The Other Half::celeste::Chapter 10
For the second time in so many days, Buffy struggled fruitlessly against the shadows that kept her suspended mid-air, watching with complete confusion as Darkness and The First walked up to the man they had all thought was Darkness, who really was named Severus Snape, and who was also trapped within the shadows and looking pretty pissed off about it. She guessed they’d been wrong.Whoops
Planning on apologizing later, provided they all got out of this alive, Buffy turned to Giles who was, likewise, held up beside her. “What’s with tweedle dee and tweedle dumb?”
He simply shook his head, baffled. “I honestly haven’t the faintest clue.”
The First, again wearing her body to Buffy’s annoyance, stepped beside Darkness, examining Severus Snape, who mirrored Darkness’ appearance in the coils. “This is the one.” It smiled victoriously, turning to meet Buffy’s ferocious scowl. “Thanks for the tip, Slayer. Would’ve taken so much longer without your little Witch.” The First looked away and spoke to Darkness. “Crush him.”
Darkness nodded once, and flexed his fingers- joints cracking ominously before those long digits began curling above Severus’ heart. He flinched away instinctively, but the shadows were not about to let him go so easily.
Buffy felt helpless once again to stop it, and tried to give a futile struggle against the coils around her wrists, coils that kept their tight hold on her. She had no desire to watch another soul being destroyed in front of her, and even though she’d been kicking this guy up and down the room a moment before, it was pretty obvious he had nothing to do with Kennedy’s death. Whatever the reason The First wanted him destroyed, it was Buffy who had led it to him, making her responsible.
Just as a sense of despair came over her, a brilliant glow began beside the captive Severus Snape. Buffy stilled, feeling the same song as she had the night before from Kennedy’s soul- only this time it was much, much, louder- and seemed filled with millions of different voices all merged into one. As the golden light grew, encompassing Severus, another figure slowly emerged from it.
Another man, this one with long black hair that danced around him in an invisible wind, his blue eyes twinkling enough to rival the stars, and his face a study in serenity, slowly appeared. At his approach from within the light itself, Darkness’ hand twitched, and continued to spasm as if burned. Darkness jerked his hand away from Severus, who was now entirely covered by the golden glow. Darkness shielded his eyes instead of reaching for Severus again, and began to stumble with drunken steps away from the pair surrounded by the light.
“Damn you Black!” The First shouted while it stepped in front of Darkness- and Buffy realized it was protecting him. “If you don’t get out of our way, I’ll-“
“What?” the man with the flowing black hair countered nastily. “Way I see it, you’re in MY way.” He turned and touched the shadows that were binding Snape, and they recoiled before dissolving away completely.
Now free, Severus collapsed to the ground, panting with exhaustion, and looking gratefully up to the one The First had called ‘Black’.
Black gazed back sympathetically, before the light around him seemed to extend around the room. Darkness threw both his arms over his face, and Buffy felt the shadows holding her begin to loosen. The light was swept over them all, and the warmth carried with it was like a soothing balm. Shadows snapped, dissolving away into nothingness, and then they were all free.
Buffy dropped to a crouch, grabbing her scythe and fixing it in the strap of leather across her back. Her weapon secure, she rushed over to Giles, helping him stand while the others got to their own feet.
A shriek of rage, in her own voice, shot through the room, and she whipped her head around to see The First in a fit of pure wrath. It exploded into its true form, a giant demonic vision of indescribable horror that took up the entire ceiling of the room, one clawed hand swiping down for Black.
Holding up his own hand as the claws neared, a sudden wall of light flared between himself and The First. His foot took a step back at the blow while the claws tried to rip through the light. Under the barrage, his handsome face contorted into a look of pain.
His face- drawn tight with exertion- turned to Buffy, and when shouted to her his voice was urgent. “RUN! THEY WANT SEVERUS! GET HIM OUT OF HERE OR IT’S OVER!”
She didn’t question the strange man inside the light. As far as Buffy was concerned, anything that was an enemy of The First was a friend of hers.
At his order, Buffy sprinted forward, dodged around the battling Black and The First before finally reaching Severus. While the fight raged above her, making the hair all over her body stand on end, she took Severus’ arm, slinging it around her shoulder before turning to address the others. “WE’RE OUTTA HERE, PEOPLE!”
