The Other Half::celeste::Chapter 6
Buffy’s teeth clenched with an instinctive response to the whine in her little sister’s voice. Trying to ignore Dawn, not that she’d ever had much success with that in the past, she continued to the weapons closet. She grabbed her scythe, pausing for only a moment at the welcoming thrill it sent up her arm, before picking up her duffle bag and setting the weapon inside.
Dawn’s foot tapping behind her with an annoying pat pat set Buffy’s teeth on edge. Blowing out a long breath, Buffy counted mentally to four, and then turned to face Dawn- still holding onto her duffle, and tossing a look of warning that caused most Vamps to back off in a hurry.
Not so lucky with Dawn, who had grown invincible to the ‘Look’. “I’m going.”
“No, you’re not,” Buffy corrected immediately before slipping past her once again.
Dawn was hot on her heels, voice still high in pitch, and the rebellious current strangely bolstering it beneath the keening tone. “Why do I always have to stay behind? I can fight! I can help! I want to. Remember the army of Ubervamps and the part with me being there? Oh, that’s right, wouldn’t have happened if your plan with Xander to drug
me had gone off without a hitch.”
“I don’t have time for this, Dawn,” Buffy quickly said, trying to walk past.
Dawn’s hand on her arm swung Buffy around to meet her sister’s stubbornly-set face. “You never have time. You’ve NEVER had time.” Dawn’s eyes nearly began to spit out angry sparks. “You always think you can just push me to the sidelines and go off and do all the save-the-world stuff.”
Silently listening, the corner of Buffy’s lips twitched into a small and completely involuntary frown.
“Guess what? Other people can do stuff to help the world, even if they don’t have super powers! I can take care of myself, and I’m tired of you trying to shelter me away like- like- some sort of sheltered thing!” Her foot stomped indigently, as if to somehow prove her point. Though, Buffy thought that was an excellent reason why it didn’t.
“I know you can do stuff to help,” she tried with a placating tone, “ That’s why I want you to stay here in research mode.” At the hardening of Dawn’s eyes, her hair nearly crackling along with the same sparks as before, Buffy sought for something more to soothe her sister. “I thought you liked researching stuff.”
When Dawn replied, her teeth were clamped together and the words forced through. “I like it because it’s all you let me do!”
Having nothing to say in return to that, Buffy simply sighed and shouldered her duffle bag. “We’ll talk about it when I get back.” Dawn’s mouth opened and she sped her words along, “You’re not going, and that’s final. Just… deal,” she finished.
“UGH!” Dawn cried, throwing up her hands in a show of frustration, before stomping off for the staircase. Likely to sulk in her room, Buffy figured.
Buffy winced at the slammed door.
“Great,” she breathed, running one hand through her hair. Feeling how flat it was, she dropped her hand away and sighed wearily again. Dawn was angry, again, and she was having a bad hair day. Apart from demons and prophetic dreams warning her about dying- all that was missing was Angel popping back for a little angst and her life would be just like it had been at Sunnydale.
“Don’t worry, B. I got kid sis’ back.”
Her eyes flickered to Faith, who was leaning against the doorframe of the alcove, wearing a small- and completely unsympathetic- smirk. “Want me to have her in bed by ten?”
“Faith, just-“ Buffy broke off, thinking it wasn’t worth it. Shaking her head, Buffy settled for walking past instead of finishing that thought.
“Can do,” Faith answered as she passed by.
She really didn’t need this stress. Buffy contemplated one of those squishy balls that you could squeeze to relieve pent-up frustration. Though, it likely wouldn’t help too much. Retiring to a spa for the rest of her life probably wouldn’t help- although the pampering certainly couldn’t hurt anything.
Pushing that lovely little daydream aside, she walked over to Xander, Willow, and Giles and regarded their own weapons. “Everything set?”
“Yep,” Xander answered, indicating his sword.
Willow nodded wordlessly, eyes still drawn somewhat tight at the corners.
Giles lifted his own crossbow. “The girls are armed and ready.”
“Alright. Giles, you and two girls with me, the rest stay here with Faith in case of an attack. If Boris leads us to something bigger than we can handle, we’ll come back after checking things out.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Xander approved.
“I’ll head out with you,” Kennedy offered.
Looking not at all happy with the choice, Willow pinched her lips together to keep from saying anything. In fact, Willow had been pretty off since waking back up. Not in any way that alarmed Buffy or the others, but it was clear something had her spooked. Whenever she tried to explain it, all she could do was sigh and shake her head- muttering an apology before going back to her worrying.
Not that Buffy had been overly chatty, herself. The dream with the strange redhead named Lily shadowed her thoughts. She’d pushed it to the back of her mind, too intent on finding out what was going on in Cleveland, but it still sang in her thoughts.
