Playing Dead part 14

The Truce:

"Which way now, Will?" Xander asks, keeping watch down the narrow streets and alleyways.

I close my eyes and concentrate, reaching out to feel the atmosphere of energies invisible but flowing around us like a stream. Suddenly there's a vortex forming in the current, irregular and choppy. It's a disturbance I've come to recognize.

"Ethan's coming," I warn and prepare. I feel him before I see him, charged tendrils of wild essence stretching out to announce him. Instinctively, my hands rise, charging a damper field to restrain his talents as best I can. He won't take us by surprise this time.

"I'd wave a white flag if I had one," he calls out from the alley, sensing my counter magicks. "Would a soiled shred of newspaper suffice?" He approaches slowly, moving into view with a red stained and crumpled newspaper wagging in his hand.

"Looks like blood to me." Xander readies his pistol and takes aim.

"It's my own, I assure you."

"Good," Buffy grumbles, stake gripped securely in her fist.

He's sweating profusely and trembling, half naked and hurting. Looks like withdrawals or symptoms of overextended magicks.

"How did you find us?" Xander asks, pointing steadily at Ethan's head.

"How else?" He winks at me.

"Tracking magicks," I explain. "Same way I find him."

"Good girl." He smiles briefly then his expression gives way to seriousness as he addresses Buffy. "They have your Watcher."

"My Watcher is dead."

"Bugger the incidentals. They have Rupert."

"Who is they?" Xander asks, edging closer.

"Those fangy types you lot have been five paces behind all this time." He shifts in his spot and cringes, bracing his arm further across his torso.

"That's it, give me a reason," Xander threatens, closing the distance to press the barrel of the gun to Ethan's temple. The sorcerer shoos the weapon away with his free hand, more irritated than intimidated.

"If you haven't noticed, Sonny, I'm already donning the aftereffects of such hostilities. You're daft to think that little pee shooter of yours is of any concern at this point?" Ethan hunches forward and I see blood trickle down to splatter the cement.

"You're shot?" I ask.

"I thought you're the brainy one." He chuckles and winces with pain in punishment for it.

"Who shot you?" Buffy asks, confused.

"That would be the same lads holding Rupert hostage. I'm surprised they've kept him alive. Well, not alive exactly. I mean… bloody hell, you know what I mean." He withers a little with every frustrated word, as if exerting so much effort to speak.

"How do you know he's still alive or whatever?" Xander questions and Ethan directs a knowing glance to me and smiles.

"You sense it, don't you?"

"What's he talking about, Willow ?" Buffy asks.

"Just as you can with me."

There is something, like a whisper beneath the energies swarming between us. It's faint but it's there. "What is it?"

"It's him," Ethan assures me and I can't believe it, though I want to so badly.

"No, it can't be." Denial is my only defense to hope.

"What can't be, Willow ? Talk to me," Buffy pleads.

"It's Rupert," Ethan sighs, as if it should be obvious. "Seems chaos has a sense of humor and a rather good memory."

"I don't get it." Buffy is growing irritated with the vague answers and I don't know how much I should reveal of what little I think I know.

"So it's the chaos magicks? That's what makes you different then the other vampires?"

"Different… now that's a colorful understatement. Uncertain, weak and pathetic, perhaps."

I shake my head. "Merciful, compassionate…"

"Bloody useless is what it makes me. And now, what it's making of him."

"If blotting out the sun is useless, I'd hate to see you useful," Xander says.

"That's why I'm here."

"Why do I sense a let's-make-a-deal coming?"

"He wants to set things right."

"Like I haven't heard this before from every other wannabe dictator demon," Buffy scoffs.

"I may be able to fix it… the sun. But only if you help me free Rupert."

"I don't help vampires."

"Oh, but you'll shag them. That's…."

"Convenient." A stranger's voice finishes and in seconds we're surrounded by vampires, more than twenty of them, all armed. "Never fucked a Slayer. I hear it's like sushi, something I should try at least once."

Gunfire erupts as Ethan hobbles forward. With a phrase, he ignites a wall of light separating Xander and him from Buffy and me. The barrier is sound for the moment, managing to divide the street from the alleyway. I throw bolts of energies, blasting demon after demon to go crashing into abandoned cars, chain link fences, and the rubble of broken buildings. There are just too many to keep track of but I fight off every one I can reach.

