I bled for you - would you for me?
I blessed a skin in blazing fuel
Then took a bullet in a duel of
‘He or I to Die.'
I often question ‘Why? '
My country was my life to give -
Would you for country cease to live?
Sinking in a mire of death,
You have no choice -
So while you're still alive,
I cried in failure - did you care?
And as I waned, were you aware of
What I did -?
Fighting for my country while you hid
Behind your comfort back at home?
My wife and child are fading at the tomb.
-Mark R Slaughter
“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”
― Philip K. Dick, VALIS
“The sun is gone.” Buffy said plainly. She was sprawled over the rocky ground. Absentmindedly, she grabbed a small pebble and threw it. Here in her haven she sat thinking non-consequential things. Birds chirped and waves of passive air ruffled the leaves of humungous trees. Buffy took a deep breath and watched with mild interest as a cloud of cold appeared in front of her.
“Why? Did it disappear?” Her mentor’s pale completion appeared out of nowhere. Buffy didn’t even flinch.
She turned and looked Dakota in the eyes. “I… I am in hell. It… the very air suffocates me as I try to fill my lungs.” She turned away from the man’s compassion-filled eyes. “I don’t deserve to be here, living a mockery of a life.”
Dakota sent her a watered gaze. With one swipe of his hand, the droplets fell to the ground where it burned the magnificent grass into a brown shriveled mess. “I apologize. Please understand I had to do it. I had to save you…”
Buffy cut him off. “I know.” She turned toward him. Her eyes bored canyons into his. “‘The mission was worth more than them.’” She mocked. Her fists tightened and she clenched her jaw hard. She was shaking with barely contained rage. “That’s how they broke the news to me.” She chuckled joylessly. Blood began to ebb to the surface as her nail dug further and further into her palm. A crazed glint entered her eye. Slowly, she uncurled her fist and watched in splendid fascination as the crescent wounds stitched themselves closed. She stood still as the blood that had already gathered slid off her palm and onto the rock. She watched, a strange monstrous smile slowly creeping up her face, as the stone smoldering and fizzing away.
“The world has gone mad, Kota.” She looked at him. The light of her soul surrounding her with a terrifying beauty. Her eyes… her warm gems, slit into that of a felines’. They were cold and hard, calculating.
Dakota said nothing.
Her smile widened, wider than should be humanely possible. Canines, far longer, more menacing than they should be, cast doubts upon her state of mind.
Dakota subtlety moved away from her as she shed her mortal skin, his face impassive. In his mind, he knew what was wrong but, he simply could not accept it.
His Chosen was…broken.
She was but a glass figurine. Slowly, a minuscule nail is being driven into her frame. Crack after crack, expanding into a web, shards falling and disintegrating, lost forever. Tape hastily applied, combating the tyrannical enemy, slowly losing its grip.
The hourglass in full view, sand trickling down the thin neck. Soon, half the sand will be gone. The cracks cover the figurine.
The sand is running out for the Giver of Names.
Shepherd Marcus was a hard man. His grey eyes of steel ran daggers at those who had the audacity to look at him directly. He sat at his desk with a poise posture, with confidence that crushed all those weak of will.
He laid his hands flat on the desk. He gazed at the scars with a clinical eye. When prompted by a brave soul, the man could tell you exactly how each one came to be. The one extending from his ring finger to his thumb he earned in a knife fight with a Vietcong in ’64. The one on his left from the edge of his pinky extending over Hamate, Triquetral, and Lunate bones disappearing under his sleeve he got in a tussle with a Soviet Union operative in the eighties.
He shook his head impeccably.
He watched as his aide scampers into to his office, dropped off a file and as politely as possible dashed out.
His mouth curled in distaste. Sniveling fools. Cowards without a spine, swine undeserving of their daily bread. His soldiers, valiant beings deserving of the finest of wines, wasting away in foreign lands with hostile stares at every turn. They serve, sacrificing life, limb and family only to be met with blank stares from the masses, pats on the back, cheap metals, rudimentary care physically and mentally…
He took a deep breath.
Shepherd Marcus does not lose control.