Buffy then stood, hauling Severus up with her, and started for the door. Once into the hallway, she turned to look back at the room. It was flashing with the warring golden and red glows as the two—things—fought each other. There was something spectacular about the scene, of the power that was definitely not of this world or any other, as the two battled each other in a fight that was far out of Buffy’s league.
Forcing her eyes to come unglued, Buffy waited until everyone else was out, and then turned- still dragging Severus down the hallway with her.
“AFTER HIM!” a demonic voice ordered from the unearthly battlefield behind them.
There was a huge blast and more dust started flying past her. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that Darkness- no longer restrained- was running down the length of the hallway, and was gaining on them fast. “Willow!”
“Got it!” Willow shouted in answer before her hair flashed from red to white. The witch turned, and as the Slayers and Robin passed around her she hefted back another spell before letting it fly at the man pursuing them.
When the spell hit, it exploded with the force of a small bomb, sending Darkness flying backwards. Willow turned and ran, reaching Buffy and the other Slayers next to the elevator.
His eye focused on the lights still flashing down the hall, Xander began jabbing his finger over and over on the down button. “C’mon,” he muttered.
Buffy herself was watching the flying form of Darkness. To her shock, when Darkness finally did hit the floor he went into a roll that catapulted him back to his feet. If she had been hit with one of those spells, Buffy was pretty sure she wouldn’t be quite so quick on the rebound. “No,” she said, horrified, as he began running again. “We’ve gotta get out of here!”
Her aura crackling around her, Willow threw another volley of spells at him. It bought time, as each one knocked him into the wall or further back. Finally, after a seeming eternity to Buffy and the others, the elevator doors slipped open. With her arm tight around Severus’ waist, Buffy hauled them both inside.
Everyone spilled in, Willow the last as she kept up her magic. Xander hit the button labeled ‘Lobby’ before pulling the witch back. Soon as Willow was clear of the doors, he pressed ‘Close’.
It was only after the doors slipped shut and the elevator began moving that everyone visibly relaxed.
Buffy leaned Severus against the wall of the elevator, and tried not to wince when he uttered a small hiss at the contact with his shoulder. Xander peered over, expression turning sheepish as he caught sight of the flowing blood that ran down the only intact sleeve of Severus’ shirt. “Sorry about that.”
From beneath a curtain of sweat-slicked hair, Severus sent one hell of a nasty glare. It was a look that promised very bad things.
Xander cleared his throat before he began examining the craftsmanship of the elevator doors with his good eye.
Meanwhile, Robin had managed to squeeze through the crowd of Slayers to Severus. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a roll of bandages that were pretty much necessity whenever they went on missions. He unrolled a long piece, breaking it off with his teeth, before motioning to Severus’ shoulder. “Here,” he said, reaching out and peeling back the shredded shirt, “press this against it.”
With another nasty and entirely evil glare Severus did- hissing for a second time. As Buffy watched Robin try to stop the bleeding, Severus face went from contorted at each press against the wound to relatively smooth- as if the pain failed to register after a while. It was a technique Buffy was all too intimately familiar with, one you only got through experience.He’s used to getting banged up.
She turned to Giles, lifting her brows. “Any clues?”
“Ah,” his eyes shifted nervously between Severus and Buffy. Then he cleared his throat and turned back towards the doors with Xander. “No. Not a one.”
“Why don’t I believe you?” Buffy questioned, eyes narrowed in suspicion as she studied her Watcher. It was clear from the way he continued to avoid meeting her gaze he knew something, and it probably wasn’t good.
But before Buffy could try to force anything from Giles, the ceiling to the Elevator dented with a sudden ringing bang, leaving a human sized bump in the smooth surface. It looked as if someone had taken a swan dive in the elevator’s shaft. Just as Buffy wondered what was going on now, a hand punched through the metal and began groping around the car blindly.
A few Slayers shouted warning, and everyone simultaneously dropped to the ground. As the hand began widening the hole, the florescent lights flickered, spitting sparks. It was ripping the steal top back like the elevator’s ceiling was made out of tissue paper.
