ImMortal part 12: A Hole in My Heart
"I’d say that looks like a chalice or a cheap first prize in a dog show," Angel sighed in an unimpressed tone as he stepped further into the ruins of the old opera house. Positioned on a pedestal at the far end of the space stood a glistening, golden cup lit by a single unearthly light. "What do you suppose perpetual torment tastes like?"
"American tea, I would strongly suspect." Giles smirked. "Care to find out?"
"I don't get it."
"I was referring to the rather poor quality of…"
“Not that… you didn't have to tell me about this, Giles.” Angel motioned toward the cup. “You would have figured out the location on your own eventually and had that thing in your hands before I'd even clued in to what you were up to. Why let me in on your archeological find?"
"You honestly believe that thought hadn't crossed my mind; to simply slip away into the night and come skipping back in the light of day with a smug grin on my lips? I read the prophecy, Angel. And if there is one thing I've come to learn about prophecies is that they are rarely straightforward and highly unreliable." As Giles spoke, his eyes glistened with the reflection of the golden cup. "Perhaps it wasn't meant to be mine after all. And if that were the case, you may as well take your turn attempting to pull the sword from the stone."
“And wonder if turns out I’m Arthur after all, Giles. Can you live with that?”
“I’ve learned to live with a great many things, Angel.” The Watcher said faintly.
"Are you doing this for you or for her?"
"Do the reasons matter?"
"They do to me. I thought I understood mine until someone showed me one more." Angel's brow creased with concern.
Giles stared contemplatively at the vampire. "You’ve fallen in love with Cordelia, haven’t you?"
Angel shook his head in frustration. "I didn't mean for it to happen..."
"You don't have to justify your feelings to me, Angel. I, of all people, am well aware of how hearts can change... can awaken."
"Yeah, I guess. Still, it seems somehow... well… 'wrong' isn't the right word."
"Strange, perhaps? Frightening, even? She's changed so much since I'd last seen her, matured into the good person I'd always hoped she could become. I’d wager that inspiration to change came from the influence of a certain champion."
"I think the inspiration goes both ways." Angel smiled humbly, refocusing on the cup again. "I want to thank you for bringing me along when you had every reason not to."
"I hate to break it to you but regardless of your generosity, I'm drinking from that cup first." Angel smirked.
"The hell you are," Giles grinned.
"I didn't come all this way to sip your backwash, Watcher."
"And I don't intend to go back empty-handed and parched." Giles took a step toward the cup and Angel followed.
"Sure you wouldn't prefer a Big Gulp from the Shop-n-Spree a mile back?"
"Actually, that sounds quite lovely. Why don't you go on ahead and I'll catch up."
"Dawn I think we're ready for..." Fred started as she came through the lab doors, stopping cold when she saw the collapsed body of Dawn upon the floor, lying in a small pool of blood.
"Oh my god..." she gasped as Wes rushed passed her to Dawn's side, quickly cradling the young lady in his arms.
"Call Buffy, now!” He stood up, lifting Dawn with him and moved toward the laboratory doors. “Have Willow contact Giles and Angel any way she can," he ordered but Fred stood motionless, stunned at the blood trailing from behind Wesley as he carried Dawn away. "Fred I need you..."
"Buffy... I know." Fred responded as she hurried to the phone on the wall and with a punch of the number to connect to Harmony, she whispered a silent prayer for her sick young friend.
They’d crossed the room with quips and boastful confidence. Giles took a final step forward and reached out to take up the chalice. Angel quickly gripped his arm and held him back. The Watcher broke free of the hold with a sweeping stroke of his arm and tried to go for it with his other hand only to have Angel grip that arm as well, giving him a forceful tug to spin him around to face him straight on. Giles managed to swipe his arm free from Angel's grip and blocked as the vampire went to grasp him yet again. The two men exchanged a series of holds and breaks, neither one truly assaulting the other but animating their intention to impede the others progress toward their prize.
