ImMortal part 16: Overcome
Life had held so many cruel surprises that Buffy refused to be surprised again. Since she’d arrived in Los Angeles, from the very first day, the jaded Slayer had begun to investigate the resources available to her. From the outset, it had seemed a brave new world and she wanted to know what possibilities it had in store for her, the good and the bad. Though the research provided a wealth of information, it held no easy answers. But with the twists and turns, the resources remained, always a safety net for when she fell. And she’d fallen and fallen hard. Many keystrokes on Willow’s personal laptop later, she had her list of destinations and with a tear in her eyes and slip of paper in her hand, she left.
It had been hard keeping herself off the radar. The first thing Buffy did was go to the nearest secondhand shop and get herself a new, used wardrobe; something plain to make her invisible and just another face in a crowd. Sizing was a slight shock. She’d already gained a bit of weight and was showing just a little, barely noticeable by anyone’s eyes but hers and perhaps Giles.
Once she’d shed the outer shell of her existence, she paid a visit to a shop catering to those who want to disappear. The first thing they did was scan her for any microscopic and mystical tracers, finding one she knew about and three she didn’t. That done, she committed to memory the address she’d found in the archives and burned the slip of paper which she’d scribbled it on. At that point, all her ties with Wolfram and Hart and unfortunately, her family and friends, had been severed. There would be no finding her and she counted on it.
She got as far as the state line when the feelings of guilt started eating away at her. A voice inside called to her, airy and shallow. At first, she dismissed it as her conscience playing games with her. But the voice grew stronger the further she got. Five bus transfers later, she was stepping out onto the Vegas strip and seriously doubting her decision. But the calls still came and she began to understand them, not the words but the emotions. And though everyone in their right mind would swear her insane with the thought, she somehow knew it was her child. It was as if it was encouraging her to her goal. Upon that realization, she marched into the closest casino to the bus stop, placed one bet on the only game she knew, the game she and Dawn used to play, and doubled her money. She left the casino, crossed the street and entered another one. Immediately, three brutish men welcomed her and escorted her to the dark heart of the establishment.
The room was a dimly lit cavern abuzz with electronic walls, multiple screens flickering with images of all the goings on within the casino. Contradictory to it’s surroundings, at the center of the room was an antique, beautifully carved oak wood desk. Seated behind it was a kindly faced elderly woman dressed in a form fit pin stripe suit. She wore a pleased smile as she stared down at ordinary appearing deck of cards. She gestured to the chair opposite her, inviting Buffy to take a seat. The three men remained at the door as Buffy graciously accepted the invitation and sat down.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” the woman spoke, drawing out a card from deck and laying it out before her. It was the ace of spades.
“Thank you.” Buffy didn’t know what to expect but the unexpected. She’d learned to disguise surprise under a shield of indifference.
“I know why you’re here.” She drew out another card placing it beside the first. It was queen of spades.
“That’s why the welcome wagon?” Buffy asked quietly.
“Precisely, I wanted to ensure your safety in arriving here.” She drew a third card and placed at the end of the row. It was the king of hearts and her expression fell somber with its appearance.
“Thanks but I’m managing well enough on my own.”
“You have done quite well. My sources verify that you weren’t followed and there is no tracer. I’m glad you found me.” She chose yet another card, placing it below the other three. It was the jack of spades.
“I want him back,” Buffy admitted softly.
“I know you do, child.” The woman’s finger teased the edge of the king of diamonds. “You carry him with you everywhere you go.”
“I’ll do anything.”
“Such a claim can bring trouble.” Her finger moved to the queen of spades, tapping it. “Anything, indeed. That’s good because what you ask for will require great sacrifice.”
Buffy’s hand instinctively blanketed her abdomen and the woman shook her head, smiling amused.
“Not your offspring, Slayer. It will be your sacrifice to make.”
“What do I need to do?”
“The one who suffers with his love for you is returning to the beast from which he came. That is an inevitability and cannot be prevented.”
“But his soul… the curse…”
“…Was never meant for anyone but Angelus. Its use on the Watcher was a crime of magicks, one that holds stiff penalties for such insolence.”
“That’s why he’s changing?”
“Yes, the curse is unraveling, becoming unstable with his use of darker energies.”
“So it’s the magicks causing it?”
“As I said before, the change is inevitable. The magicks only serve to hasten his transformation. Darkness spawns darkness.”
Buffy swallowed, trying to encourage moisture to return to her parched mouth. “Does he know?”