“XANDER!” Buffy shouted, alarmed.
“I CAN’T MAKE IT GO FASTER!” he yelled back, hands covering his head as more sparks flew down from the top of the car.
Reaching behind her head, Buffy pulled out her scythe and tried to take a few jumping swings. With that damn arm dodging each slice of the scythe’s blade, it was sort of like trying to hit a piñata while blindfolded.
Frustrated, she tossed the scythe to Vi before grabbing the crossbow from Ang, angling it upwards into the hole and the slight outline of Darkness she could see. With a press of the trigger, the arrow swished through the air, embedding into the head with a meaty ka-thunk.
A substance thick as oil and just as black spattered down. The drops that hit the crossbow immediately sizzled- and soon smoke started to lift. Buffy quickly dropped the weapon and backed away from where the droplets were now raining onto the floor as the girls squeezed next to the walls. Soon, a burnt arrow shaft fell along with them.
The unmarred face of Darkness appeared in the hole. Uh oh
, she thought anxiously, he looks majorly pissed off
. Its lips were drawn back into a silent snarl, but the visage soon disappeared as Willow sent another spell up at it.
Everyone ducked as the spell collided with both Darkness and the ceiling. The lights offered a final fitful sputter before dying. The elevator gave a piteous whine, and to the collective horror of all started to shake ominously. The Slayerettes shrieked at the trembling, and Buffy had to hold out a hand to steady herself. The whine of what she could only assume were the cables suddenly turned into a springing snap. The elevator dropped. To herself and the others it felt as if gravity chose that moment to go on vacation.
The shrieking turned into outright screams when everyone’s feet floated off the floor with the elevator sped down the shaft as it lacked anything to hold it up. Buffy, head spinning, thought to herself ‘this is how I’m going to die… again
Just as she was contemplating how much it was going to suck being pancake-sized, the elevator slowed, sending everyone back to the floor. Buffy blinked in surprise and glanced over to see Willow panting. Her face was drawn tight with both hands spread out atop the bottom of the car.
“I think my life just flashed before my eye,” Xander stated in a squeak, one hand fixed over his heart, assumedly to keep it inside his chest.
“Your life doesn’t flash, you moron,” came a sarcastic drawl beside Buffy. Severus, cool as a cucumber, fixed Xander with a sneer. “But as worthless as yours undoubtedly is, maybe it all fits in a blink.”
“Know that great big twisted stick you lost? I think I know where it went,” Xander shot back.
“Through my shoulder?” Severus suggested icily.
“I was thinking a different place… one further south and farther behind.” Xander replied dryly.
A rather mundane ding rang out through the elevator, interrupting the two as the doors slid open. Four people stood on the other side, blinking at the sight Buffy could just imagine must have appeared very odd as they looked inside.
“Maybe we should wait for the next one,” a man suggested to the woman standing beside him.
“And miss all that death defying fun?” Xander questioned sarcastically before getting to a shaky stand.
As Robin helped him from the floor, Severus’ lips curled into a sneer. “Do you ever shut up?”
Xander, eye blazing and mouth open to respond, was interrupted when the ceiling of the elevator was torn completely open. There, standing above them with a homicidal expression on his twisted face, was Darkness. He sniffed the air, zoned in on Severus without hesitation, and leapt easily down into the elevator as everyone else raced out.
Robin continued to drag Severus, but Darkness marched out of the elevator and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. Robin was jerked to a stop, chocking while the slim hand continued to close tighter around him.
A snarl, not unlike a trapped animal, sounded from Severus throat. His eyes once more looked as if an inky blackness were welling within them. He twisted in Robin’s hold, thrusting his longer arm over the man’s shoulder, and grabbed onto Darkness’ face. A rush of black magic traveled the length of that arm, burning the side of the pale skin until Darkness was forced to release Robin and stumble away.
Robin inhaled loudly before moving forward again, Severus ambling alongside through the brightly lit lobby. All around them people moved in confusion, the clerks behind the long desk shouting threats of calling the police to Buffy and the others. Ignoring them, she spotted Darkness striding purposefully forward.