Another series of practiced grips, spins, tugs and breaks and they’d backtracked from the pedestal, both amused by the gentle match of tolerance.
"Pretty quick for a Watcher."
"Fairly skillful for a vampire."
They both glanced to the cup and back to each other.
Angel sighed in disappointment. "Do we really have to do this?"
"What do you think?" With a swift pivot on his heels, Giles broke from the grip on his wrist and rushed toward the cup. He managed to gain a few yards until Angel's foot struck hard to the middle of his back, sending Giles careening off to the side and colliding with a pile of twisted fence and metal frame. He struggled to untangle himself from the makeshift snare.
"I have quite a few years on you, Giles." Angel strutted toward the pedestal. "And I'm not above fighting dirty."
"Glad to hear it. Neither am I."
Angel glanced over with a sly grin to see a broken piece of saw blade come whizzing straight at him. He just managed to dodge out of the way, catching a knick of the blades sharp edged teeth high on his ear. He recovered his balance in time to meet with a battery of fists tenderizing his torso and stumbled backwards as each connected with impressive accuracy. Finally managing to regain his footing, Angel blocked and countered with a series of quick strikes to Giles midsection of which none landed, having been blocked expertly by the Watcher.
"Odd, you seem to have tired so quickly. Perhaps you're slowing in the autumn of your years." Giles said with forged concern.
"Show some respect for your elders, sonny!" Angel lunged forward, landing a solid blow to Giles' nose. He fumbled backwards, cupping his face in his hands and Angel moved forward to check the Watcher’s injury. "Giles... I’m… I'm sorry, I..."
A punch landed low in the dark vampire's abdomen and he doubled over, half groaning, half chuckling.
"Give yourself a break, Angel. This won't take but a moment," Giles said as he walked casually toward the cup. He heard the sound of the shuffling feet and felt a brisk breeze waft along his face but it was too late to react. A black boot came out of nowhere, landing flush to his cheek, snapping his head back from the impact and sending him sliding clear across the dusty floor to stop a few feet from the sun drenched entryway. Pain so sharp it stung throughout his skull made him wince and he could feel the dead cells humming with false life to regenerate his battered flesh.
"Stay down, Giles. Don't make this any harder than it needs to be," Angel warned from across the room.
Giles coughed, choking on the tang of his own dead blood trickling down the back of his throat from his freshly shattered nose. "I underestimated you, Angel. It won't happen again." With a grunt, he forced himself to his feet and charged across the room with a rising roar.
"What now?" Buffy rushed in to the emergency room in the small medical wing of Wolfram and Hart, immediately moving toward the bed where her barely conscious sister lay. "Is it worse? Is she alright?"
"We don't exactly know. We’re running some more tests," the medical assistant urged, quickly scribbling notes.
"What happened?" Buffy's panic stricken eyes searched Wesley's face and then Fred's, never allowing enough time for either to answer. “Is this the visions thing?”
“I don’t understand…” Wes started.
"It was the stone box," a painfully raspy voice spoke and all eyes moved to the bed. Dawn cracked open her eyes as everyone rushed to her bedside. Her face was deathly pale, seeming to drain of color right before their eyes.
"Box? What box?" Buffy asked quickly.
"The sarcophagus," Fred's eyes went wide.
"The box opened. Poof of dust... then I fainted," Dawn coughed. "Some major flu or cold or something. That's all."
Buffy looked to Wes for confirmation of Dawn's diagnosis.
"What do we know about this sarcophagus?" Buffy asked as calmly as she could.
"I have our team in archives working on it," Fred assured her. “We’ll find something…”
"Put more people on it. Put everyone on it. Tell them to work faster," Buffy insisted. "She looks as if she's in pain. Give her something, anything."
"Buffy, we don't know what we're dealing with here." Fred said gently. "Drugs could worsen the condition..."
"Give her something or I will," she said through clenched teeth. "Where is Giles? Why isn’t he here yet?"
