ImMortal part 11: Farther and Away
Dawn sank further into Lorne's couch, burying her face within the cushions, trying to tame the incessant pounding in her head.
"Dawn, sugar beet? You okay?" Lorne asked tenderly, trying to console her with a gentle caress of lean green fingers to her hair.
"Just another headache. I'll be fine," Dawn whimpered softly as Xander and Anya came in.
"What, another headache?" Xander immediately grew concerned, exchanging a nervous look with Anya. "That's the third one in a week. Are you sure you shouldn't see a doctor?"
“It might be brain cancer.” Anya said quickly. “I read about it Time magazine. Or maybe it’s a brain parasite?”
“It’s not cancer or a parasite. It’s just a headache,” Dawn said in frustration.
“Maybe it’s a symptom of something else, like the plague,” Anya suggested.
“Anya, you’re not helping.” Xander warned gently. “We should get Buffy.”
"No!” Dawn said resolutely, forcing herself to sit up. “She’s got enough to worry about with Giles and the pregnancy. I don't want to worry her."
“But I’ll bet big sis won’t be shiny happy people finding out that you’re hiding something that you’re claiming is only a little headache, Dawnie. What will it hurt to at least have our resident brainiac, Fredikins, take a look-see,” Lorne pleaded, caressing her cheek tenderly.
“If it’s the plague, you could infect the rest of us,” Anya said brusquely. “For all our sakes, Dawn, it’s best if you…”
Pain, searing and overwhelming jerked Dawn’s thin body on the couch cushions, suddenly spilling her down onto the carpet. Xander rushed to her side, trying to hold her body still from the uncontrollable spasms jolting her about.
"Jesus Dawn, this isn’t just a headache. What’s going on?" Xander fought to hold her convulsing body, growing more panicked with every passing second.
"She's burning up," Lorne yelled, feeling the hot skin of the young ladies forehead as he tried to prevent her from hitting her head.
"Anya, call Fred. Say it's an emergency. Call..."
"Buffy and Giles, I'll get them." She hurried over to the phone and started punching in the numbers.
It felt odd to say the least, two vampires driving through a desert drenched in morning sunlight. But Giles enjoyed the feeling of the light warming the cool skin of his arm as it travel from one side of the windshield to the other. His finger drew along the protective glass of the passenger’s side window, marveling at how such a thing kept them both from dusting. He couldn’t help but wonder if it was foolish of them both to put so much trust in something they couldn’t even see. Then he considered how the same was true of a certain gift two rather extraordinary vampires were cursed with that was equally trusted and nonetheless, invisible. His thoughts soon drifted to reservations of putting so much faith in his current escort as well.
Giles had very little to gain in telling Angel of the Cup of Perpetual Torment and its possible relation to the Shanshu prophecy. In fact, he had much to lose. But a nagging guilt kept Giles honest, a moral sense of right in revealing what could be salvation for one of them. But something within, a wicked voice called to him, tempting him toward treachery. Giles ignored the whispering tormenter and stared forward, diverting his attention back to the arid desert passing quickly around them.
“Strangely beautiful region,” Giles said softly. “Odd how I never cared much for the sun before. Used to fuss endlessly to Buffy that it never rained in California . Now, I find I crave it.”
“Yeah, me too, ever since I was…” Angel stopped short, unsure if he should finish the thought. “I drive out here sometimes when I need a break.”
“How often is that?”
“Not nearly often enough.” Angel grinned slightly, steering around another pothole and straightening the Viper, centering it to the narrow lane before them. He considered his travel companion and how they came to be there. For all intensive purposes Rupert Giles was an enigma. Street thug turned Watcher posing as a librarian demoted to slacker, then promoted back Watcher only to be turned into the very thing he was trained to annihilate, a vampire. Add a dash of ghost then returned to the undead; it was more than enough to drive anyone to wits end. Yet the man still held some semblance of sanity. And now, former Watcher and former mass murderer form an unlikely relationship of reluctant rivals venturing out to a destination of destiny. Angel couldn’t help but see the mythical in it. He glanced out of the corner of his eye to the Watcher seated next to him. The man’s face looked as if chiseled from stone, intense and deep in thought. His fists clenched tightly in his lap, his body strung on the edge and ready to strike though he feigned indifference.
"This could be nothing, Giles." Angel suggested and waited for a response. Getting none, he continued. “Information from any source like Wolfram & Hart is sketchy at best.”
Again, no response.
“I just don’t want you to be disappointed if we don’t find it or if the translation was bungled or something. It’s probably nothing.”