Realizing she had to stall, Buffy began searching for a way. She soon spotted one of the hotel’s bellboy’s pulling a long rack, easily the size of a compact car, with heavy suitcases hanging from the hooks at the tops and piled onto the steel plating. She ran over to it, shoving the bellboy to the side with a quick, “sorry,” and then giving it a hard shove towards the advancing Fist of Evil.
The rack collided into him, and he was flipped without a single ounce of grace into the pile of luggage- some spilling their contents open, scattering clothes all over the rich marble floor. As he floundered, Buffy sped quickly across the room, taking hold of Severus’ waist. She helped Robin propel him forward through the mass of confused people, towards the large spinning glass doors at the end of the long hotel lobby.
Moving him through the revolving door was a nightmare, the three of them stepping awkwardly in a small wedge of space far too confined for three adults- especially one the size of Robin. The glass wall-like doors kept spinning them closer to the sunlight and the beckoning street beyond where Robin had parked the van. Glancing over her shoulder, Buffy spotted Darkness coming to a stand, lifting his head while his large hooked nose sniffed at the air. Once more, his eyes immediately locked onto Severus before he rushed forward, arms swinging like two swift moving pendulums at his sides as he raced across the lobby.
“Now!” Robin yelled, and Buffy yanked with him just as the opening to the street passed before them.
The two managed to pull Severus onto the brightly lit street. As soon as they were clear from the hotel, Buffy heard Giles’ urgent shout. She swung her head around and found him hanging partially outside of the van, frantically waving an arm to gain their attention.
Robin caught sight as well and frowned. “Who’s driving?”
Buffy didn’t particularly care at that moment. “Let’s worry about that after we’re inside it,” she suggested dryly before pulling at Severus again.
Robin quirked a brow but said nothing, instead focusing on helping her get Severus there as quickly as they could. They weaved around pedestrians, all looking at Severus with clear concern.
Glancing over, she could tell why. The front of his shirt, what wasn’t shredded, was bloodied. So was the lower part of his face from a likely broken nose. He would soon be sporting twin black eyes, and bruised cheeks. Peering behind him, she saw the back of his shirt under the shoulder that had been pierced through by Xander’s arrow, was glued to his back from the matting blood. Apparently Robin hadn’t gotten around to patching the wound there.
In some weird turn of events, first she had tried to kill this guy, and now she and Robin were hauling him into the van to save his life from Darkness, who had just smashed through the revolving doors. Buffy waited at the open door, ignoring the shouts from those inside to haul ass and get in. Instead, she watched Darkness suddenly seem to slow- as if wading waist high through a lake.
Glancing upwards, she saw the mid-day sun blazing down in a crystal clear blue sky. She returned her sights to Darkness, who was now surrounding himself with the shadows cast by buildings and people, swirling them around like a giant black cocoon.
“GET IN THE VAN BUFFY!” she heard Dawn scream. Right, she thought while spinning around. Once she was in, Giles slammed the side door firmly shut behind her.
“Drive,” he commanded forcefully.
Remembering Robin’s question, Buffy craned around between the seats to try and get a look at just who the driver of the van was.
Her mouth dropped into a frown as she saw the driver of the van, currently shifting gear and burning rubber as the gas was stomped on, was Dawn.
The van lurched forward with a tortured squeal of all four tires, and then everyone was thrown to the side as Dawn swerved dangerously into traffic. Buffy, nearly getting her forehead smacked on the driver’s seat, wisely withdrew and settled herself on the long seat behind her sister. She studiously avoided looking out of the window, because at the quick glance she got, she realized the van was inches away from the honking red Ford Tempo beside them.
“Didn’t she fail her driver’s test?” Vi asked quietly from behind.
“I heard that,” Dawn retorted from the front, concentrating on the road stretching out before them.
Robin was settled on the opposite end of Buffy’s seat, his eyes narrowed into tiny slits. He shook it off, moving again to face Severus- who was slumped between them. A cursory glance had Robin’s mouth drawn tight before addressing Dawn. “Head for the hospital.”
“Who’s hurt?” she asked, worried.
“Long story,” Robin answered evasively before leaning Severus forward, ignoring the small grunt of protest. “One we’ll tell, in detail, at the waiting room.”