Cracking his neck, his opened the file. The second he laid eyes on the photo within the file, he lost every ounce of self-control. He stood abruptly, his chair digging in the plastered wall. Photos on the wall falling and just barely escaping harm. Stiffly, he walked out.
“Lieutenant Finn.” His aide froze. “Fix my wall.”
He continued on his path. In less than five minutes, walking briskly up seven flights of stairs, he reached the roof. He nodded at the hidden sniper. He received a slight dip of a barrel in return.
He walked out of the sniper’s range of heading and sat against a wall.
He leaned back, his tiring years showing in every nonexistent line of his face. He reached into his pants and pulled out his wallet. The old and weathered black pocket holder almost as old as he was. Given to him by his wife, he cherished it. He ran his thumb over the peeling surface. Taking a roll of clear tape - he’s always prepared - he gently repaired it. He chuckled softly. His wife had made a joke saying the wallet took his wrinkles for him.
Unfolding it, he took out small portraits all of the most important people of his life.
The first pictures were of his first squad he’d ever been emotional attached to. All of them are dead now. As time progressed, more and more people joined them. Many of them still alive and kicking. Then his wife battled her way into his collection. She made him – her father was a craftsman of leather goods – the wallet to keep his friends close. Then his two daughters and three sons snuck in, their innocent faces lighting his candle flame into a raging inferno. As he made his way into office life, yet another multitude made its way into his collection. Of the techies and office drones, a bare few, entered his pocket, the others ending up in a small black note book – those who stuck around long enough that is.
The specialists, however, were a different story. Almost all ended up in his precious wallet. They were unfazed by his stony demeanor. They shared laughs at his expense, even making a game of seeing who could give him the largest aneurism.
He flipped through the photos and when he reached the last one, he paused.
‘Shepherd Marcus does not show weakness.’ His manta he recited. ‘Shepherd Marcus does not show weakness. Shepherd Marcus does not show weakness. Shepherd Marcus…does not…show…weakness…’
The wall broke. He bowed his head, his platinum hair covering his emerging storm.
A group of five stared at him, his ghost standing next to them. Everyone was smiling, his shell with a whisper of one. So happy and content. All just to be torn apart at the seams a breath later.
Four gold stars added to the wall of the fallen. A proud eagle chipped and beaten.
And it was his entire fault. A traitor in their midst and he was blindsided. A despicable fox intermingling with his wolves and sheep. What kind of shepherd is he?
A droplet fell on the laminated pictures followed by another. A river opened. His strong, broad shoulders shook, his breath coming out in small gasps.
Truly, just what kind of shepherd is he?
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Janet lay on her couch, her arm over her face in a vain attempt to block out her worrying thoughts.
She wasn’t blind.
She could see that her sister is suffering. Her shoulders drag as if under extreme weight. The tired look of her eyes, the aura of perpetual sadness and guilt that clawed into her like some kind of perverse thing, they are classic symptoms.
She thought of calling Mark but she…she couldn’t. She just had to wait for Buffy to tell her, anything else would seem to be a betrayal. They will have their very own Julius and Brutus; she will not land the unkindliest cut.
She just had to wait. The wait is already killing her.
A knock on her door pulled her out of her morose thoughts.
“Coming.” She called. She swung her bare feet onto the wooden floor and padded quietly toward the door. Not bothering to look who it is, she switched the deadbolt and opened the door revealing the blond. “Hey Sam. You haven’t come here in a while. What’s the occasion?” She smiled brightly. Seems she takes after Buffy regardless of blood. A perfect mask hiding a rotting corpse. There is no need to taint others with their foul stench.
Sam shuffled her feet. She avoided Janet’s gaze. “I heard a rumor on base that you know the Major personally.” Janet said nothing. “Uh… I was wondering if you could give me some tips to… you know; make her open up a bit more.”
Janet burst out laughing. She bent over hugging herself as her diaphragm split open because of how hard she was laughing. Her eyes filled with tears and she fell on her back and rolled on the ground like a child. “Janet…” she heard Sam say. “Are you alright?” Gradually, her outburst subsided leaving only a few odd chuckles.