“Only as far as the hunger is growing as his conscience slowly dies away. His grief for the loss of the young one is blinding him to his transformation. Soon, the beast will emerge as victor over his morality and his humanity will cease to be.”
“Then I’m losing him.” Buffy said soberly. “And I’ll have to kill him.”
The woman selected another card and placed it face side down over the king of diamonds. She offered a subtle knowing smile as her finger hovered over the mystery card. “Losing him is the only way to find him, child.”
“I don’t understand.” She was growing tired of puzzles, though she couldn’t help her curiosity for what the mystery card was.
“The demon is the natural state for him. The soul implanted within is merely a mask for what lies beneath. And like a transplanted organ, his body is rejecting it. The natural state must be restored and it’s for you to ensure. Humanity can be reborn, Slayer. You were given back to this earth through it before, he can as well.”
“You mean the resurrection spell Willow performed to bring me back? But that was for a mystic death.”
“This is true. But remember the luminous fate of your vampire. He also died a mystic end. There are no rules governing the process of death, only that life, no matter what form in which it exists, was given.”
“So his sacrifice, his sealing the Hellmouth… this makes Willow’s spell a possibility for Giles?”
“Yes. But unfortunately, the vampire has been tainted with a soul. To be reborn, he must be sanitized of that which stains him.”
“He needs to lose his soul to make the spell work.”
“But he’s already losing it, right? The curse is weakening. So if I wait…”
“The soul is deteriorating with every passing moment. Given time, there would be nothing left. And as the beast emerges, those around him will be in danger. How many have already died, child? I hardly believe the demon will want to be extinguished if given the knowledge of its fate. It would be best to hasten the transformation to avoid more loss of life. I believe you know what’s required.”
“Yeah, I guess I do,” Buffy stared at the cards on the desk, uncertain. Her eyes fell back on the unturned mystery card. “You going to tell my future or what?”
“You hold doubt in this. It is understandable.”
“For all I know, this could be yet another disaster waiting to happen. I don’t know who to trust anymore.” Buffy let out a sigh as she sank a little in her chair.
“I don’t require your trust, Slayer… only your faith.”
The woman gestured to one of her men who stepped into the shadows and returned moments later with a pitcher of water and a glass. The woman nodded graciously as she poured the glass midway and offered it to Buffy. She accepted the glass but was apprehensive to drink. Then something in the good-natured smile of the hospitable woman set Buffy at ease and she took a sip of the chilled water, relieved to finally quench her thirst.
“I’ve been at this for a very long time, child. Some might even say an eternity by human standards. There is a balance in all things and my function is to try and keep that balance.”
“You can do that from Sin City, huh?” Buffy smiled as she took another sip and thought, ‘When is she going to flip over that dang card?’
“Ironic, isn’t it?” Her hostess chuckled. “That one whose destiny revolves around order would be cursed to a place in opposition to balance, a city of living chaos.”
“Yeah, well… that’s life for you. Always keeping you guessing. So how do you keep the balance? Deal a few fancy cards and voila?”
“Amongst other things. By enlightening others and providing tools from which to reinstate balance. For instance, it was I who passed along the means to which your love returned to you.”
“Or you could say you were the reason he was taken away from me to begin with.” Buffy shrugged. “It’s all a matter of point of view.”
“Ah, but with all loss comes gains. You’ll see that with your sisters passing you’ve gained a powerful ally. And with the loss of your love’s soul, he’ll regain his humanity.” The woman finally revealed the mystery card, the king of hearts. “It’s foretold in the cards, and of course, in prophecy. You’ve heard this all before.”
“Echoing the silenced voice of hell, bathed under the cusp of a crimson moon, the false Chosen One will descend from grace…” she said it with a smooth, musical tone. “A victim of her own heart, she'll offer herself to a half-breed demon that will serve as her undoing. With intensions pure of virtue and in the spirit of love, the beast will unintentionally take that which was never before stolen and the spirit of a Slayer will finally taste true evil."
“Okay, so you’ve read the script. Doesn’t sound like a happy ending to me.”
The woman smiled patiently and continued on. “And with the sacrifice of blood and soul, the suffering will be gifted with life. The birth of the Chosen’s child will set the line anew and the world will have its champion once again.”
“Where did chapter two come from? I haven’t heard it before.”
“As with most prophecies, there are many who would seek to keep it from you. Once the activated Slayers die out, the line would die with them and the world would be left defenseless. The Powers could never allow that to happen. This goes far beyond you and your Watcher, Slayer. The balance of the future rests on your actions.”
