Godless Provenance: Chapter 23
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
The change was jarring and sudden. One moment she was a prisoner inside her own body, the next she was standing beneath a hot, blistering sun with familiar barren sand dunes and lonely rock formations stretched as far as her eye could see - which for the record, was really, really far. She lifted her hand to shield her eyes from the sun's glare, and in doing so discovered that she had moved her hand
. The shock had her drawing in a surprised breath which she promptly choked on as she realized that she was the one in control of her breathing. She was the one in control
Buffy lifted her hands to her face, touching her lips and her open mouth in wonder. "What-" she began, her voice sounding loud and so unbelievably sweet when not corrupted by the harsh tones of a goa'uld symbiote. She was still wearing her blood-stained and hardened BDUs, the clothing just as uncomfortable as before, but now she was finally able to explore the two large holes in her tee-shirt with cautious fingers, only to find that beneath lay smooth, unmarked skin.
"Huh," she muttered, before quick hands darted up to fretfully pat at her high, smooth pony tail. A grin lit up her features, but her euphoria was short-lived as she finally recognized her surroundings. The desert landscape was a place in which she had only visited in her slayer dreams and visions, but it was a place that she would never forget. This place existed solely in her mind, and each time before she had stood in this spot, alone but for one other. This time was different.
Apophis stood behind her, bearing the body of the host that he had most treasured - the one that had perished just hours before in a shadowed corner of a stolen teltak. His dark frame was tall and leanly muscled, skin unmarred by age or deformity, and his black hair cut close against his gleaming skull. He was hot in that evil, I'm-out-to-kill-you-and-rule-the-world kind of way, and he was looking at her in shock and confusion.
"What is the meaning of this?" he demanded, and though his voice rang with arrogance and disdain, Buffy now recognized the fear and uncertainty that shone in his golden-hued eyes.
Perhaps seeing through his illusions came with being an unwilling host to his freaky symbiote, but his question was fair. Buffy's retort was forgotten, however, as the First Slayer stepped out of the shimmering oasis and approached the goa'uld. It was impossible to judge the girl's height, as she never stood erect, and instead bobbed and weaved and crouched upon the shifting sand. Her skin, dark and burnt by the harsh sun, was painted white with symbols that resonated with something deep inside Buffy, but to which she had no conscious knowledge, and the girl's knotted, dread-locked hair cascaded over thin shoulders and framed a face that was fierce and savage.
Suddenly Buffy understood why she and Apophis were in this sacred domain, and with that understanding she felt as though a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. This was no longer her fight, no longer her responsibility, for she had unleashed her Inner-Slayer and the First Slayer had responded. "This," Buffy answered with a cheeky smile, "would be where you get your comeuppance and I get my payback."
Snarling in response, Apophis turned and eyed the savage girl with disdain "Who is she?" he demanded as the First Slayer danced around him.
Leaving his question unanswered, Buffy purposely turned her back on Apophis and walked into the shade of a towering pillar of stone. The relief from the blistering sun was immediate, and she settled onto a massive boulder with a sigh of contentment. Only then did she return her attention to where Apophis simmered with anger. "You remember how you and Ass-Hat couldn't figure out what made me different from the other Tau'ri?" she returned with a negligent shrug. "She was what you were looking for," Buffy offered, pointing towards the First Slayer. "Now if only I had..." she began, her words trailing away as she turned and found a large bucket of popcorn sitting on the stone beside her. "That's what I'm talking about," Buffy muttered. Grinning, she settled the container on her lap and popped a few kernels into her mouth, savoring the mix of salt and butter.
"But I am a God
!" Apophis roared, the fear now burning bright and mingling with his indignation.
"Yeah, I've heard that one before," Buffy admitted around a mouthful of heaven. "It's actually what got me into this mess in the first place," she explained- when she suddenly found herself once more back on Vorash, a prisoner of her own body with the open stargate looming before her. Apophis was back in control and she was moving towards the stargate with a lumbering, stilted gate that Buffy instinctively fought with every fiber of her being and-
"What the hell?" Buffy demanded as she looked up from her popcorn to where the First Slayer was slowly backing away from Apophis, hissing at him as she made her retreat. "Hey, what are you doing?" Buffy demanded as she put the popcorn to the side. "You're supposed to be fighting him!" she accused as she angrily approached the savage slayer. "You know, commencing with the well-deserved ass-kickage? Doing your job?"