I see Buffy charging after the leader. But he's quickly reinforced by others so she refocuses. Good call. After dodging sporadic gunfire, she vaults off a rusty car and comes down with a windmill kick, striking one then another of the beasts, knocking them off balance. She spins, taking turns dusting each with her trademark weapon. It's amazing how quickly she regroups. Two more vampires disintegrate around her skillfully guided stake.

I set a trio of the vamps ablaze and hurry away from open space to find cover from the increasing barrage of gunfire. I hope Buffy is doing the same. It takes me a moment to spot her again but I do just in time to see a bullet strike her shin. Buffy yelps as her leg gives out. She tumbles to the street and is immediately swallowed up by the horde of vampires. The last thing I hear from somewhere under the pile of beasts is her determined order, "Get them out!"

My instinct is to disregard the command and fight to get to her but the vampires numbers are growing. I glance back to see Ethan's barrier is taking a beating with the storm of bullets ricocheting from it. It's weakening with each hit and at the rate I'm casting, I won't have anything left for an escape. I shuffle backwards, getting as close to Xander and the sorcerer as the dying barrier will allow.

"She's lost," Ethan shouts over the ruckus.

"No!" Xander screams, firing off clip after clip. Vampires dust with every shot, never touching ground as they leap over the barricade.

Ethan calls out, "We have work to do. Get us…" A bullet strikes his temple, spraying Xander with blood, bone and flesh. I watch Ethan's eyes roll back to white and he buckles lifeless to the red splattered ground. The wall is breeched and I feel panic with the ensuing chaos. In a hail of gunfire, roars of charging beasts and Xander's refusal to abandon Buffy… we disappear with my terrified words.

The Plan:

I hear stifled voices, as if under water, and concentrate on them. Every thought hurts and movement is nearly impossible.

"I found a small radio transistor hidden in a pocket of his jeans." It's the boy. The witch must have gotten clear as well. "Smashed it to bits and tossed it one building over."

My mind gradually separates the pain from the hunger sickness. I feel a right mess and likely look the part.

"That must be how they found us so quickly," the witch responds.

It takes a moment for me to coax my body into the motion I want from it. My head aches and I feel and feverish.

"They must have tagged him," she decides. Fucking soldiers, I should have known. "Guess they didn't trust him."

"He was probably in on the whole thing, bringing them right to us."

"Indeed, all part of my brilliant plan to capture you with my incredible exploding head trick." I finally persuade my arm to lift towards my head and cringe as my fingers glide along the rim of the raw wound at my temple. The touch sparks a bolt of pain throughout my body. My fingertip dips within to assess the damage and is greeted by the surreal landscape of brutalized tissues. I've never easily stomached those graphic horror films but somehow I manage to keep myself together, even with my insides oozing on the outside. Sometimes I really despise being dead. "Went rather swimmingly, wouldn't you agree?"

"Damn. I thought you were dead," I hear the boy huff.

"Quite deceased, thank you."

I force myself to sit up by bracing against a nearby wall and realize my legs are dead. There is sensation in them, much like that in my injured head, but they refuse to move. Must be that undead healing or perhaps the magicks are battling to keep me stitched together. I guess chaos isn't through with its degenerate son. I use my arms to settle myself more comfortably against the wall and take a moment to examine our surroundings. We're inside a building undergoing renovation, or at least it was until the city fell. The grumpy one approaches and I notice he's covered in gore, most likely my own, and I can't help but smile.

"You're only sore you didn't get the chance to take the shot yourself. Even so, I look smashing on you."

"Shut up," the boy curses. He raises his pistol and thunders towards me, all threatening and brave and quite daring with the eye patch.

"This isn't helping!" The witch steps between us. The flicker of temper is delightful. She kneels down to examine my wounds with all the gentleness of a hellhound. "These will heal, right?"

"At a slower rate than other vampires, in my somewhat limited experience." I wince with one not-so-tender prod of her fingers and capture her wrist, holding her close to me. The hunger in my gut reminds me of another necessity yet to be met. "Though there is one way to hurry along the healing process. Care to volunteer?"

"Let her go!" The dashing pirate's pistol presses to my unblemished temple. "Unless you want a matching set."

"Back down!" my nurse orders, much to her knight's objection. "Its okay, Xander. We need him." She brings her wrist in closer. "Take only what you need, not one drop more or I'll suck you dry and I know you know what I mean." And I do and wickedly consider pressing my luck just for the sensation.