Severus seemed to blink several times, before straightening up and jerking out of Robin’s grip. “Hospital? A muggle hospital? Are you utterly insane?! You are most certainly NOT taking me to those- those- Healer quacks!”
“You’ve got a hole in your shoulder,” Robin replied, stating the—painfully—obvious.
“And I can only imagine what they’ll do to it,” Severus spat back. He blinked and then noticed the bandages in Robin’s hand. Snatching them without comment, he started unrolling enough to wrap his entire arm up, even though the movements of his left arm were stiff and slow.
Buffy and Robin exchanged glances before Buffy shrugged and slouched back into her seat. “If he wants his arm to fall off, it’s his thing.”
Severus snorted derisively. “Do I look like a five-year-old to you, girl?” He paused in order to rip the great pile of bandages apart with his teeth. “I won’t have them sewing my skin together like some patchwork quilt, or putting any of those ghastly concoctions in my body.” He shoved the overflowing mess of bandages behind his shoulder, and leaned back into the seat to keep them in place. “Barbarians.”
“Um?” Dawn questioned from the front.
“Head to the hospital,” Robin repeated, ignoring the piercing glare Severus sent.
“Black!” he suddenly shouted into the empty van. At Robin’s incredulous stare, Severus repeated his demanding summons. “BLACK! Damn you, inbred mutt, if you’re still—whatever you are—you’d better come here this INSTANT!”
Everyone startled as the same man Buffy had seen inside the light suddenly popped his head in through the roof of the van. He took a slow look around, gazing at all the faces- pausing long enough to give Buffy a wink- before settling on Severus’ thunderous expression. “Wotcher Sev. Glad to see you made it out in one piece there, mate.”
“Don’t you dare
call me mate, you ill-begotten sonofabitch!”
“Someone’s cranky,” the head observed dryly. “I suppose I’ll let it go this time, what with that nasty wound you’re sporting.” He glanced at the surprised faces again. “And because there are young ones present.”
The head slowly became a full body as it floated down through the roof to settle cross-legged on the floor in front of Severus. He made himself comfortable, propping up on his elbows and tossing his long black hair back. “What’s wrong now?”
“They’re trying to take me to a hospital,” Severus sniffed the air imperiously. “So tell me how to get the hell out of this moving- deathtrap.”
Black’s lips quirked upwards. “I think the hospital is a pretty good idea, actually. And what did we say about talking to me out loud in front of other people? About appearing sane rather than completely barmy?”
Giles leaned forward over the seat, adjusting his glasses, and peering carefully at Black. “Looks to be a poltergeist of some sort.”
The two men’s eyes widened in shock, and then Severus stuck his thumb towards Black. “You can see him?”
“Shouldn’t I?” Giles asked, turning to Severus with a questioning expression on his face.
“Should he?” Severus asked Black.
Black appeared to give it grave consideration for a few minutes, and then snapped his fingers. “Using a lot of power, I suppose it imprints on any souls close enough to feel it directly. And I certainly was using enough energy… scrapping with The First. I suppose they can see me now.” He sighed rather forlornly. “And I was looking forward to some first rate pranks. Buggar all.”
“Is that all you ever think about?” Severus returned acidly.
“Well, he did call me a poltergeist, didn’t he?” Black answered with a smug grin. “And Peeves is one tough act to follow.”
“Peeves?” Giles asked, his brow crinkling in confusion.
“Too long to explain, and rather moot besides,” Black replied. He clapped his hands together, startling everyone. “Back on track, I think the hospital is an unfortunate necessity.” He examined Severus intently again, taking in the noticeable fatigue in his posture, the bruises beginning to form with an ugly greenish hue to the blackened coloring, and the blood still coloring his shirt and pale skin. “Though, I think once they sew up your shoulder, they’ll likely release you. We won’t have to worry about Darkness attacking you there- endangering anyone else.”
“I am NOT going to allow those Muggle Healers to lay one finger on me, Black,” Severus hissed through grit teeth.
“No help for it. Healers aren’t available here, and you’ve got to get that taken care of.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s not as if you’re going to need brain surgery, Snape. It’s either the hospital, or cauterizing that wound. Your choice.”