"Death is your
gift," the First Slayer returned, her dark, scary eyes meeting with Buffy's before-
Wormhole. Big whopping wormhole and Buffy was already partially through the gate when-
" Buffy cursed as she turned and turned and turned, but the First Slayer was gone and only Apophis remained in the desert wasteland. "Crap!" she reiterated, even as she finally understood what the savage girl had been trying to say all along - what had been happening all along. The First Slayer hadn't been swooping in to destroy the goa'uld threat to her body. The First Slayer was dead
. She had been dead for longer than recorded history. It had been Buffy herself who had been doing the fighting, who had been doing the killing, for as she should have learned long ago, the slayer part of herself wasn't a separate entity: it was who Buffy was.
Buffy Summers was
the Slayer, and she needed to make her own justice.
"So much for my popcorn," Buffy grumbled as that earlier weight came crashing back upon her shoulders. It had been a long six months, and as Buffy stood beneath the baking sun with Apophis looming before her, she suddenly felt the hard edges of her imprisonment, her torture, her separation from those she loved, and the pain from her recent near-death. She was tired, wearied from her constant battles, and for the first time in long time, Buffy felt the creeping reach of her mother's death and Riley's abandonment - of her fight against a hell goddess and unbeatable odds.
She felt weighted, and even as she made the first move, a swift punch that rocked Apophis' head to the side, she knew that he, too, saw her weakness. A moment later he turned back, his hand wiping at the blood that dotted his chin, and his eyes flared with light. "I am a God
," he hissed before he launched himself at her in a flurry of fists and feet that connected with the force of a hell-goddess.O o O o O o O"Begin the rite of implantation," Apophis ordered as he waved a casual hand at someone that was beyond Buffy's line of vision.
She couldn't see what was happening, no matter how hard she strained, and instead Buffy was resigned to listen to the wet squelch as a mature symbiote was pulled from a Jaffa's pouch. Her heart was hammering hard and fast now, a rapid staccato beat that drowned out his approaching steps until the Jaffa priest's impassive face finally came into view. Terror had stolen her voice as her eyes strayed down, almost unwillingly, until she saw the hissing creature that was Evil personified.
She was helpless, powerless, and the demon knew this as it darted from the priest's hands and slid around her neck, under her head, and then tore through the newly healed skin at the base of her neck, invading her body and soul. It was every awful thing Buffy had ever imagined, worse than her worst nightmare - and yet, unlike in a nightmare, here she was unable to wake up. She could feel the mature symbiote as it wrapped itself inside of her - could feel its mind as it brushed against her own, and in that moment, as before, Buffy knew this creature, just as it knew her. She knew its name and the name of the queen who had spawned it. She knew its sordid history and every horror that it intended to commit with her own hands. It knew her secrets and desires, just as she knew its own baseless and craven wants - and that was before the true battle began.
Agony came and seared the very act of thinking from her fumbled grasp, and inexorably she felt its will dominate her own, its presence driving her down and back to a place where she would be helpless - forced to watch and feel, but no longer able to control ought save for her thoughts. Terrified, weak, and helpless, Buffy was forced into that dark place.O o O o O o O
The strength of Apophis' blows caught Buffy off-guard, and she was down and rolling in the hot sand as she reeled from the assault, both physical and mental. Memories had distracted her, trapped her, and ironically enough, Buffy found that she had underestimated the false god that towered over her. She had seen his arrogance, had delved into the horrors to be found in the depths of his mind, and yet she still hadn't understood that his will, his desire to live, was just as strong as her own.
Maybe stronger, she conceded as he followed her with a quick, sharp kick to her abdomen that had her curling around the pain.O o O o O o OExhausted, Buffy didn't even have the strength to prevent the Goa'uld from turning her chin towards him, her eyes locked with his dark gaze.
"The rites of implantation are to be repeated until they are successful," Apophis stated, his words directed as much to his priests as Buffy herself, her body growing cold as his smile deepened. "And they will be successful. She is weary, and in the end, the goa'uld will emerge victorious."O o O o O o O
This was wrong. All wrong.
Buffy lay in the desert landscape that she had always associated with the primal strength and power of the slayer. This was supposed to be the root of her slayer essence, her place of victory, and instead Buffy's blood dribbled from her chin to be absorbed into the sands that cushioned her aching, battered body.
