done, it would be so beautiful.”

“And that is the beauty of the whole thing,” Jenny answered. “A soul is a soul, and we lack the power to create or destroy one, no matter how hard we try.”

Jarod looked down at Miss Parker, who stared at the newly evoked Orb of Thesulah from the shelter of his arms.

“Kate,” he said, “you should go back to Willow. She's going to get jealous.”

That got a sharp, humorless laugh from her. “We're cousins, Jarod. There's only five states where we could even think of getting married.”

“Yeah,” Jarod sighed, “but I like Willow. I don't want to die at her hands.”

She pushed back from him, even giving him a half-hearted, sisterly punch. “Well, I guess the same applies for me and Buffy.”

While Willow comforted Miss Parker further, Jenny carefully placed the Orb of Thesulah in a box of chestnut, crafted from branches fallen from the dryad's tree, bound in gold from the wedding rings worn by Joyce Summers and Lettice Giles, and lined with silk cut from dress Dawn had worn when she'd nearly been killed by Glorificus. When Jenny closed the lid, the light from the orb disappeared, and it was as if night had fallen in the room.

She handed the box to Jarod, who held it in both hands with deep reverence. Then she closed Raines' eyes and placed a bronze coin over each before drawing the black and gold cloths over his face.

“I don't understand,” Miss Parker whispered, staring at the now draped and anonymous form of the man who had sired her and killed her mother.

Jenny turned to her and gave her a smile that was mixed with grief and compassion.

“Strangely enough, Miss Parker, it's not required for the spell to work.”

The End

You have reached the end of "The Penitent Man". This story is complete.

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