The most confusing thing to her was how unafraid she still remained afterwards. Willow’s words upset her more than Lily’s, but just why that was, she couldn’t say. Something wanting a piece of her-- well, that was pretty common, but warnings about imminent death had only come twice before. Buffy thought maybe she was simply getting used to it, which really said just how extremely abnormal her life was when one could brush off impending doom, but it seemed like something more than that. It seemed like this was something she’d been waiting for since she’d been brought back.
Which, of course, was nonsense. She was over that whole “wanting to die again” phase, and didn’t mind the idea of sticking around for a little bit longer for Dawn’s sake, if not her own. No, she hadn’t had nearly enough time, and Buffy found she was so pissed that they’d take this from her again that she intended to head them off at the pass. They could take the Gift along with her destiny, and shove it where the sun didn’t shine.
No more little miss nice Slayer.
After Dusk was one of those popular spots where demons liked to mingle with the humans who didn’t know any better. With its loud music and flashy lighting, it attracted way more potential meals then the old Bronze back in Sunnydale ever had. When the gang had first arrived, they’d even hung out thereon weekends. Buffy had liked it, until a demon had tried to slice Xander into portable and bite-sized bits.
From that fiasco, Buffy had met Boris, who ran the club. There was something about him that reminded her of those mafia types in the movies. His office was in the back hallway, where he sat surrounded by other goons of the Hell variety, and dressed to the nines in fancy suits and big gaudy rings that flashed on every one of his ten fat fingers.
No one knew for sure what Boris was, exactly. She doubted he
even knew. Boris was immortal, but pretty young for a demon of that variety, having been born just before Stalin came to power in the Soviet Union, and coming into his own during the great Communist uprising. There were rumors that he’d even done some work for Stalin’s secret police, and that was how he found his way to America while doing a little espionage.
He looked completely human, a little round human with slicked black hair and a curly mustache just like the villains who tied girls to train tracks in the old silent movies. The only things that hinted to the fact he wasn’t a person in the general sense of the word, other then the fact he surrounded himself with vampire lackeys, were the red pupils in the center of his blue eyes.
He walked like a human, talked like a human, heck- even ate the food that humans did- but Boris was no human. Buffy felt it every time she came close, and would have killed him long ago if she’d been able to. As it was, he was an annoying bastard with a thick accent that was all false friendliness, but he was- himself- relatively harmless. Well, if you didn’t count the fact he ran a take-out restaurant for Vamps. His policy of no killing on his premise barely kept her off his back. Besides- Boris was useful. She used him for information, and he used her for his reputation. It was pretty cordial, all in all.
“Slayer!” he called with false joy as she kicked down his door, walking into his office over the top of it with Giles, Kennedy, and Molly hot on her heels. “How good to see you again, my friend.” His beady eyes took in her scythe cradled in both hands. “Please, sit down. Have drink on house.”
“No thanks, Boris.” Buffy lifted her scythe, enjoying the nervous shifting of the vampires surrounding the demons’ high polished desk. “I’m on the clock.”
He smiled fleetingly before sitting back down into his own chair. “Too bad. What brings you to my humble establishment?”
“Other then the fact its chock-full of Vamps?” she asked in return before leveling him with a no-nonsense glare. “I need some info.”
“You’ve come to right place,” Boris replied with a quirk of a thick brow. He gave a thin smile as oily as the rest of him. “What sort of information?”
With a tilt of her head, she had the others fanning out along the wall with two Slayers standing watch at the now open door. “It’s a funny story actually, filled with weird dissolving demons complete with claws and freaky mojo in the air that knocks out witches. Just thought I’d come to you to figure out what the Hellmouth is up to these days.”
Boris sat with his poker mask in full swing, and absently tugged at one end of his mustache. The black ends curled around his fingertips, and Buffy couldn’t help but think of Snidely Whiplash plotting his latest scheme.
”There have been,” he hesitated before rumbling out in his thick Russian-laced brogue, “rumors.”
Buffy bobbed her head. “Okay. What sort of gossip? We talkin’ Ragnarok breaks up with Siva?”
“Bad sort,” completely ignoring her quip, he continued. “Old evil awakening, devouring stars. That sort of rumor.”
“An old evil,” Buffy repeated.
Curling his moustache in the same dishonest manner, Boris spoke again. “What they are saying.”
His gaze turned calculating. “Of The First- I know nothing. What they say- is all vague. One thing I do know is, shift in power is coming.” Boris grinned again, and Buffy repressed a shudder at the sinister shadow that covered his face. “Is good for business.”
Her eyes immediately sought out Giles’, and she saw the grim response to this piece of news reflected back like a mirror. “So, vagueness aside,” she started as she turned back to Boris, “got anything a little more concrete to share?”
“I just hear rumors,” he said.