She looked at her fellow Captain. A flash of hurt shined in her eyes. “Sorry…sorry. While I do know Kenn personally, in all the years we spent together, I still haven’t figured out how to get her to open up to me with anything not related to her medically. I just wait for her to open that door.”
Sam looked crushed.
“But,” Sam looked at her expectantly, “She had a certain need for speed we can exploit.”
“Yes, we. I have some things I want to know too.” She looked at Sam with an exasperate look. “I swear, getting her to talk is harder that taking a blood sample from the Colonel.”
Sam gave her a sympathetic look. “That bad, huh?”
Janet beckoned Sam in. Closing the door, she walked to her room and dug out a shoe box. “What’s that?” Sam asked.
Janet opened the box and took out a piece of paper. She handed it to Sam. “Read it.” She ordered.
Sam complied. As she got three sentences in, she looked at the Medic sharply. “Are these…”
Janet nodded. “To be honest, I don’t see why she enjoys it. On wrong move and splat, a pancake Kenn ready to eat but she loves doing it. I planned on giving it to her at Christmas but I guess this is a better time.”
“So, you were going to let this rot in that box for a couple of months? Sacrilege.” She finished in a whisper.
Janet chuckled. “I take it you’re a fan as well.”
Janet blinked. She tilted her head and opened her mouth to say something but though better of it. By most standards, that phase wouldn’t be considered cursing but to Sam, it was like saying jackass (the donkey of course *shifty eyes*).
Sam, lost in her own world, babbling about things Buffy would, didn’t notice Janet’s eyes glazing over. After ten minutes, Janet was border line asleep and twenty minute after that she actually fell asleep standing up, her eyes open and her head bobbing every once and awhile.
It wasn’t until she was decomposed to the bone, her clothes in rags, did she finally realize Janet was asleep. Her teeth clattered disapprovingly. She poked her bone- finger into Janet’s empty eye socket.
Janet jerked nearly launching her head into the other side of the room. “Are you done?” she asked sleepily. She reached to rub her eye to find it gone. She looked at her hand with mild surprise. “Well, this is unexpected…”
Sam placed her hands on her hip bones. “You think?”
Janet brightened. “There is some good that could come out of this.”
Sam sighed. She slumped and raked her fingers on the top of her skull, accidently pulling out some of the remaining hair. “What could that be?”
“Seeing the human skeleton in action.” Sam face palmed.
A scientist at heart – and if said heart is long gone – she agreed reluctantly.
“Now dance!” Janet exclaimed, throwing her arms in the air and knocking out a few bones in the process.
“I want to see a skeleton dance.”
“Only if you dance with me.”
Janet wholeheartedly agreed. A few minutes later, they were nothing but a pile of bones.
“Great idea, Janet.”
A door opened from the left. A man walked in, a ‘cocky’ belt buckle proudly displayed. The man looked over his shoulder. “Hey, Bones! Bones!”
A woman walked around him, shaking her head, and a knelt in front of them. She looked at them straight in the eye- socket and very loudly proclaimed. “If you were murdered, we will find your murderers. As I am not comfortable with the cause of death, you will be taken to the Jeffersonian to verify how you died.”
“We’re not dead!” they screamed in unison.
“…net…ANET! JANET!!” the woman in question jerked into sudden wakefulness. She looked at Sam oddly.
“You’re not a skeleton.” She stated, her brow furrowed.
Sam looked at her oddly. “Well, under my skin yes.”
Janet still looked confused. She glanced around and zeroed in on the paper in Sam’s hand. “…is that laced with something?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Huh.” Beat. “What the hell happened to me…?”
Colorado Springs, Colorado
The oppressive heat was suffocating. Sweat ran down her face. She ignored it.
The space reeked of chemicals, heat and smoke. Surprisingly clean, pieces of metal were everywhere, organized chaos.
The woman brought the hammer down.
The glowing metal in one hand, she stuck it into the inferno once more. A second later, she pulled it out. The violent red mere inches from her gloved hand. The hammer came down again.
The process repeating. She blocked the sounds of the other world. The one of joyful, blinding colors. Of endless positivity.