"We're trying to get a hold of him and Angel now," Wes assured her. “Communications are…”
Harmony rushed in, glancing with concern to Dawn and then to Wesley. "Bad news, Wes. There’s no reception out there. Cells are useless so I sent a chopper. They should be here in a few hours."
Buffy stepped away from Dawn and said quietly to Wes. "Not good enough. Get Willow in here, now!"
Giles launched himself at Angel, his shoulder driving into the vampire’s abdomen. The tackle was swift and devastating, sending both Angel and Giles smashing through a crumbling brick wall, raining down cement rubble upon them. They landed with a thud, Angel moaning with the weight of the man pressing heavily down on him. He opened his eyes to see a scorching yellow gaze piercing the deep shadows of his foes crinkled brow.
“So that’s how it’s going to be, huh?” Angel scolded and felt his face shift with the emerging beast. “Have it you’re way.”
The dark vampire forced his knees up under Giles and with a thrust, catapulted the vampire off him and ramming into a pile of metal and cinder debris.
“If you’d only listen to me, we could have avoided this, Giles. The Shanshu prophecy’s mine. What sense would it make for it to be meant for a hatchling vampire like you, anyway? I’ve years of atonement in the balance, here. What do you have?”
“Enough to concern you, apparently,” Giles grunted as he managed to push himself to his feet. “And if you’re so certain you are the cups intended, what harm would come from me taking a little sip?”
“I could ask you the same thing.” Angel flashed a fang-filled grin. “Guess this leaves us no other choice.”
“I guess so.” Giles sighed and in the blink of an eye, both vampires attacked.
“How’s it going, Willow?” Cordelia asked anxiously, watching as the red head chanted the same mystical phrase over and over again.
“I think Wil’s a bit tied up at the moment to give you the play by play action. But judging by the flushed face and grave expression, something’s not right in magicland,” Xander said as he paced along the office window.
Willow pressed on, ignoring all comments and intensifying her concentration, reaching out to connect with Giles and Angel. Unfortunately, she felt only empty space and touched nothingness.
“Has she done this before?” Cordelia asked.
“Cordy, please!” Xander urged her with a stern glare. “Quiet. She can do this.”
“It’s not that I’m trying to be all doubty or anything, but maybe she kinda exhausted all her resources with that big Slayerfest she hosted back in Sunnydale.” Cordy shrugged helplessly, receiving another frustrated glare from Xander. “I’m just saying that it doesn’t seem to be working.”
“And it isn’t going to work, either,” Anya said bluntly, pulling Lorne along with her as she rushed into Willow ’s office.
“Hey! It will so work. I just need…”
Willow ’s objection was cut off as Anya said, “Tell them what you told me.” Prompting Lorne to explain.
“Sorry to spill the bad news beans, kittens, but good ole W and H… they aren’t at one with the whole magic casting gig.” Lorne started. “So the higher-ups have a full time team of mystical bodyguards blocking all spells from acting within the building limits. You can abara your cadabara all you want, lollipop, and it won’t get you anything but a big “E” for effort.” Lorne shrugged. “Sorry.”
“I need to get outside,” Willow said as she marched swiftly to her door. “Now!”
“I’ve never seen anything like this, doctor,” the young assistant whispered softly, trying hard to be out of range of the patient and her sister. ”It’s spreading entirely too fast, deterioration on a logarithmic scale. It must be mystical in nature but we’ve yet to determine what or even how it’s doing what it’s doing. We haven’t the facilities to treat her let alone diagnose what this could be. In all honesty, we’ve barely managed to map out its progress. In my opinion, it’s beyond our capabilities here,” she urged softly to the attending doctor. “I’m afraid all we can do now is wait.”
“And watch,” the doctor added soberly, noting on his clipboard. “It’s only a matter of time. I’ll have hazmat ready a retrieval team. The senior partners wish to keep this internalized so no unauthorized visitors or civilian aid. All who have come in contact with the specimen will need to be quarantined. See that no one comes in here from here on in.” With a nod, the two left the Slayer alone at the bedside of her ailing sister.