Buffy sighed before turning to the purse strapped over her shoulder and opening it up. She took out her wallet, drew out all her cash, and then slapped it on the desk, ignoring the two vamps that flanked Boris to either side. “Now?”
“Ah,” he answered with the same grin before reaching out and dragging the money across the surface back to him. “I do remember something.”
“Thought you might,” she muttered, thinking it was too bad she couldn’t just beat the stuffing out of him. Times like these, she actually missed Willy.
“Last night police officer was found outside cemetery with broken neck.” Boris jerked his head to the side, along with sound effects. “His partner missing. News said it was around ten at night. Two hours before that, sundown, old comrade of mine came up from tunnels. Said Hellmouth had roared, scared him.” Boris leaned forward, locking gazes with Buffy. “My friend does not scare so easily.” There was a pause before the demon went on. “Then, in Cleveland Memorial, he sees man come up from tunnels. Man, he say, smells like night and shadows.”
“They have a scent?”
“Apparently,” Boris said. His broad shoulder lifted in a shrug of indifference. “My own sense of smell- not so good.”
Meaning, Buffy thought, she’d have to take him at his ‘comrade’s’ word. “Any reason this Vamp would be lying?”
“To me? Bad idea,” he replied. “He take off after sunset, getting out of town, long gone by now. Bad luck, Slayer.”
Buffy let her scythe fall down next to her side, before glancing back at Giles. “Any ideas?”
“None,” he answered with a slight frown. “I’ve never heard of a creature smelling like shadows, though given the one that attacked us last night- it’s likely they’re related somehow.”
She turned back to Boris. “That all?”
“Few things seen here and there. Things turn strange,” he seemed to pause- listening to the faint pulse of music just beyond the thin walls. “The old ones say ancient Evil that devours light has awakened and hunts again.”
“What is it hunting?” Giles asked in a tight voice.
“That, I don’t know,” Boris answered. “But strange monks are being spotted all around city, some in brown robes, some in black- moving in two groups. All with their eyes and mouths burned shut.”
At once it felt like ice was running through her veins. Those strange monks had to be The Bringers. If they were lurking around, that meant The First was back, and probably looking for payback. And if the Hellmouth was roaring…
“Where’s the seal to the Hellmouth?” Buffy asked suddenly.
Her questioned startled Boris, who regarded her with his freaky eyes widened in surprise. “Seal?” He shook his head. “I know nothing of a seal.” Quiet descended over the dingy office for a few moments, before the demon spoke again. “You think something wants to open it?”
“What else?” Buffy retorted acidly.
A slight frown came over his face. “That would be bad for business,” he finally stated.
“No kidding,” she replied. She turned to Giles, Kennedy, and Molly. “We’re done here.”
Ignoring Boris’ farewell, Buffy led the others out of the small office and back into the dingy hallway. For a moment they stood silently together, digesting all that had been said. The tension was so thick it would need a chainsaw to get through.
Kennedy was the first to speak up. “I don’t get it. If it’s The First- why hasn’t it said something? Always seemed the gloating type to me.”
“Definitely part of the M.O.” Buffy agreed. “Taunt and yap. Not so much as a peep out of it since Sunnydale.” She shook her head in frustration. “I just thought it had gone poof with the rest of the Hellmouth.”
“It can’t go ‘poof’,” Giles replied with strained patience, “it’s incorporeal. Though,” he admitted a moment later, “I had believed that without the Hellmouth as a power source, it wouldn’t be able to move about again.”
“Well, we are standing on another one,” Kennedy pointed out.
“Ah, y-yes, o-of course,” Giles stuttered. He sighed and removed his glasses, absently polishing the lenses with his eyes focused on the task. His mind seemed far off though, far enough that he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings.
Thus, Buffy spotted the man walking down the hall before Giles did. Even with the clinking chains around his waist, and the sharp ring of the studded boots clanging against the tiled floor, her Watcher kept his head down as he sorted out what he’d just heard. Unfortunately for him, it meant Giles didn’t realize he was in the man’s way. Not until he was roughly shoved into Buffy, at any rate.
She caught him in her arms, taking in his startled ‘Ooph’ at crashing into her shoulder, and then helped to right him back on his own feet. At first the black haired man, dressed head to foot in a punk rocker’s outfit, made to pass them by without an apology or second glance- until he came even with Buffy.
The man stopped abruptly, foot halfway in front of him, and then slowly turned his head so that he was regarding her from under a curtain of that dark hair- hiding all but the very inner corners of his eyes and a large honker of a nose. Then, while Giles began sputtering in irate British man speech (lots of ‘now see here’ and ‘I insist on an apology’), the man’s nostrils twitched. Buffy swore she could actually hear him sniffing at the air between them.
“What the hell?” Kennedy asked softly, before raising her voice. “What’s your problem?”