"Then again, it might be something," Giles suggested, staring off into the bright landscape ahead.
"I'm just saying that this could be a wild goose chase. I've done this before, gotten my hopes up all to find it out it was a complete bust."
"I'm rather used to disappointment, Angel."
"If you say so." The vampire forced a sigh, frustrated with the stubborn Watcher, and let his eyes shift to the deformed waves of heated landscape ahead.
They drove on in silence, Giles seeking out some sign of the future in the worn and cracked cement passing quickly by.
Buffy held Dawn's hand, staring down at her unconscious sister lying in the provisionally made up bed in Fred's science laboratory. Cordelia examined the reports and the vitals with a skeptical eye.
"You know what this looks like?" Cordy turned to Fred unhappily.
"I kinda suspected that myself," Fred said uncertain and glanced tellingly over at Wes. She sifted through her small stack of pages and handed a few of them to the Watcher.
Wes examined the readings with a furrowed brow. "Cordelia, have you...?" He got his answer with a regretful headshake. "Oh."
"What?" Buffy asked nervously. "What's with the cryptic? What's happening to her?"
"Has Dawn been experiencing any... any visions with these headaches?" Wes asked delicately.
"Visions?" Buffy glanced to Willow who quickly nodded in response. “You mean she’s had this before and you didn’t tell me?”
“Dawn didn’t want to worry you, Buffy. None of us did,” Willow said defensively.
“Well so much for that, I’m worried now.”
“So Dawn has suffered visions with these episodes,” Wes asked again.
“Episodes? This isn’t some sitcom, this is my sister,” Buffy grew more agitated. “Tell me what’s going on!”
"Okay, let's skip the epic and go for the promo, here." Cordelia suggested impatiently. "The Powers That Be send visions through a chosen being to act as their link to a champion. It was me until I went into the land that coma built."
"What does this have to do with Dawn's headaches?" Willow asked anxiously.
"These visions… they hurt, especially if you're not a demon. And if you haven't been blessed with a whammie to become part demon..." she paused nervously, "these visions can kill you."
"Demon?" Xander perked up. "You're a..."
"Why Dawn?" Buffy interrupted and Cordy felt the slightest bit of relief to avoid the subject of her more recent promotion into demonhood.
"I don't know. Did she kiss any demons recently?" Cordelia asked bluntly.
"I haven't kissed anyone," Dawn grumbled as she shifted uncomfortably in the bed. "What happened and why are we talking about my love life or lack thereof?"
"We think we know why you're suffering from these headaches, Dawn. But I'm afraid we're at a loss to understand what triggered them to begin with." Wes explained.
"You mean there's some strange kissing disease going around?" she asked, confused.
"Er, well… no Dawn, you're showing symptoms of something we're... um, somewhat familiar with," Wes explained. "We need to know when you’re stricken by these spells of pain, do you perhaps see things?"
Cordy stepped in front of West, taking over the explanation. "Flashes of scenes in your head, like quick-takes of someone in danger or violent attacks or bloody..."
Buffy interrupted with a raised hand and voice saying, "What kind of visions are we talking about here? Who are these 'Powers that Be' people and where can I go to get my hands on them?"
Wes moved in close to consol the upset Slayer with a gentle hand to her shoulder. "It's not as easy as that, Buffy. If Dawn was indeed chosen, there is a reason. These visions serve a crucial purpose and have aided us in saving countless lives in the past years. Dawn could save lives as well.”
“At the cost of risking her own? No… not Dawn.” Buffy shook her head.
Cordy sighed. “Well, you don’t really get a choice in the matter, Buffy. Believe me, I tried…”
“Get rid of them.”
“It’s not that simple,” Wes said.
“Make it that simple!” Buffy demanded. “This is not her fight, never was her fight. You need a transmitter for these ‘Powers’, then tune me in but Dawn doesn’t suffer. Dawn is not their pawn.”
“It’s just a headache, Buffy. I’m okay,” Dawn assured her.
“Why don't we let Fred return to her work and continue studying her readings? We’ll gather some more information before we jump to any conclusions." Wes suggested evenly.
"I'm feeling better, guys. Really, it's not that bad," Dawn insisted and hopped out of bed.
"You… back in bed, now!" Buffy ordered and Fred could see the frustration on Dawn's face at her sister’s overreaction. The Slayer turned to Wes and said in a sharp tone, "Maybe Giles knows something about these ‘Power’ guys."
"He was archiving it last time I saw him," Xander answered, uncertain. “I’ll play fetch and run down there. He could probably use a break anyway.”