"Willow, no! You can't be serious!"

I smile and for some reason can't stop myself from saying, "If you're offering to take her place…"

"Shut up, both of you!"

I oblige, wondering if she is as delicious as her temper.

"We need him whole if we're going to reverse the spell."

"I'm not so sure that's what he really wants."

"Oh, you're absolutely right. It's not at all what I want," I say in all honesty. "I want to be waited on hand and foot; to eat, drink and be merry… very merry," I wink salaciously at the cyclops. "But just this once, it's not about me. It's what Rupert wants."

"And you're oh so willing to just bend over and take it?"

"Again and again. Wouldn't you be?"

"Way ew! Someone scour my brain." He throws his hands up and wanders away in desperation. His revulsion is lovely.

"What part of ‘shut up' don't you two understand?" Willow barks and hushes me with her wrist to my lips.

" Willow !" Xander objects again only to be silenced by a look.

"I know what I'm doing? I've done this before."

She keeps her eyes on her friend and I feel my features shift. This triggers the pirate's pistol to return, ready to dispatch me with the slightest of missteps. If a kindly wound were ever possible it's what I attempt as I puncture the skin and tap the vein with surprisingly accuracy. After all, I'm still quite the amateur. But I don't wish to fail this one in her generosity. As she pours down my throat, my body begins to pulse with her pulse. She tastes of strawberries and power… this one. If only we'd met years before.

"What do you mean you've done this before? For who?" It's obvious Xander is startled by the admission and I continue drinking as the entertaining drama unfolds before me. The sorceress winces from time to time and I try to gentle my feeding… more suckling than savage.

"Like it matters now. It was… seems like a lifetime ago." She responds without responding. Good for her.

"Don't tell me it was…" He goes mute mid-sentence and I am oddly put out by it. I haven't a clue why I should even care. Neither of us gets any more an answer than a pleading look to drop the subject. As if by some psychic bond, the young man suddenly seems to know and shakes his head with disapproval. She escapes his judgment by looking at me, realizing for the first time I've changed. It quickens her pulse, verging on panic and I retract, not wishing to frighten her.

"No, it's okay. Really. I'm sorry… it's just…" She sighs, almost embarrassed. "I never get used to seeing that... the change, you know?"

I smile, returning to my preferred presentation, or as best as I can figure it, and begin to bandage her up with a nearby first aid kit her thoughtful protector supplied.

"I feel fine if you need more…"

"It'll be enough, Willow ," I reassure her. My legs shudder as I demand them to move, returning slowly back to usable. It should be enough. "Thank you."

"Can you do it? Can you free the sun?" She asks and I shrug.

"That's the dilemma, isn't it? We haven't any of the supplies necessary to break the spell entirely. But perhaps with your help, we could weaken the magicks binding the spell, causing it to become unstable."

"Guess that makes sense, with chaos being all chaosy to begin with. We just need to encourage it a little and it should do the rest for us."

"Make no mistake, it will take an enormous amount of energies to set if off balance. And not those pure, virgin white magicks you're used to, love. I deal in the darker shades."

Her lips curl to an intriguingly confident smile. "I can hold my own."

"Um… guys…" Xander calls from a window, eyes peering downward.

"What is it?" Willow asks.

"You better come take a look at this."

Willow helps me to my feet and I'm pleased to find my legs with strength enough to make the short journey across the room. We join Xander and look out to the landscape below.

"Looks like something's going on at the local neighborhood drive-in."

Vampires in mass, nearly a hundred, are spilling out into the barren parking lot.

"Chance may be smiling on us. Now seems a good a time as any to break that spell, don't you think?" I suggest.

"Just tell me what you need." Willow is so very eager for instruction.

The Toll:

A faint wind brushes along my lips as consciousness returns. I hear the droning mutterings of a crowd coming from all angles and smell the tell-tale scent of death that is inescapable in the company of vampires. A squawking crow tells me I'm outside.

My eyes crack open to discover I'm lying on my back, facing skyward with a hazy view. It takes a moment for my vision to clear, revealing the glowing halo of the blackened sun intensifying through the clouds. I close my eyes and concentrate. I feel him and my chaos stirring with his evocation. It's subtle but its there. The sky will soon open to drench me in sunlight.