How many times had Buffy faced the burden of that responsibility? She didn’t want it, never did.
“I couldn’t care less about the future or the Slayer line or even the world, I just want him back,” Buffy said with tearful eyes. “I know that sounds awful and selfish…”
“It sounds human and after all, that’s what you are. Regardless of the duty others demand of you and the title they brand you with, you are a woman who wants to find love and most importantly, keep it. And you will, but first you must return. He needs you as much as you do him.”
It was hard to believe but then again, so was the story of her life. “Thank you for your help.”
“No thanks is necessary, child. You honor me with your visit. I can only hope that my knowledge brings you and your loved ones the peace you well deserve.”
Buffy got to her feet and made her way to the door, mind racing with the task ahead of her.
“Oh, and Miss Summers…” the woman called out and Buffy turned to face her, “I feel obligated to warn you that loyalties are withering in the hearts of those who once supported you, even cherished you. Those whom you once trusted have been corrupted by the power offered to them. Separate yourself from their influence before it takes you as well.”
“Yeah, I kinda got that feeling on my own. But thanks.”
“I have cabin in the woods, just beyond the northern border of California. It’s quaint, quite rustic; no electricity, no running water, but comfortable and safe from the prying eyes of those who might wish to prevent you from your goal. It stands on hallowed ground, rich with mystical essences and would serve as an empowering location for your intentions. It’s yours if you wish it.”
“I think I would.”
“Very good. Tyler, see to providing Miss Summers with directions to my hideaway as well as an evening of fun with all the amenities our humble establishment has to offer. I want her to enjoy her stay and in the morning, my personal chauffeur will drive you back to LA.”
Buffy smiled and nodded graciously. “Thanks again.”
“My pleasure. I hope for all our sakes, it’s enough to help.”
Once the Slayer had left the room, escorted away by two of the brutes, one of the towering men stayed behind and approached the elderly woman.
“Do you think she knows?” The bodyguard asked.
The woman smiled confidently. “Only what crumbs the senior partners provide for her.”
“Will she go through with it?”
“It really doesn’t matter. The Watcher is all but gone and the vampire is theirs already. His soul is slipping away into vapor even as we speak.”
“But will he join willingly?”
“He’s an intelligent sort of beast whose conscience only diminishes his potential. Once the soul is as rotted through as the Slayer’s sister, he’ll embrace his function in the coming apocalypse.”
“And what of Angel and his team?”
“They only serve to sweeten the deal. When the beast awakens, old grudges will wake with him. I’m certain he’ll feast on them all as a fitting tribute to his brethren. Tell the Circle to prepare for the initiation. They will soon have a new thorn for their flock.”
With the first signs of consciousness, Xander jumped to his feet and rushed to his friend’s side. “Willow… Willow, are you okay?”
“Um… ouch.” She lifted her hand to her forehead, cringing.
“What’s wrong?” Anya asked. “Did you get brain damage from Giles’ magicks?”
“No… just a whopper of a headache.” The witch tried to sit up and immediately slumped back into the cushions of the couch. “Ugh… not going to try that again any time soon.”
“You need a doctor or an exorcist?” Xander teased nervously.
“Exorcist?” Willow shot him a confused look.
“You were looking kinda veiny there. Thought we might see a sequel to Achy Breaky Willow.”
“I think I’m okay. Just a little icky.” She offered a reassuring smile. “Can I get a drink of water?”
“I’ll get it,” Anya offered and hurried off.
Willow’s expression turned worried as she tried to sit up again, much to her thundering heads disapproval. “Giles? Is Giles okay?”
Xander’s gaze fell away for a moment, suddenly bothered. “Seems in one piece.” He shrugged and glanced back up. “I’m not an expert, Wil. So far he’s not invoking the Harry Potter spirits anymore. But I won’t lie to you, he’s messed up.”
“What do you mean?”
“Angel, Wes and Fred managed to put a leash on blue girl, something about sucking out some of her powers so she’s slightly less of an invincible goddess. I didn’t get much from them. They’ve been working around the clock to try and bring back Dawn.”
“How long have I been…?”
“About four days. Anya and I haven’t got out much. Been here mostly. Lorne and Cordy stopped in with the updates.”
“Nothing. Looks like she’s pulling another summer break on us. Angel says he has the firm working on finding her but so far, nada.”
“And what about Dawn?”