“He’s not there,” Cordy said apprehensively.
“How do you know?” Buffy asked suspiciously.
“He’s with Angel.”
“Okay, so get them both here.”
“That’s not so easy.” Cordy looked to Wesley who nervously glanced between Buffy and Dawn.
“What are you guys not telling me?” Buffy demanded.
“Do they know?” Angel asked, eyes darting nervously from Giles to the open road ahead.
“The Watcher’s Council… do they know you’ve been turned… that you’re a vampire?”
“The Council was destroyed by followers of the First,” Giles said quietly, trying to mask his sadness with the memory.
“Not entirely. There are splinter cells forming throughout the world, slowly networking together again, rebuilding. It’s only a matter of time until the Council reunifies. Wes didn’t tell you?” Angel’s voice seemed to break, suddenly awkward with having said too much.
“Perhaps he mentioned something. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately.” Giles rubbed at his temple.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you or anything,” Angel said, silently cursing himself for bringing it up but feeling the need to explain. “It’s just with Buffy pregnant with a vampire’s child; the whole thing is bound to draw a lot of unwanted attention. There are cults who would pay a fortune to lay their hands on such a child, believe me. And Wolfram and Hart isn’t the only organization that might have an interest in it as well.”
“Are you suggesting my child is in danger?”
Angel could feel the tension grow thick in the atmosphere of the car and he shook his head to dissuade some of the Watcher’s concern. “I don’t know, Giles. I had a bad experience once… doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to Buffy. But still, I’d feel better if I knew who knew. You know?”
“No one was ever informed of my death, or my change. I thought it wise to keep it quiet until I could get a handle on how best to proceed.”
“Proceed?” Angel chuckled faintly at Giles choice of words. “And now this cup… could be a handy part of the procedure.” He added pointedly.
With a pensively look over to the dark vampire, Giles said quietly, “It would certainly spare me the trouble of having to explain myself to my former associates.”
Angel grinned but Giles could see it was empty of any real amusement. Silence fell over the car again.
Fred walked through the glass lab doors with Dawn following eagerly behind.
“Are you sure you’re feeling up to this? I can collect what things I need and run the tests back at the other lab,” she offered.
“I’m feeling fine, really. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and that’s all.” Dawn took to exploring the room with wide-eyed excitement as Fred gathered some items and placed them closer to her laptop.
"Fine, but if you feel any icky coming on again, just gimmie a holler and we’ll stop. Okay?”
“It’s a deal,” Dawn agreed appreciatively as she strolled about the room.
Fred noticed the familiar bundle of untidy papers and hurried to gather them up. “Give me a moment to get these notes outta here. If I mess these up, I’ll never hear the end of it. Knox has been hounding me nonstop about this sarcophagus.” She gestured with bother over to the stone centerpiece of the room and Dawn’s eyes perked up with curiosity at the sight of it. “We’ll get on with your tests in a jiffy."
"Wow... pretty neat. You know what's inside?" Dawn moved in closer, bending forward to get a closer look at the sides.
"Not yet. Still collecting data. All I’ve deduced is that it’s old. So goes the wonders of modern day science."
"Can I help? I mean, I'm feeling a bit useless and everyone's so busy with their own stuff."
Fred’s face lit up with the request and she smiled broadly. "Of course you can help. I could so use a willing assistant if you don't mind getting your hands dirty…"
"I like dirt. I live for dirt. I can so get dirty, just ask Buffy. I'm your girl. Put me to work."
"Great,” Fred nodded, pleased. A second later she sighed and rolled her eyes in frustration. “Sheesh, I don’t know where my head is. I forgot my clipboard over in section D12. I'll just run along and grab it. Make yourself comfortable without making yourself too comfortable, if you know what I mean."
“Don’t touch anything. Got it,” Dawn responded happily, her eyes falling back to the intriguing sarcophagus as Fred rushed out the door. "Will do."
“Great. Giles and Angel are off on some pissing contest adventure,” Buffy huffed, trying to get comfortable on Angel’s office couch. “This is sure to end well.”
“It’s Giles and Angel, what could happen?” Cordelia shrugged as she poured two glasses of water and offered one to Buffy.
“Thanks,” Buffy said and took the glass. “You didn’t see the last time when Angel showed Giles his impression of a shish kabob.”
“Sounds rather kooky.” Cordy smiled.
“Kooky doesn’t begin to describe it.” Buffy sighed. “Giles put the shish in the kabob alright. He’s lucky he managed to lose that mortality crutch.”
“Oh… kinda glad I missed that. Since the change, he seems really, um… serious.” Cordy said delicately. “As in the grave variety of serious.”