Ignoring her, and everyone else, the man continued to sniff at Buffy from behind that veil of hair. Then, as he lifted a pointed chin, his hair fell away from his face. What was revealed to Buffy were two eyes gone completely black, as Willow’s had in times Buffy would rather forget, and thin lips curved into a small smirk that somehow conveyed more to her than any words ever could.
Then something- shifted. The sort of shifted you get when mystical energies were on the move, or you were riding in an airplane at take off. While every hair on her body stood on end, Kennedy let out a pitched warning that the shadows were moving. She glanced down in time to see that the ones her own body had been casting were now moving over her designer high heels with the straps curled around her ankle. Only now, snake-like shadows were spinning up her calves- chilling the skin where it met the blackness, and not even her Slayer strength could help dislodge them.
Soon another set of shadows roped themselves around her wrists, pulling them outwards and keeping her rooted in place. It was then the man’s smirk turned into a full smile, and a narrow hand with long fingers reached out- resting just over her heart- and slowly curling over the spot.
“Wait a minute, wrong one. That’s not the half we’re looking for.”
Her own voice met her ear, and Buffy stopped her fruitless struggling long enough to look beyond the man towering above her to see the most unwelcome and always creepy form of herself as if reflected back like a walking three dimensional mirror. “First.”
“Long time no kill, Slayer,” The First answered before placing a hand on her hip and cocking her head. “But then that’s your fault, isn’t it?”
“Usually,” Buffy ground out as she began trying to pull a hand free again, “it’s part of the job description, but in your case? It was fun shutting you the hell up.” She smiled thinly. “Personal satisfaction- great chocolaty feeling.”
The man’s lips had fallen into a slight frown, his hand hovering mid air nearly close enough to brush his fingertips on Buffy. He turned his head towards The First before tilting it in question.
“I know. She’s sickening, isn’t she?” The First regarded Buffy with narrow identical eyes. “Unfortunately, we can’t touch her. Not yet.”
An unwelcome scowl grooved into his face, throwing its sudden angles into a sinister relief, making it clear he dearly wanted to hurt the Slayer. Finally he acquiesced to The First, reluctantly drawing back his hand.
“All this roaring Hellmouth business, and I wondered where you were at,” Buffy said brazenly, masking the sudden sense of relief that covered the irrational fear at the thing’s hand being so close to her. “Little late to pop by for a chat, isn’t it?”
“I wasn’t looking for you,” The First replied snidely. Then it smiled. “Did you miss me, Slayer? Feeling left out?”
“Hah.” Buffy pulled at her wrists again, grinding her teeth together. “You could send a postcard- or hey- nothing at all and I’d be fine with it. Not much with the missing.”
“Don’t bother trying to get out of those. Darkness fastens a tight knot.” Her eyes lit up with a manic glint. “Oh, I haven’t introduced you yet, have I? Manners. Slayer, this is Darkness.” She indicated the man with an elaborate wave of her hand. “You might say he’s,” she paused, “the strong, silent type.”
“Well, you talk enough for everyone,” Buffy retorted. She glanced over to see Kennedy had already picked up the scythe, while Molly was slowly hovering in front of Giles. From the rigid set to their backs, she guessed they felt the weird aura this guy was giving off too. “I guess it’s to make up for the lack of being able to do… anything.”
“Bitch,” The First muttered before gazing at Darkness again. “Are you going to let her speak to me like that?”
A thin black brow slowly arched. The First glared again, this time at him, forcing him to return his black sights to Buffy. Before the Slayer could even try to dodge, the back of his hand familiarized itself to her face in the form of a vicious smack.
Buffy nearly saw stars for a moment, her neck stretching as her chin tried to connect with her shoulder blade from the force of it. As blood pooled in her mouth, she heard the other shout out in pain. Managing to look up, she saw Giles, Molly, and Kennedy were now coiled up in the same shadowed ropes as she was. The other Slayers struggled instinctively, but Giles seemed as if he’d gladly tear out Darkness’ throat as he stayed alarmingly still in his bonds.
“Let them go, this is between us,” Buffy said after swallowing back the blood. “I’m the one you want.”
“All about you, isn’t it Slayer? Me, me, me. Well, guess what? This time, it’s not you we want.” The First waved her hand again, and Darkness took a step back as if ordered. It was clear to Buffy who was again pulling the strings. “I couldn’t care less what you do. Slay all the vampires you’d like, just stay out of my way.”
“Like that’s going to happen,” Buffy murmured.
The First sighed. “I should’ve expected that.” She turned her sights to Buffy’s companions, stopping on Kennedy. “Destroy that one.” At Buffy strangled curse, The First smiled grimly at her. “Show the Slayer the price of meddling in things that aren’t any of her business.”