Her BDUs were further ripped and torn, her hair had come free of its elastic band and fell in lank waves around her face, and all the while the sun was harsh and hot and leeched her body of its moisture. She couldn't even work up the spit to rid her mouth of the blood that coated her teeth and ringed her cracked lips.
She was on her hands and knees, trying in vain to regain her feet when a fist cracked against her chin, pain blossoming from the bruised bone and spreading in a wave of heat that drew a startled cry from her lips. Another kick to her abdomen followed, and though Buffy tried to curl around the pain, tried to shield herself from Apophis' vicious aim, she still felt bone breaking as she was propelled in the air, twisting dizzily before she crashed on her back. She lost her breath in an explosion of air that pushed against her cracked ribs, maybe even puncturing lungs and other vital organs, and she couldn't get it back.
Memories assaulted her, colored her perceptions and weakened her to Apophis' rain of fury. He was a self-proclaimed god that fought for his total domination of her mind, her body, and her spirit - and he was winning. He was winning!
This realization was wrong on so many levels, but months of torture and living in a literal hell had drained her, had weakened her, and though her heart rebelled against the weakness, rebelled against the pain that laid her low, the fact remained that she was so very tired.O o O o O o OBuffy wasn't even looking at Apophis when he shot her. Maybe if she had, she would have been able to somehow avoid the blasts that were causing her body to jerk with fiery spasms of pain. Apophis had betrayed them - no surprise - but Buffy hadn't expected this; she hadn't anticipated this ending. There was so much blood - so much blood that she could feel soaking through her tee-shirt and spreading beneath her. And the pain-
Gods, the pain.
It was unbelievable, unbearable, it was-
Suddenly Jack was there and he was looking at her and... and the blood was there, the pain was there, but Jack was
looking at her. His brown eyes were staring into her own, their depths shining with pain and glimmering with tears that trailed unnoticed down his grizzled cheeks.O o O o O o O
It was as though a switch had been flipped.
"No," Buffy rasped, and with that single word she instinctively ducked the kick that was aimed at her head and rolled to the side. Apophis was Jack's Angelus, and she wouldn't make him go through what she had experienced when Angel had lost his soul - when his body had been ruled by a demon. It wasn't the same, but it wasn't different, either, and Buffy would never wish that kind of pain on another, let alone the man that she loved.
"Oh, you are so
dead," Buffy muttered as, suddenly energized, she rolled out of the path of Apophis' next attack and regained her footing. Immediately she backed away, putting some distance between her and the goa'uld. Her right eye was swollen shut and her vision in the left was partially obscured by a thin ribbon of blood, but she could still make out the surprise that parted Apophis' lips as she began bouncing on the balls of her feet, getting the feel of the sand shifting beneath her heavy combat boots.
The fight had drawn them away from her little seat in the shade, but while the sun was harsh, it was also the beautiful yellow sun beneath which Buffy had been born, raised, and killed. As she stretched out bruised and battered muscles, enjoying the fierce burn, she realized that this vision-world was a part of Earth, and it was her domain. Apophis had worked her over with the expertise of a sadistic madman that had been around for centuries longer than her, but this wasn't her first brawl, and nor would it be her last. Skin was cracked, bones were broken, and blood had been spilt - and suddenly none of that mattered because a little bit of pain was the best tool to sharpen the fury of a slayer. It whetted the appetite and demanded retribution, and Buffy... she had a lot of retribution that needed to be delivered.
Apophis' dark eyes never lost their golden glow in this dreamscape, and Buffy met his gaze with a solemn, unspoken promise. "You made a big mistake when you decided to use me as your host," she stated before darting forward, her fist flying through the air. It collided with the side of Apophis' face with the force of several men, and the goa'uld's head cracked to the side as he stumbled back in the shifting sand. "Maybe it really was your only option to get off of Ne'tu, but it certainly wasn't the smartest one," she continued as she followed up the punch with a roundhouse kick that sent the goa'uld spinning into the ground, a fine yellow cloud billowing around his form. "The others had their doubts, but Jack didn't. Jack knew that when I was ready, I would kill you, same as with all of the other snakes that thought that they could defeat me. My face, this place - it was the last thing they ever saw."