"Where's Giles?" Dawn muttered faintly, shifting with a grimace in her hospital bed.
"He's coming, Dawn. Hold on."
"I'm tired. Have to close my eyes..." she whispered, "Only for a second..."
"Dawn... no. You have to stay awake.” Buffy leaned in closer and gave her sister a gentle nudge on the shoulder.
“Sleepy and cold…” Dawn mumbled to a whisper. "Tired... need… to sleep..."
Buffy stripped the sheets and blankets from an accompanying bed and wrapped them around Dawn, building layer upon layer. "Giles will be here soon, you’ll see. He and Angel will be back any time now, just stay awake. Stay with me.”
“This is bad, isn’t it?” Dawn asked weakly, shivering pitifully within the bundled blankets.
“You want to see Giles, don't you?” Buffy said with a cracking voice, ignoring the question as she tore the blankets from the bed situated on the opposite side and worked to add them to the growing heap. “You just have to hang on."
“This… this is dying, isn’t it?” Dawn stared up at her sister, her stony eyes a pale blue. “This is what dying feels like?”
“Don’t say that.” Buffy caressed her fingers along Dawn’s chilled cheek, consoling her. “You’ll be fine, Dawn. It’s just a really bad flu bug or something, you’ll see.”
“I’m dying and you don’t want to tell me.”
“No…” Buffy managed only a pained whisper.
“It’s okay.” She blanketed Buffy’s hand with hers, pressing it to her chilled cheek. “You don’t have to protect me anymore.”
“It’s moving too fast. We need more time,” Fred said fretfully as she tore through page after page of the many texts displayed before her. “There are too many references that match. So many possible origins for this category of illness, I can’t possibly narrow down the potential causes…”
“Take a deep breath and calm down,” Wes reached out and gripped her arm consolingly. “It’s here, Fred. We’ll find it.”
“It’s eating away at her, Wesley,” Fred said with obvious repulsion, eyes tearful. “Like some godforsaken virus, hollowing her out until there’s nothing left but an empty shell.”
“And the solution lies within one of these books, I know it. If we keep our heads, we will find the cure to the infection attacking Dawn.” Wes said resolutely. “We’ve worked through things such as this before, we will do it again.”
“But what if she dies?”
“But what if she does?” Fred’s voice squeaked with anguish. “What if that young girl with her whole life ahead of her just flat out dies, Wes? After beating a god, after living through apocalypses… It’s not fair!”
“Life seldom is,” Wes answered solemnly.
"I can't help but think what would have happened had I been..."
"Don't!" Wesley insisted. "It's not your fault, Fred. No one could have foreseen..."
"Don't you say that!" Fred sobbed. "I should have known, Wes. If I'd examined the markings closer, done another spectral analysis, a broader chemical composition sampling..."
"You couldn't have done anything differently."
"Yes, I could! If we hadn't been in the hall together... If I'd been in there with her instead of here with you…" She bit down on her quivering lip, "…It would have been me, Wes. It should have been me." He pulled quickly her to him, wrapping her within the comfort of his arms.
“No matter what guilt you feel or what responsibility you wish to declare upon yourself, you are not at fault here, Fred. You couldn’t have known.”
“Someone should have, Wesley,” Fred sobbed. “Someone allowed that thing in here. With all the security and high tech crap… someone should have known the dangers.”
“Perhaps someone did,” Wes said, staring contemplatively out at the hurried lab technicians rushing past the windows of Fred’s office.
Fists hammered against flesh, nails clawed across skin, knees battered muscles and feet shattered through bone but neither vampire would concede their chance at winning back their humanity. The decrepit opera house which once housed the angelic voices of divas now echoed of inhuman roars and grunts, howls and cries as both assailants unleashed all they had to make the other fall and stay down.
Both vampires had gotten in range enough to feel the unearthly light of the cup tickle promisingly along their skin only to have the other send them flailing into the sunlit entrance where the cursed daylight scorched the sought after sensation to dust.