Buffy shouted again, pulling desperately at the coils that held her, but all she could do was watch as Darkness moved over in front of Kennedy. Her sister Slayer’s arms quivered as they yanked as well, upping the fight as the pale hand was drawn over her chest.
When the glow began, Buffy felt a swell of recognition flash through her. Something about it seemed so familiar, the way the light pulsed like a heartbeat. It was beautiful, flashing a million different colors at once, like the reflection on a sea of gold, before it began collecting between the fingers of Darkness into a single ball of brilliant light.
Buffy shouted Kennedy’s name, heard it echoing down the hallway, even with a soft song rising in her mind nearly in answer. As the ball grew to the size of a grapefruit, the song in Buffy’s mind rose with it, drowning everything else out. The only thing she was aware of was the single golden thread flowing from Kennedy’s heart into the ball resting within the cage of Darkness’ fist.
At his yank, severing the string in a vicious snap, Kennedy’s struggles ceased, and she fell limp within the shadows.
She could not hear Giles’ whispered ‘My God’, only the singing in her mind. Buffy turned to The First- certain Kennedy could still be saved. “Put it back.”
The First was without empathy or pity. Instead, it seemed to be enjoying everything immensely. “Once the soul is removed, it can’t be put back,” it told her in a sickly sweet voice. Her next words were for Darkness alone. “Crush it.”
!” She screamed, even as the light’s song screamed. Buffy could not force her eyes away as Darkness’ fingers clenched tighter around the orb, his face full of contempt as his eyes narrowed against each desperate note. Buffy screamed a final time, feeling the stress in the orb, but her scream died as the light cracked before breaking apart into thousands of sparks. Sparks that died out before even hitting the ground.
Horror and revulsion filled her being as she realized, down in the very marrow of her bones, what had just happened.
Kennedy was gone.
“We’ll do the same to every single one of your little friends, Slayer, if you get in our way again.”
But The First’s voice seemed to be miles away and underwater as Buffy stared at the cracked cement, the spot on the floor where the last of the embers had burned away.
“You’ll-“ Buffy’s throat chocked for a moment, eyes stinging, as she tried to envision how she was going to tell Willow, “you’ll pay for that.”
“You’re assuming you can touch us, Slayer,” The First answered breezily. “Just count your lucky stars we can’t do the same to you.”
The words finally penetrated the fog of sorrow, ringing in Buffy’s ears as important. “What?”
The First smiled. “She still doesn’t get it, does she?”
His own little disdainful grin firmly planted on his face, Darkness shook his head.
“Powers must be slacking,” The First said cryptically, before radiating the smug confidence of someone who knew they were about to win. “Love to stick around and chat, make funeral arrangements, but I’ve seen the movies. Don’t want to give too much away about our dastardly plan.” With that, Buffy was dismissed as nothing more than an insignificant insect while The First set her sights on Darkness again. “No more time to play with our friends. Back to work.”
An answering nod to The First, and then Darkness hesitated long enough to regard Kennedy’s limp body. His smile widening at Buffy, he twisted his hand. The shadows, obeying his unspoken orders, wrapped themselves around Kennedy’s neck- squeezing tighter until her lungs gave a final wheezing gasp, and then her chest stilled in death.
But Buffy knew Kennedy had died long before that, and this was only another slap in the face.
Sniffing the air again, the pair moved off back down the hallway. Even after the door at the end of it was shut did Molly’s own sob ring out.
They left them all in their shadowed bounds, but Buffy could not feel the coldness against her skin. The pieces of Kennedy’s soul still burning in her vision as they floated back to the earth into nothingness.
“Monster,” Buffy breathed.**
Faith cursed at the television screen as her fighter was once again knocked flat by Dawn’s. By now, the flashing yellow words of Winner over the Chinese girl caused the formerly rogue Slayer to spit out another inventive curse before tossing the pad carelessly onto the table.
“You’re a really bad loser, y’know that, right?” Buffy’s younger sister informed her in a flat tone.
A snort was Faith’s only answer before she stood and stretched her arms, taking a second to pop her back. Then she turned her sights back towards the boarded window. “This is boring.”
“Welcome to my life,” Dawn muttered before placing her own controller down, with a lot more care, beside the one Faith had abandoned. “We could do something else. Look in more books for that demon-“ at Faith’s blank face, she quickly amended, “or not. Checkers? We have checkers.”
“Sorry kid,” Faith replied before walking around the coffee table, mindful of the holes in the carpet, “not much for board games.” When she was farther away from Dawn, diverting her path to the front door at the giggles from the kitchen, she muttered again under her breath. “Or babysitting small fries, either.”