Buffy crossed the distance between them and bent towards the goa'uld, only to cringe away as Apophis flung a handful of sand into her good eye. She heard him regaining his feet, the soft shushing as the sand pooled around his heavy feet, the rasp of his pants against his sweat-slicked skin, and she knew that he would attack her when she was blind.
But she and Apophis had both forgotten that this desert landscape was her world, her creation, and as demonstrated by the popcorn, she was the one who made the rules. With a single thought, the world paused and the heavy void of silence was filled with the harsh sound of her breathing, and the soft wash of sand as she shifted from foot to foot. Gently she wiped blood and sand from her good eye and then lifted her head to find Apophis, tall and fierce, his robes spattered with her blood and his bared chest glistening with sweat, towering over her petite frame. He was frozen mid-punch with his fist drawn back by his ear, the dark skin smeared red - and Buffy smiled a slow, weary smile. It was time to end this.
Closing her eyes, Buffy cleared her mind of all thoughts save for that which she needed. When she opened them, she was expecting to find Mr. Pointy or the troll hammer. What she hadn't been expecting was the black and blood-red scythe that sang with power. Its blade was wickedly sharp and the handle ended in a stake, and the moment that Buffy looked at it, she knew that it was hers
. This weapon had been crafted for her, it reacted with her blood, and her only regret was that once she woke from this dreamscape, she would be unable to take this wonderful, perfectly crafted weapon with her.
Buffy took a small, slow step to the right, and with a thought the world became unstuck. She closed her eyes as the wind whipped fine particles of sand against her sun-kissed skin. She heard Apophis' startled exclamation from beside her as the force of his punch, and the sudden absence of his target, toppled him onto the sand. Then she turned and Buffy looked down at his crumpled figure with open disdain.
This pitiful creature was responsible for her hell, for her pain, and for the pain of so many others.
Buffy crossed the distance between them until she
was the one towering over his
Apophis sensed the change within her, and fear once more shone from his dark, angry eyes. "You cannot kill me," he hissed, arrogant to the last. "You cannot kill me for I am a God."
"You're not a god," Buffy sighed, but not with anger; she wasn't an angel of vengeance or a tool for justice. Her earlier vindication had vanished in a wave of wearying fatigue. She was tired; tired of being hurt and of hurting those that she loved. She just wanted to go home; back to her friends, back to her family, and back to the man that she loved. "You're not a god," she repeated with a slow shake of her head, her hand tightening on the scythe's handle. "You're just another guy who's out to end the world, and I'm just the girl who stops you. For Jack. For Daniel and Teal'c. For Sha're and Skaara and for every other person that you've ever hurt. It's what I do," Buffy murmured as she lifted the weapon and brought it down with enough force that the blade cut through Apophis' neck, severing his head from his body with a clean swish that left the bloodied blade embedded in the sand.
And then the world dissolved into a new, strange tableau.
She was lying on her back, a soft cushion of thick grass twisted beneath her body and tickling her forearms and the palms of her hands. A gentle breeze buffeted her skin, pulled at her clothes, and carried with it the sweet, fresh scent of pine. Buffy opened her eyes to find a hazy blue sky stretching as far as she could see, three suns glinting at the edges of her vision as thick tree canopies bent and then folded from her view.
She hurt - oh, gods, did she hurt, and her thoughts were muddy and hazed. It was the kind of hurt that discouraged movement, and over the years Buffy had learned to listen to that kind of pain. She felt a coiling sickness in the pit of her stomach, and her chest hurt in a way that took her breath away. It was a fiery pain, a strange mix between feeling as though she had been stabbed, or shot, or burned - or all three - but it was also a dull pain, the kind that meant that the healing was well on its way.
And she was cold.
The breeze may have been gentle, but it was fricking cold, and the ground, though soft, was leeching the warmth from her body. But the freezing temperature, no matter how unwelcome, was the thing that finally focused her muddy thoughts.
The blinding panic that came with memory of the wormhole was enough to steal Buffy's breath. She went through the wormhole. She went through the wormhole
. Okay, so yes, she had kicked Apophis' ass, but she had gone through the wormhole
which meant that she was on another
She was alone on an alien planet.
She was alone
on an alien planet
and she was hurting and in pain; she was weak and she could feel her body betraying her as her vision began to gray along the edges. Her body was betraying her and it was going to leave her alone
on an alien planet.