As the two continued arguing back and forth, Buffy watched the poltergeist with no small amount of amazement. This guy had not only managed to free them all from Darkness’ bonds, but also battled The First, and looked none the worse for wear after it. Recalling the song she’d heard at Black’s appearance, she interrupted their squabble with a question. “Did you kill it?”
Black paused mid sentence, and smiled beatifically at her. “Killed who?”
“The First? Big scary thing with the horns?” she pantomimed shape of said horns with her hands over her head.
His eyes darkened and then lightened again so quickly, Buffy thought she’d only seen the flash of—whatever it had been. “That smug arse? Can’t kill it, as it’s not alive. Best I can do is push it back, drain it a bit, and then shield Sev here,” he indicated Severus with a nod in his direction, “from its radar.”
“Do you know why it’s after Mr. Snape?” Giles then pragmatically asked.
“Professor,” Severus muttered.
“Pardon?” Giles returned.
“It’s Professor Severus Snape. Not Mr. Snape.” He replied, with more than a touch of bitterness.
Giles lifted a brow, but said nothing in return, returning his sights to Black instead. “As I was asking,” he said smoothly, “do you have any idea why it is after… him?”
“’Course,” the Poltergeist answered easily.
Everyone waited for him to continue, the silence in the van a poignant one. Black started to examining his nails, picking at them, and then holding them further from his face and twisting his head before bringing them back and picking at them again.
Severus gave a weighty sigh at the spirits sudden interest in his cuticles. “Black, I’m curious as to the answer myself.”
“Gave it,” Black replied quickly, much too quickly.
“You know what I meant.”
With a quirk of his brow, Black dropped the pretense of examining his hand and shrugged. “Wants to destroy your soul, thus ensuring all souls in the After will suffer everlasting torment for the rest of eternity.”
Severus’ face turned even paler than it had been from the loss of blood. “Is that all?” he asked softly.
“You see? I knew you’d react like that. Now, don’t get all ‘woe is my life’ on me, Snivly. I’m not about to let that happen,” Black said in such a comforting manner, Buffy nearly expected him to reach out and pat Severus on the knee.
Giles, seemingly stunned by this revelation, sat back in his seat with a floored expression on his face. Noticing, Buffy twisted around to him. “What’s up?”
“What?” he gazed over at her. “Oh, it’s nothing, Buffy. Nothing.”
“You don’t have a nothing face, you have a something face,” she pointed out.
Clearly not willing to talk about it, he removed his glasses and began polishing them with a vengeance.
Baffled with this response, Buffy made note to pry it out of him later and left him alone. Instead she focused on Black. “So, why would killing the Professor here do- that stuff?” she asked with a tilt of her head in Severus’ direction.
Black treated her to another bright grin, one that nearly had her blushing for some inexplicable reason. He was definitely full of salty goodness. It was too bad he was dead, she reflected privately. “Now, there’s a very interesting explanation for all that, and funnily enough- you’re a big part of it Buffy. May I call you Buffy?”
“Buffy is fine,” she replied absently to his request. Already anticipating the part where she was involved, given The First being involved and her being the Slayer- or one of the Slayers she supposed- Buffy wasn’t surprised by this revelation. What she wanted to know was exactly how she fit into all this, and hopefully get some of those unanswered questions taken care of. “Let’s hear it.”
“It’s very simple,” Black said, his entire focus now zeroed in on her, and Buffy found she didn’t mind it too much. His gaze then took in the rest of the van’s occupants, and his lips pinched together. Curious Slayerettes and Scoobies were leaning forward, and Buffy could just imagine Dawn’s ears perking from the driver’s seat.
Black shook his head. “No. This is not the place to discuss it. Better we wait until there’s a bit of privacy, Buffy. Then, I promise, I’ll explain everything in great detail to you.”
“Not fair,” Vi muttered, dropping back into her seat with a pout.
Buffy agreed. She would rather know, right now, what was going on. Yet, something in Black’s hesitant expression and Giles’ abundant polishing of his glasses told her she’d be better off taking the ghost’s advice. For now.