Bloodied and battered, Giles lay on his back as Angel drove his head mercilessly down into the unforgiving ground beneath him. With every blow, he felt darkness overcoming him, as if shadows were sealing his fate. Then he thought of Buffy and his unborn child and reached for that one second more of consciousness to try and win back his chance to be the man they needed, that they deserved.
A jagged edged block of cement cracked the side of his head and Giles felt the tepid ooze of blood seeping down to smear his sight. The dark vampire looming above him showed no signs of stopping, raising the ruby stained block with willingness to drive it down again.
“Stay down, Giles!” Angel spit the words, blood spraying down to spatter along the Watcher’s already bloodied features. “Just stay down!”
“Never,” Giles coughed, his body racked with pain from the many fractured bones being rattled with every violent jostle.
“Don’t make me do this!” Angel pleaded, the busted cement block wavering in his raised hand.
As if of their own doing, foreign words began silently speaking in Giles head, building upon each other as energies swelled under his bruised skin. Soon the words spilled past his lips, barely audible as the mystic tongue coaxed magicks long dormant to stir.
Angel listened to the strange sounds coming from the vampire pinned beneath him, trying to understand what he was hearing. “Wha… what are you doing?”
With the final stanza, Giles’ eyes pooled from glowing yellow to liquid obsidian and his skin splintered with darkly webbing veins.
“What the fu…”
Angel was airborne before he could finish, sailing towards the sun drenched entrance with enough velocity to be consumed by it. He stretched out his arms, clawing futilely at the air for anything to slow his plunge into certain oblivion. A commanding bellow of another foreign phrase sounded, suspending him in mid air just before reaching his untimely end. Angel wrenched his neck, trying to see what had stopped him. Then his eyes fell forward on the crimson dripping vampire standing at the center of the great hall. But Giles no longer wore only the familiar features of a vampire, his face was transformed by the dark magicks he’d wielded.
“What are you?” Angel gasped.
Giles’ head fell a little with the question. His black eyes lifted to try and focus on the glimmering gold chalice awaiting him on the pedestal at the end of the room. A faint smile curled his lips as he began to stumble sideways, barely catching himself before colliding with a protruding piece of rebar in the crumbling wall.
Angel’s body sank a few inches closer to the floor and the vampire realized Giles’ magical grip was weakening as it’s owner was. “It’s not yours,” Angel wheezed and coughed, struggling to break free from his mystical binds. “You know it’s not for you!”
Giles tried his best to walk a straight line toward the cup, but the room seemed to shift in his view, warping and spinning as dizziness overcame him.
“What if Wolfram and Hart are using you to prevent me from fulfilling the prophecy? You could be the sole cause of another apocalypse, Giles.” Angel’s body tensed, every fiber working to rupture the invisible cage holding him. “Is that what you want?”
“I will face the consequences of my actions as I always have.” Giles felt the dizziness subside and moved on, determined.
“And what if it doesn’t matter? What if you get your humanity back and Buffy runs off on you anyway. Wonder if she skips town with Spike or another commando boy?” Angel fell a few more inches toward the ground, the distraction was working.
“You’re reaching, Angel. I didn’t come here to lose, as you well know.”
“Why did you bring me?” Angel cursed him with every word. “Did they set you up to this?”
“I’ve already told you…”
“It’s meant for me, damn it!” Angel yelled, body vibrating with anger. “Always was…”
“We’ll find that out soon enough,” Giles responded softly.
Angel shook his head, spitting to clear the blood pooling in his mouth. “You’re a bastard, Giles.”
Giles stopped his progress to glance back at his accuser. “I am what was made of me by those you are accountability for, Angel.”
“You blame me?” Angel asked, sinking another few inches. “That’s what this is all really about, isn’t it? That’s why Wolfram and Hart brought you back. Because they knew that in the end, you blame me for you being turned and what better way to take me out of the game than to bring back a vampire… a mystically imbued vampire with revenge on his mind. They're using you to get to me and you're letting them!”