'This sucks' didn't even begin to cover the matter.
But then Buffy's view of the sky and trees became obstructed by the most beautiful face that Buffy had ever before seen. Jack's tired, chocolate brown eyes were looking at her with worry, and she knew he was saying something to her because his lips were moving, but Buffy didn't care. She didn't care because she was on an alien planet and Jack was there
. Suddenly there were tears in her eyes, and she couldn't blink them away quite fast enough as she felt Jack gather her up in his arms and cradle her against his chest. She was crying, and slayers didn't cry, but surely it was okay just this once.
Her face was buried against his shoulder as the sobs wracked her body - shock, relief, pain and weariness warring with her, playing havoc with her emotions and her poor, battered system.
"Shh... it's alright, Buffy. I've got you," Jack murmured, and his words, as well as the fact that she could hear them, were enough to start a fresh wave of tears as she sunk into his embrace. "It's all over now."
Sniffling, Buffy pulled back just far enough to look at Jack's face - all creased and lined with age and worry and emotions that neither had been ready to deal with. "Take me home, Jack... just take me home," she whispered, and this time there was no fighting her body as the gray encroached upon her vision, leaving her with a feeling of safety and Jack's smile before darkness took her.O o O o O o O
For a moment, silence reigned as Sam looked from the soft, lazy ripples of Vorash's open wormhole to her remaining teammates. The colonel was gone, and right after they had just gotten him back, too.
The irony wasn't lost on her.
Everything had happened so fast. One moment Apophis was walking towards the gate, and in the next he began to seize and lurch the remaining distance. The colonel had immediately started forward, and only Teal'c had been able to hold him back, but then Apophis had stilled upon the threshold to the open wormhole, the seizure intensifying, before he just seemed to... fall through to whatever waited on the other side.
The colonel had called out Buffy's name, and before anyone could stop him, he had shrugged out of Teal'c's stunned hold and had run forward, throwing himself in after.
"We... we have no idea who or what is waiting on the other side of that wormhole," Sam murmured in stunned disbelief as she stared into the hypnotic depths of the calm, rippling waters. "There could be Jaffa, or angry villagers, or.. or a cliff!"
"True," Daniel agreed, his words so calm - almost indifferent - that Sam turned to the younger man in baffled confusion.
"Daniel, the colonel just jumped through a wormhole
to god only knows where!" Sam cried out, only to feel her head begin to throb as Daniel shrugged his response.
"Yes, but the real question is: are you really willing to let Jack out of our sight again? I mean, who knows how long it will be until we find him this
time," he countered reasonably.
Sam could only sigh and shake her head, hating Daniel for being right, before she lifted her P90 and led her team through the open wormhole - only to trip over the colonel who was squatting on the grass on the other side.
Immediately her eyes swept over the landscape, noting the thick, lush forest and heavy greenery, and the three red suns that glinted over the landscape. The area appeared to be deserted, but she kept her weapon ready as she chanced a glance down to her commander. The colonel was kneeling on the ground with, strangely enough, Apophis cradled in his arms. The goa'uld seemed to be unconscious, and Sam took a moment to ensure that both Teal'c and Daniel were watching their surroundings before she lowered her weapon and knelt beside her commander. "Sir?"
"About time you guys got here," the colonel returned with a wry smile, his gaze lingering on Apophis' serene features. The man seemed to be ignoring Sam's growing exasperation, and with great effort she resisted the urge to point out the fact that her commanding officer had just done something profoundly stupid. But then with Teal'c's assistance the colonel was standing, Apophis cradled in his arms. "Danny, dial it up. It's time to go home," he ordered as he moved out of the way of the still-open stargate.
Sighing, Sam turned her attention to the unmoving goa'uld. "Sir, what happened?"
"She won," Jack returned with a simple shrug.
Both Teal'c and Daniel gave up any pretense of watching their surroundings and, baffled, they all looked to the unconscious goa'uld in confusion. No, not goa'uld, Sam realized as she finally understood the reason for the colonel's uncustomary tender expression. "She... Apophis is dead?" Sam murmured, trying out the unfamiliar words and discovering that she liked how they sounded.
Turning from her, Jack looked at both Teal'c and Daniel before nodding gravely. "He's dead."