She preferred it here in her lovely workshop. The blackened surfaces, the smell of lingering smoke as the air was cleansed. A world of her making, where she is the maker of rules. Her territory, her domain.
A spark of the molten concoction landed on her protected forearm. She watched as the silly thing lingered before falling to the ground, losing itself just as it touched the concrete.
Here in the world a metal and fire, her sanctuary in the realm of the awake.
"Hey Kenn." A cheerful Janet said.
She ignored her. Meticulously, she undid the straps of her gloves and took them off. She reached behind her and untied the knots holding her leather apron in place then slid her boots off her feet and carted the load into the hallway. Opening a door, she hung the apron on a hook, placed her boots on a box whose lid had been stained with soot, and laid her gloves flat on a shelf. She closed it.
Walking back into the kitchen, she grabbed a mop and wiped her black tread marks off the floor. Raking her fingers through her hair, she hummed with discontent of smelling the smoke clinging to her hand.
She turned on the facet and threw cold water on her face, cleaning off the sweat that had accumulated. Grabbing a nearby towel, she wiped her face and hands.
She felt the familiar form of the redheaded doctor lazily roll off her couch and walked toward her, an innocent smile planted on her face.
"Been in the forge?"
Buffy looked at her. "No." She said with all seriousness. "I was out posing for the calendar."
"Really?" Janet said with a twinkle in her eye. "What month? December?"
"Nah. Too chilly. I'm July of course."
"A sizzling month."
Buffy drew up with mock pride. "I was born to handle the heat." Janet giggled.
“So,” she eyed the blonde sitting uncomfortably on the couch. “Can I bring a friend?”
“A tad too late to ask that Jay.”
“Eh.” She said uncaringly.
Buffy tilted her head back. Taking a deep breath, she asked Janet, “Why’d you bring her here?”
Janet’s joyful face turned hard. “I won’t let you drown.”
Buffy feinted ignorance. A sloppy grin plastered on her face, she replied. “Jay, what are you talking about?”
Janet clasped her shoulder hard. She discreetly pinned the smaller woman to the wall. She bent over and whispered into her ear. “You can’t run away forever.”
“I can try.”
“Talk to me.”
“Don’t Janet, don’t.” Her words dripped in acid. “Let go of me.” Janet and Buffy locked eyes. Buffy looked away first. “Give me time.” She said looking down at the floor.
Janet reluctantly nodded. She straightened. “Apparently, both of you have a distinct liking of the track.” Janet said loudly. Sam on the couch flinched.
Buffy’s eyes showed actual genuine interest.” Really?” She turned toward Sam. “Open wheel or stock?”
Sam stood up and smiled at her superior. “I prefer open wheel but stock’s ok.”
“Me too.” Buffy laughed. “My last CO had an in with a lot of racetrack owners so I got to be on the track every week unless we got a mission.”
Janet looked sharply at Buffy. She didn’t see a twinge of gloom.
“Lucky you. I haven’t been since before I came to the mountain.”
“Probably wallowing in the joys of discovery. You know,” she said wagging her finger. “You need to get out more.”
“Sam,” Janet said a smirk on her face. “Show her.”
Sam happily obliged.
Buffy read over the paper. She eyes wide, she looked at Janet disbelievingly. A full-blown smile took over her face. “Are you serious?”
She jumped into the air her arms flailing wildly. She stopped and gave the older women a tooth smile before racing out of the house and into a garage. “Guess she still has that thing.”
Sam looked at her. “What thing?”
“A 1985 Swift DB3.”
Sam nodded in appreciation. “How she get that?”
Janet shrugged. “A friend of a friend. To be honest, I really don’t care ‘long as it was legal.” She walked out the door, Sam hot on her heels. “She loves that thing. Makes her happy, that’s all that really matters.” A rumble of an engine started. Janet hummed. “Hope you don’t plan on going home before dark.”
Sam looked at the sun. It was barely a quarter of the way in the sky. “I don’t mind as long as I get a shot at driving.”
“You will!” Buffy yelled. She pulled out in a truck with a trailer hitched. She drove up to the pair.