Faith didn’t get the way Buffy thought at all. From her way of seeing things, the little monster killers were more than hardy enough to take care of themselves. So this demon had claws and was hard to kill? So what? So were a lot of worse things they’d be meeting in this line of work. All the damn coddling was only getting on her nerves. No one had ever smothered her like that, and from the frustrated way Dawn would grind her teeth at the front door, she didn’t plan on crying over it.
Way Faith saw it- she was far better off. Like she’d told Buffy and Giles at least a hundred times, the mini-slayers couldn’t come crying to them every time they got in over their heads. How the two of them ran the place now, anyone so much as sneezed too loudly and the pair was running with Kleenexes to wipe their little noses off for them. They were bringing up a bunch of softies that weren’t going to last in this gig very long.
But it was better than general B and her army of cannon fodder.
Once back on the porch, perched with her legs swinging from the railing as she lit her cigarette, Faith turned a watchful eye on the suburban line of houses. All cookie-cut, straight laced, upstanding sort. Kiddies tucked in bed with moms and dads fighting quietly behind a closed door and drawn curtain. Probably some first rate stuff in them. The sort of houses with green lawns and white picket fences, in the sort of crime watch neighborhood, with the sort of people that tried so hard to be perfect they didn’t have time for enjoying anything. Just the sort that people like Faith, who didn’t bother with all that bullshit, liked to rob. She could get a good haul too, maybe a couple Gs out of it.
Course, she couldn’t do that. Not while she was hanging around Buffy, with the newly acquired and tentative bit of trust hanging by a thread. Plus, Faith did genuinely want to make things right. She just didn’t want to end up as boring and goody two shoes as all the other people that lined this block. Life needed a little spice- but not the killing humans and working with the big bad kind.
There had to be a happy middle ground in there somewhere. Being bad without really being bad- or whatever.
Her sights still peeled on the dark, neatly cut landscape; Faith was hoping this scary Bogeyman would show up. She was just itching for a good fight. Hadn’t really been one since Sunnydale had been wiped clean of the map, and if Buffy was wigged enough to start enlisting her for sitting duty, it must have been a real rumble. She didn’t get the whole thing with the ear plugs, but from the adamant nods from Xander, she’d just have to go on a little faith they weren’t there to make her look stupid.
When the front door opened behind her, Faith craned her neck expecting to see one of the Mini’s. She was pretty surprised then to find Willow absently staring past her, face drawn tight. “Something up?”
“What?” Willow asked, noticing someone else was already there. Faith, intrigued by her lack of watchfulness given the tension running high in the house, paid closer attention to the witch before taking another drag on her cigarette. “Oh, hi.”
“I thought-“ Willow’s hand sought out the doorknob again. “Sorry.”
“Where you going?”
“Away?” Willow suggested.
Faith shook her head, more at herself for being stupid enough to ask, before flicking her cigarette. “Not too far. On watch.”
“Yeah, I know. I just have a bad feeling,” Willow hugged herself, staving off the chill that had cropped up in the air. “Really bad.”
“I’ll ask again, what’s up?”
There was a stretched moment of silence only broken by the rustling of what few leaves remained on the trees. After the hesitation had passed, Willow took a few steps across the porch, settling near Faith. Neither woman looked at the other, both had their eyes focused on the house across the street. If the secret of life were held in within, they were both examining them so thoroughly it would have been found in an instant.
“I don’t know. It’s really weird. I usually sense a lot of stuff. I’ve gotten used to it. Since I did that-“ she shrugged, “you were there. Since that happened, everything in my head has been buzzing. Getting a lot of weird impressions from everything. Even the faucet.”
Faith paused, blinking. “Faucet? As in kitchen sink?”
“As in water. I haven’t even taken a bath, its like I’m hypersensitive, or something. It’s all stirring up.”
Focusing on something less ‘getting to know you’ Faith replied, “So that’s the funky smell.”
“Har har,” Willow intoned. “Never mind. You don’t want to hear.”
“Sorry, sorta reaction. You can talk,” Faith said.
“Sorta don’t want to,” Willow answered. The brash statement reminded Faith again just how much Willow had changed since they’d first met.
Before Faith could muse over it too much, and despite her candid statement, Willow went on. “I feel guilty, because somehow, it’s all my fault.”
The Slayer lifted the cigarette to her lips again. “Know how that goes.”
“Yeah,” Willow agreed. There was another struggle for words, something Red had been doing a lot. It was a bit weird, considering talking seemed to be a big thing with the witch. Faith didn’t like the laden silences. “Lights are going out.”
“Lights. They’re being snuffed out all over.”
Glancing up to take her in, Faith noticed with a start Willow had her eyes closed- and looked as if she wanted to cry. “They’re so sad.”
“You know how off the charts you’re sounding? Professional Therapy freaked, Willow.”
Having not even heard Faith, Willow swallowed thickly, one hand working to her temple. “I think I need to sleep.”