He didn’t have to answer; Willow could see it in his eyes. She pulled him to her for a hug and they sat there in silence, just comforting each other. After a while, Xander pulled back and shook his head.
“He talks to her,” Xander said quietly.
“Giles talks to Illyria. I’ve seen them on the security monitors.”
“Maybe he’s trying to get information. You know… being research guy first hand.”
“Wil,” Xander stared soberly at her. “He’s called her Dawn. Giles talks to her as if that thing is Dawn. I’ve seen it, heard it. He’s losing it, and I don’t know what to do.”
Willow seemed to shrink with the news. “We need Buffy. *He* needs Buffy.”
“Then he can have me,” a familiar voice came from behind them and they turned to see Buffy standing there. Lorne stood beside her, looking like he was ready to burst out into song.
“Look what the Powers dragged in. She’s sure to get the resident English muffin all warm and buttery again,” Lorne smiled and moved toward the door. “What do ya say I mosey on outta here to let the Sunnydale starlets talk shop? I’ll send Anya on in with some munchies on the bossman’s tab. Don’t worry about Angel and the fang gang, I’ll keep them at bay so you three can have some quality you time.” He left them alone and Buffy remained at the door, face creased with worry.
“So how much do you hate me right now?” She asked.
“No hate. Not even a drop of dislike. Just worry and buckets of it,” Xander said as he got to his feet. “You okay?”
“Not really, no,” Buffy shook her head helplessly, offering a pained smile. “I just needed some time to figure things out.”
“Got it figured then?” Xander asked and helped Willow get to her feet, supporting her until she stopped swaying.
“Nope, but I’m here. You okay, Willow? You’re looking kinda sick?”
“Giles was, um… going to the dark place,” Willow explained delicately.
Xander’s expression suddenly soured. “So Angel put on his general stripes and ordered Willow to…”
“He didn’t order me, Xander. He gave us the choice.”
“Like that was a choice?”
“What happened?” Buffy asked.
“I took Giles' magicks. Angel asked me to.”
Xander grumbled, “Threatened, more like it.”
Buffy’s face creased with worry. “Is Giles…?”
“He’s okay. I mean, he didn’t get hurt like before. I’m guessing the whole undead thing has its advantages.” Willow offered a faint smile in consolation.
“I need to see him,” Buffy turned to leave. “We’re getting out of here, all of us.”
“What?” Willow squeaked.
“No time to explain. Just grab what you can and be ready to make a run for it once I get to Giles.”
“He’s being held in Fred’s lab,” Willow said as she tried as quickly as she could to make it to her desk.
Suddenly, Anya came through the door with a tray full of food, startled to see Buffy impeding her path.
“Buffy, you came back. I’m glad you chose not to run away again,” Anya said cheerfully.
"Again?" Buffy cast a glare to Xander.
"We were engaged to be married, Buffy. She knows practically everything fit to tell and some things not," he admitted with a shrug.
“Are you hungry? I have…”
“Anya, do you know what Lorne did with the leftovers from that near disaster of a party you guys cooked up a while back?” Buffy asked quickly.
“What… you mean the booze?” Xander cracked. “Why, you think now is a good time to take up drinking? I knew we were in deep but…”
“Yes,” Anya answered. “I believe he stored it away in the curse containment wing of the archives.”
“Leave it to W&H to have specialty storage for just about anything,” Xander sneered.
“With Willow’s help, we should be able to find the appropriate location.” Anya glanced over to Willow who was already accessing the information on her laptop. “Why, are we going to have another party?”
“I guess you could say that,” Buffy said with a helpless smile.
“D8, third level,” Willow said, typing away. “I’ll have a map in a second.”
“Get what you can, Anya,” Buffy urged. “Anything Giles likes.”
“Single malt it is,” Anya nodded.
“Willow, we’ll need everything you can scrounge up on spells, particularly of the resurrection variety… all that you can grab…”
“I can download the library catalog database to my laptop and I think Wes might have a particularly portable option that will come in handy,” the witch said as she worked.
“Great, do that. Xander, stock up on batteries, food, supplies… we’re going underground for a while and playing it seriously frontiersman-like,” Buffy requested quickly.
“Just call me Davy Crockett,” Xander nodded.
“You know they can hear all this,” Willow warned.
“Yeah, that’s why we’re light-speeding it outta here. Meet me at the lab as soon as you can. We got to get moving.” She started to move.
“Buffy,” Xander called out. She paused and turned back. “We’re glad you’re back.”