“You know when I came to your house, this isn’t how a pictured the rest of my day to end up.”
“You asked for way in to our stonewall Major. I just gave you one.”
Sam shook her head. She stood as Janet made her way into the back seat and righted her seat and sat in the passenger’s seat. Buffy turned toward her. “Are you ready?”
Sam smiled. “Always.”
Colorado Race Track
The Swift zoomed by. Buffy looked through a pair of binoculars. “Huh. Seems like she hasn’t lost her skills over the years.”
Janet sitting on a chair sighed. “I don’t know what you two see in that thing.”
“Freedom.” Buffy answered not taking her eyes off her subordinate. “Freedom in its purest form. You’re in that car, the metal vibrating under you with untamable power. You can taste it on the tip of your tongue.” She lowered the binoculars. She tipped her head back staring at the clear sky. “Every move you make, all of it is controlled by you. There’s no one on your shoulder, whispering ‘this is the way you will move, this is have fast you will drive.’ It’s all you.”
Janet looked at her then her hands. “’We must be willing to pay a price for freedom.’”
“H. L. Mencken.” Buffy said. She looked back to observe the Captain’s final lap. “I have paid far beyond my dues.” She paused. A gentle breeze tugged at her cropped mane. “I am still paying.”
At that moment, Sam pulled up. The 1985 purred with delight. Sam pulled herself out of the Swift and gave Buffy a grateful smile. “That was the most fun in ages. Thank you, Major.”
Her sincerity made Buffy squirm uncomfortably.
“It was nothing.” Buffy shifted her feet. “We’re just luck we found a suit your size.”
“Really Carter, that was some cool driving.” The women whirled around the too see the smug-faced Colonel poking his snowy head into the garage. He walked in.
Sam stiffened and said in a surprised voice, “Sir? What are you doing here?
Buffy tipped her head slightly. “I think the more important question would be who’s the little tyke wrapped around his leg.”
“Hey!” The boy said indignantly. “I’m eleven! I’m not a little kid, shorty.”
Irritation flared. Buffy stomped and patted the boy’s head roughly. “Cheeky little brat are you? When you’re tall enough to ride all the roller coasters, then we’ll talk.”
Jack laughed. The boy looked at his father, betrayal covering his face. “Dad!”
He ruffled his son’s hair. “You gotta admit Char that was an awesome comeback.”
Char – full name Charlie- pouted. “But I don’t wanna…”
“Well, fine but your gonna have to deal with this midg-“ Buffy punched him in the stomach. “See son,” he wheezed out trying to force air back into his lungs. “This is… why you...ugh… make fun of women. Some are…oh god my spleen…violent.”
Charlie immediately brightened. He slapped his dad hard on the back. Another groan escaped the man. “Thanks dad.” Buffy gave him a thumb’s up. He smiled.
“Um…I’d hate to break up a ‘bonding’ moment but, why is the Colonel here?”
Buffy put her hands on her hips and shook her head disapprovingly. Charlie mimicked her. “It’s quite obvious. Janet called him.”
Sam turned toward the redhead which had a perfect air of innocence around her. She turned back. “I apologize. It wouldn’t happen again.”
“Better not.” She walked toward the Swift and proceeded to buckle herself in. she put on her helmet. She gave Charlie a two-finger salute and drove off.
Charlie turned toward his prone father. “Dad, I like her.”
“I bet you do.” he groaned.
“Colonel, if you’re in that much pain from a simple punch, maybe you should come see me. Maybe your old bones have finally had enough.” Janet said jokingly.
“I should have stayed in bed.”
“See ya ‘morrow, Jay.” Janet waved back; climbed back into her SUV and sped out of her drive way. Buffy watched amused. “Go any faster and I’ll start to think your trying to get away from me.”
Shaking her head, she walked to her front door and stilled. She strained her ears. One second. Two seconds. A breath, a slight movement. Her eyes narrowed. She turned the knob and stepped inside. She scanned the living room. A shadow in the hallway. She kicks off her boots and socks leaving them where they fell. She moved forward undaunted making sure to keep the shadow in the corner of her eye.