“Then you should probably do that,” Faith answered, flicking her cigarette towards the street, knowing Buffy would probably be at her throat if it got in the lawn.
It was only by chance, but Faith saw the cigarette collide mid air with something that blended perfectly into the darkness. Squinting to see better, it was then she made out at least five human-sized shapes moving way too quickly across the lawn for her liking. “Damn.”
Seemed as if the Bogeymen had arrived.**
Severus’ investigation throughout the better part of his afternoon leading into all of his evening had come to fruition in the form of a name, Anya Emerson- Ebay purchaser of one Urn of Osiris. With an incredible sense of accomplishment, Severus hit his print button and handed the page to the ghostly Sirius Black, his smirk of self-satisfaction speaking volumes as he did.
“I am,” he said with his chest puffed out with pride, “the Ebay Master.”
Sirius blinked. “The Ebay Master?”
“Mm,” Severus’ smirk grew. “And I’ve ordered a complete scalpel kit.” He tapped the laptop’s pad and popped the page up to a picture of a full set of surgeon tools- all laid out in a row and shining from the long ago flash of the camera. “Should prove useful.”
“I don’t even want to know why you’re ordering that,” Sirius replied before examining the print out.
“No time to explain. Auction on a large cast iron cauldron ending in three minutes,” Severus replied before returning his sights to the computer monitor. “It will be mine.”
Sirius, wondering if Severus had finally snapped under the pressure, shook his head in bafflement before studying the purchasing information on the print out. In situations like these, Azkaban had taught him to just let the madness come. Hopefully it would pass.
On the print out, the name Anya Emerson stood out just above the statement of purchase, complete with picture of the Urn of Osiris. The Urn had been shipped to a shop- The Magic Box- in Sunnydale California. Being the first solid lead either had found on Severus’ soul mate, Sirius felt it was worth following. “I need to check this out. You’ll be alright alone for a few hours?”
With a negligent wave of one hand as Severus’ answer, the other busy typing in an obscene amount of money for his cauldron with the other, Sirius took that as a yes.
“Right,” he stated aloud to himself. With a final worried glance at the wizard (now muttering ”Damn you, ijax57, don’t even try
to outbid me, you imbecilic muggle,”) Sirius carefully set the paper aside on the desk and stretched his newfound consciousness to another corner of the earthly plane, wondering if the internet had really been that good of an idea to introduce to Sev.
His vision as a spirit had not been what it once was when he had been alive. Colors were more vivid, focused, as if everything that passed before his ”eyes” were under a huge magnifying glass. Every life, from the insignificant ant crawling just below the surface within its tunnel, glowed with the presence of the Eternal.
Which explained why, as he was greeted by the sight of Sunnydale, California, his incorporeal jaw dropped in disbelief. Nothing. Nothing but the molecules of rock and dust, swirling together in a barren wasteland bereft of any light but the one cast by the moon hanging low in the night sky. A scar that stretched for miles carved into what was once a large town that had the shadow of past life and evil.
Something big had happened here, and whatever it that had been, it wasn’t a natural occurrence. The energies pulsing from the center of the enormous crater would have made his skin crawl if he’d actually had any.
Standing on the edge of the crater, Sirius decided to travel down into the center of whatever was giving off the strange pulsating aura of pure evil. His feet floated several inches above the soil bereft of even a single blade of grass, and the ground sped by as he took flight in the night. Fissures and jagged outcrops had been cut into the deep crust of the earth, and he navigated his way above them, examining the scenery that swept beneath him. Nothing. It was completely dead here.
Finally reaching the spot where it looked as if the blast had originated, given the circular crater that traveled at least thirty feet down, Sirius lowered his ghostly body into the very point at the center.
The instant his form touched the earth there, he reeled as one wave after another of energy caused the closest thing to physical pain he could still experience. An inarticulate note of horror rang out from his soul, spasms raking through the Eternal, until he forced his spirit to lift off the gateway.
He did not pant, nor shake, but he was in the metaphysical equivalent of shock. It took several moments to re-establish contact with the rest of his being, and then extend that to the Eternal, which sang in return. Thought was translated, and his question rang out into the Infinity in a single low note. What in the bloody hell was that?
A sixth sense detected the presence of another Eternal light shining beside him, and soon his vision picked up the slowly immerging outline from the brilliant blaze. It took microseconds, and then the Entity known as James Potter was floating beside him. Complete in his red Auror’s robes, and hazel eyes focused on the small space Sirius hovered above. “Hells not too far off the mark, Padfoot.”
“Another Hellmouth?” Sirius questioned, unfazed by James’ appearance.
His usual unruly hair even more ruffled in an invisible breeze, James nodded once in affirmation. “Feels that way.”