“Guess he hasn’t fine-tuned that cutting undead sense of humor like Angel, yet.” Buffy sipped at the water and set it aside on the nearby table. “I don’t get it. This is so not like him. Why didn’t he tell me he was going after this thing?”
“What do you mean ‘so not like him’? This is way totally like him,” Cordy said bluntly, stretching out in Angel’s executive chair. “What about the time Giles went all mime-ish like when that sorcerer guy brought that body snatching demon to Sunnydale? What about the time he ran off to get revenge on Angelus for Miss Calendar’s death? And what about the time…”
“Is this your idea of moral support because you could use a refresher course?”
“Sorry,” she shrugged. “Not to worry. They’ll get out there, Angel will take a hit of destiny juice and they’ll be back in time for supper and celebration. You’ll see.”
“You mean Giles. After all, he found the thing.”
“Well, yeah, I guess so. But Angel’s been in the running for this Shanshu on the better part of forever. It’s about time he got his Emmy, don’t you think? Anyway, it shouldn’t take long.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Buffy felt her already nonexistent temper fading fast. “If this thing is for real, there is no way Giles will walk out of there lacking humanity.”
“Right, like librarian guy has any chance in hell besting Angel. Come on, Buffy. I know you’re doing the whole stand by your Watcherman thing, but Angel is… well, Angel.”
“You haven’t a clue what Giles is capable of!” Buffy shot to her feet and marched to the office door, pausing to look back with a sharp glare. “But you’re damn sure going to find out.”
“Buffy, I’m sor…” Cordy stopped with the slamming of the door. “Sorry.”
Wes came up from behind Fred, partially blocking the doorway and watching as the slight lady shuffled through her heap of papers scattered along her desk. "How's your patient doing?"
Fred jolted upright, sending her sheets fluttering off in all directions.
“I’m… I’m sorry, Fred. I didn’t mean to…”
“You didn’t. I mean, yeah… you kinda did but it’s my fault. I’m just so edgy lately.” She started gathering up her mess of pages and Wesley knelt down to aid her.
“Can’t say I blame you, you’ve had a lot to contend with, with Giles’ lab work and Dawn’s worsening condition.”
“And that weird sarcophagus.” Fred shook her head.
“Sarcophagus?” Wes’ brows lifted.
“It’s nothing really, just a project that showed up unexpectedly.”
“Like me… always showing up unexpectedly,” Wes handed off her papers, his fingers stroking gently along hers with the action and he smiled tenderly.
“Yeah… but that’s the good kind of unexpected.”
“Glad to hear it.” He moved in closer. “Wouldn’t want to add to your stress.”
Fred stared up at his blue eyes and instinctively mirroring his actions, moving in toward him. “But stress can be a good thing depending on its source and nature.” She set her papers aside and slipped her hand within his.
“Would it be too much to ask…I was wondering if… might I kiss you?” Wesley asked softly, his eyes darting longingly from her mouth to her shimmering gaze.
“Like you have to ask?” Fred smiled sweetly. “Frankly, I’d be offended if you didn’t.”
Wes bowed down and placed a gentle, chaste kiss to her awaiting lips. After a long moment, he moved slowly away only to have Fred reach up, curl her hands behind his neck and claimed his mouth once again only much more eager. Within seconds, both were absorbed within the warm, moist embrace of their lips, the task at hand completely forgotten.
Dawn stared down at the large stone box, eyes scanning the surface for a way to open it, absentmindedly moving in closer. As she got nearer, she couldn't help her curiosity for the artistic etchings and elaborate designs adorning the top. Once standing beside it, she could see a circular iris like marking surrounded by large crystal stones and wondered if it meant something, perhaps a way to open it. She reached out, drawn in to feeling the odd and ancient stone and touched her hand to the center of the circle. With the slightest movement, the iris opened and a poof of old, stale air billowed up towards her face. She coughed, stumbling a few steps back as she waved the cloud of ages passed away from her, trying to exhale the musty scent.
"Bleah... mummy dust." She cleared her mouth, wiped her lips and shrugged off any concern as she went about straightening the various doodads and instruments scattered messily along the counter. The last thing she wanted to do was get in the way and mess up Fred's work.
Shortly after, Dawn felt a familiar tickle in her nose and reached for a paper towel. The sneeze overcame her before she managed to retrieve it and she covered her face to muffle the outburst. When she drew her hands back, she gasped at the sight of a thick coating of crimson dripping along her hands. A moment later, she fell to the lab floor unconscious.