She placed her keys on the counter, and bent down on the ground. She reached into her waist line and grabbed the hit of a dagger she kept there. She breathed. Her stalker moved behind her. A flash a metal and the sound of cut air. She moved. In less than a second, she turned and cut her opponents’ blade in two, pushed her to the ground, and held her own blade against the soft flesh of her assailant’s throat. She pressed down slightly. A small trickle of red appeared.
“Who are you?” she growled. A fist aimed at her head. Buffy grabbed the offending hand and slammed it down hard on the ground. A tile cracked. “Stop.” she commanded. Her captive stopped moving. “I ask again. Who are you?”
“Why do you want to know?”
Buffy narrowed her eyes. Her pupils slit and glowed steadily. “Bostonian?” She smirked with sudden comprehension. “Are you lost little slayer?”
The woman underneath her said nothing.
“Nothing to say? I’m surprised. Since you came all this way the attempt to kill lit’ ole me, I assumed you have at least a witty one-liner ready.”
“I’m gonna kill you.”
Buffy burst into laughter. Her hand steady, she gave the woman a toothy smile. The woman eyed at her elongated canines, the moon’s light reflecting off them. “I am not like those weakling vampires you prey on. I am much more.” She stared the woman down. Her captive remain defiant. Buffy snorted. She got up bonelessly. The Bostonian looked confused. She put her dagger back in its sheath. She opened her fringe and took out a can of soda. The woman remained on the floor. “What are you still doing here? Go. Scam.”
“What kinda game are ya playin’?”
She shrugged. “I don’t make a habit of killing slayers in my home. Really hard to get the stains out.”
“So you ain’t gonna kill me?”
She raised an eyebrow. “No.” The slayer’s stomach rumbled. The woman blushed. Buffy’s other eyebrow raised to meet her other one. “Tell you what. Turn on the light, make yourself something to eat, and then get out. Deal?”
The woman sighed. “Deal.” She dragged herself from the floor and flipped on the light. She turned toward Buffy and let out an appreciative whistle. “Damn you’re hot. Too bad you’re a demon.”
“Do you really think I’m a demon?”
The woman rolled her eyes. “Nope. Don’t get that kinda vibe off you. You’re not human, that’s for sure.”
“What gave it away? The eyes or the teeth?”
“Aww. I didn’t win.”
“I’ll take a soda as punishment.”
Buffy eyed her. “Very juicy prize I lost eh?
“Don’t you know it.” The woman gave her a seduction grin.
“No but I very much like to.” Both women laughed. Once they died down, Buffy extended her hand. “Kenn Summers.”
The woman followed suit. “Faith. Faith Lahane.”
“Now, Faith Lahane, what were you doing in my house in the first place?”
She shrugged. “Just curious.”
Faith rolled her eyes. She took a bite out of the monster sandwich she made. Three more bites later, the whole thing was gone with only the scraps on the plate to prove its existence. She chugged down the soda. Bringing the drink down with a thud, she gave a content sigh. “Wanna thank ya for the meal.” She headed to the kitchen door.
“Leaving?” Buffy asked.
“Yup. Gotta mother hen of a Watcher waitin’ for me at home.”
Buffy watched her as she walking into the darkness. The brunette was just about to close the door when Buffy called out to her. “Keep the blades you nicked. They’ll serve you better than those other worthless pieces of crap.”
The door closed.
Buffy took a sip of her soda. “May the gods have mercy on you.” She said toward the disappearing shadow. “May their cruel hands be light in grazing your soul.”
She snorted. She walking to her studio and looked at the portrait on the stand. She grazed her fingers over the surface. An Angel in indescribable beauty, so joyous yet sickening to look at. Whigs of multi-colored hues, blinding, beacon to all to lose themselves within them.
Gently she set it down. She grabbed another canvas. She grabbed a brush and dripped it into the ink. She began again. Beginning again by moonlight.
“You don’t deserve our interference.”
-Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.
A/N: Early Christmas Present! Hurray! *sees unamused faces, runs away* I’ll be faster! I swear!