Sirius’ handsome face darkened as he frowned down at the barrier between this dimension and the next. “Things are very odd here, Prongs. First the Powers drop Severus off on Darkness' seal, and now the only person that comes up in connection to the Urn used to work over this one.” Turning to his fellow Eternal, he asked the first concern springing to his mind. “So what was bound here?”
“The First Evil,” James answered in an equally unhappy tone. “This one had been open for a while. Seven years, at least.”
“And now the seal has been destroyed,” Sirius finished grimly, finally understanding the vortex spinning just beneath his consciousness- threatening to suck everything into Hell with it. “I believe in occasional coincidence as much as the next bloke, but even I have to draw the line somewhere.” Sirius directed all his frustration at his fellow spirit. “Raising of the dead, powerful dark magic, Hellmouths being opened- what is going on Prongs? Somehow, I doubt this girl is of the normal next-door neighbor variety. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this entire fiasco was planned.”
“Possibly,” James answered before spreading his hands. “I’m not omniscient, you know. They’re keeping me as much in the dark as you are.”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Sirius declared angrily. “The Powers purposely allowed her to be taken from us? Is that why they’re not telling me anything?”
James’ light pulsed for a moment, brightening with the foreign sensation of anger as much as Sirius’ was. Finally, the anger died out, leaving only a soft tinge of resignation. “I don’t think this was done intentionally by anyone on our side. Something else is reweaving Fate’s design. Counter attacks are being put into motion.”
“That’s all the explanation I’m getting,” James replied sourly. His hand curled into a frustrated fist. “Too much is going wrong in the Infinite, and not just this dimension.” James’ eyes turned sad again. “Albus will be joining us soon, and Harry is going to be cut off entirely.”
“That’s not-“ Sirius snapped.
James nodded heavily in agreement. “I know.”
“So what? Our deaths were in vain?”
Sirius was answered with a sigh that conveyed the weight of everything with it. “Just find her, Sirius. If they don’t join- it won’t matter any more. Whatever Fate is up to now doesn’t change the fact it’s all riding on Them.” James paused for a moment, as if debating whether or not to speak, before deciding it wouldn’t hurt. “Lily made contact, delivered a message. It took a lot out of the Eternal, especially since we’re losing souls.”
“Oh, they’ll tell Lily but not me?” Sirius replied acidly.
James gave him a wistful smile. “Jealous?”
“You wish,” Sirius shot back with his an identical grin. It didn’t last long, and he swept his hair back with an irritated swipe of his hand. “Alright. How much time till I can’t maintain form?”
“Enough,” James answered vaguely. “With Severus back on Earth, it’s helping to slow down the transformation. But maintaining this link with him is dangerous. Intent is gaining a foothold, and it’s already begun feeding on us.”
Realizing the amount of painful emotions that had been flitting through him recently, from the tension to the anger, brought home the truth of James’ words. Their light was slowly waning, and Evil was growing stronger as a result. With his tie in to Severus’ soul, all the cantankerous Wizard’s moods weren’t helping matters any either.
Sirius had known from the moment the seal was broken it was only a matter of time before Darkness and The First found Severus. The more their power was drained into Evil, the less protective cover they’d be able to give him. Sirius could shield Severus now, but not for long. Eventually he’d be unable to do anything but watch.
He knew what lay in store then. Removed as he was in this state from the Eternal, he could still feel each soul being crushed by Darkness. The tie to Severus was irreversible, and if he was destroyed, still bound… what it would do to them all was unthinkable. It was one thing to sense an Eternal Light blinking out of existence before it had a chance to join, but it was an entirely different matter to have a joined one permanently gone.
The reaction would be instantaneous and irrevocable. Evil would win, hands down, and there would be no light ever again, only an everlasting darkness.
It was a gamble. Putting Severus back on earth left them all too open for attack, but keeping him within the Eternal was only prolonging the same end. The stakes had been raised ever since Darkness had been awakened, but the scales were still tipped in Evil’s favor. The Eternal simply could not maintain its power for much longer.
When the inevitable complete drain of power overtook them, Severus would be vulnerable, and the only thing that would be able to save him then- save them all- would be the joining.
“We can’t leave him alone in this, Prongs,” Sirius stated adamantly. He then snorted. “Assuming we find her- he’s still a right bastard. I don’t think anything, not even death, is going to change that. He’s more likely to push her away then join with her.”
“The thought had occurred to me,” James said. “You’ll just have to find a way to get Severus to swallow his pride. Knock down the walls he has surrounding that cold heart of his.”
They stared at each other for a moment, contemplating the very idea of Severus Snape trusting anything on faith and listening to his heart instead of his head. In the barren landscape of Sunnydale, with Hell pulsing beneath his feet leaving both bereft of any hope, Sirius hung his head in despair. “We’re doomed.”**