“Believe what you will, makes no difference now.” Giles approached the golden cup, glancing curiously at the quivering iridescent liquid within.
“Why are you back, Giles?” Angel asked in an accusatory tone. “At least admit that your return makes no other sense than to serve Wolfram and Hart’s ultimate purpose, whatever it is.”
Giles reached out, fingers curling carefully around the stem of the chalice as he lifted it up off its place on the pedestal, leaving a bare mark, unblemished by the dirt of time where it once sat.
“Please?” Angel called out and his feet finally met solid ground.
It was a last ditch attempt for pity and it moved Giles far more than he allowed it to show. But the Watcher wasn’t willing to let it sway him from his goal and he cleared his mind of all but that which he held most dear.
“Angel, no pleas you could offer, no promises made or compensations met could keep me from seeking that which Buffy feels she needs.”
“At what cost, Giles?” Angel managed a single agonizingly slow step forward, and then another. “You’re willing to risk everything, everyone, for her?”
“Wouldn’t you?” Giles asked easily and lifted the chalice to his mouth. But the potion never made it to his lips. A deafening ringing erupted in his mind, a squall of voices intertwining with buzzing as the sparks of familiar intrusive magicks crackled along his synapses. Flashes of Willow crossed his vision followed by Fred, Wes, Buffy and finally, a weak and frail…
"DAWN!!!" His howl echoed out into the long afternoon shadows as the chalice fell with a clank and its contents splattered along the fractured and thirsty cement floor.
“No more school, at least,” Dawn whispered with a faint smile.
“Fine, no more school. Whatever you want, just stay with me, okay?” Buffy pleaded.
Dawn’s hand went limp, slipping away from Buffy’s. “I would have made a great aunt.”
“Dawn, listen to me… Fred and Wes are working on this. You know they’ll figure it out. They will. They always do. Willow’s using her magicks to bring Angel and Giles back. And when Giles gets here…”
"Heroes... all of them. My heroes..." a fleeting smile passed her bluing lips, "I walked with heroes."
"Dawn, please?!" Buffy fought back her tears as she gripped Dawn’s shoulder’s to shake her gently.
"Tell Giles I love him."
"No... Dawn, you'll tell him yourself..."
"For what?" Buffy choked.
"For being my sister... for being... being my hero."
Buffy stifled a sob as she pulled Dawn into her arms, rocking her.
"No Dawn! You aren't doing this!"
"I... love... you..." Dawn's whispering voice gave way to a gasp and she went still; her body melting slack in Buffy's arms and her head fell back, limp. Buffy sat motionless for a moment, rapt in shock.
Nothing but soulless machines sounding a dispassionate alarm.
“Don't you leave me, dammit!" Buffy shook her pale sister. "No..." Buffy gasped. "NO!" she screamed. She watched in denial as Dawn’s head whipped and bobbed loosely, lifelessly with every harsh jerk.
"DAWN!?" Buffy’s scream echoed in the sterile hospital room, accompanied only by the hum of the medical equipment and the tone of a single note ringing out her sister’s passing.
She cradled Dawn's head in her hands, begging for her to return with soft cries and useless promises. Dawn’s faded blue eyes stared off into nowhere, face free of emotion and pain, body released from life. She continued in vain to encourage a response she knew would never come. After what seemed like an eternity, Buffy finally pulled back, eyes tearful, brows knit with sorrow, facing the stark reality that she’d lost the last remaining member of her family.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, placing a delicate kiss to Dawn’s chilled forehead.
Buffy felt the lifeless body in her arms suddenly set stiff and watched in shock as Dawn's grey-blue eyes crystallized to a piercing cold of arctic azure, her long, brown hair tainted and skin stained to a blue washing into her face which now bore a bitter and stern scowl. A fist connected hard to Buffy's chin, sending her whipping across the room, crashing hard to the wall and collapsing to the floor, unconscious.
The blue altered, reanimated body of Dawn stood and examined the limbs fastened to her with an indolent curiosity.
"This will do."