I shift slightly and feel my hand is shackled to something. When I glance over, I find Buffy on the other end of a short and sturdy chain. She sits no more than three feet from me, hugging her leg to her chest and resting her chin on her knee. The other leg is stretched out before her, wounded and bleeding. The stimulating bouquet of her torn flesh reminds me of my unsatisfied hunger and I fight off my ravenous urges, attempting to refocus my attentions on our situation.

We are centered in the open expanse of what looks to be a parking lot. A large audience of vampires surrounds us but at a distance. All seem oblivious to the changing heavens. With our injuries, we'll be no match for there numbers.

The crowd cheers as a solitary figure steps out to join Buffy and I. It's my second in command and I force myself to sit upright with his approach.

"See now, this is touching," he says as he stops a short distance from us, enough to avoid any surprise attacks, "Slayer and Watcher together again. Kinda gets me right here." He gives his chest a pat where his heart would beat were he alive.

"You must be Buffy. Rupert's told me so much about you that I feel like I know you." She doesn't bother responding, only stares forward, meditating to regain her strength. Gone are the self-assured puns I remember, the witty retorts of a successful Slayer. How she's changed. Haven't we all?

"Speaking of my fearless leader, how are you doing, Rupert?"

"Never better," I say with quiet defiance.

"Ah, well… let's see what we can do about that, shall we?" He smiles and turns away, "I'll be back in a moment but for now, my public awaits."

He marches towards the densest grouping of vampires and begins a rousing speech, "They intend to take our city away, to defeat our conquering nation." The crowd of beasts roars its displeasure.

"We've challenged their best yet we are the ones that stand victorious and proud." Cheers echo the pride being expressed.

"It's true we've suffered great losses. Many have fallen in the battle to secure these grounds; many brave and honorable beasts… our brothers and our sisters." Jacobs glances back over his shoulder to stare disappointedly at me. "Most distressing of all, they've managed to corrupt someone I thought beyond reproach. I'm afraid the founding father of our revolution has turned weak and disloyal. They've forced us to deal with him as we would an enemy." He retrieves a stake from his belt and thrusts it high, as if to pierce the air. The dramatic action inspires the crowd's enthusiasm for justice. "But I swear to you his sacrifice will not be in vain. His dust will not be without cause."

I grow bored and decide to take advantage of the distraction, testing the chain with a tug and trying to draw Buffy's attention to me. She sits motionless and with unyielding focus.

"The spell is waning," I whisper. "The sun is returning."

"I know." I'm almost surprised she bothered to respond at all but the bitterness in her tone tells me more of her hatred for me than I care to know.

Jacobs retrieves a radio and addresses all who may be listening, "Council and Initiative forces… we have your Slayer, Buffy Summers, and her former Watcher. I could kill them now, if I wished it. But seeing as how I am a sporting man, you have an hour to try your hand at recovering them. After an hours time, we will do what you couldn't and rid you of your prime target as well as your mightiest warrior once and for all."

"He's using us as bait to lure more drop teams," I say quietly to Buffy.

"I know." Again, so bitter, as if the blame lies with me and perhaps it should. After all, Jacobs is my brightest boy. One who's learned my lessons well.

'Strike the heart and the body will follow.'

Buffy's stony revulsion with being near me makes me grow frail and useless, contented to accept the possible coming of my oblivion. I'm curious if the scarce chaos energies I have will provide any protection from the sun. Perhaps they will only offer enough time to realize the pain, suffer the slow searing of the skin with each boiling degree. Would that satisfy my Slayers thirst for vengeance, I wonder. Only time will tell. So I sit waiting, strapped to the young lady who was once my charge, my child, my burden and joy. All I can think of is the sad state of affairs that lead us to this moment. All I can see is the ghostly image of a young girl we both loved more dearly than either of us can express, powdered and carried away with the winds.

"The game is set and the move is yours." Jacobs concludes his challenge to his enemy forces and returns the radio to his belt as he approaches.

"Well, that ought to just about do it." He smiles confidently. "I'm sure you two have much to talk about." He glances over at Buffy with false sympathy. "Or perhaps talking isn't what this calls for. Feel free to entertain the boys with a display of aggression. There's enough bad blood between you to make things interesting, I'm sure. Oh well, I'll leave you to it."

He turns and walks away to rejoin the crowd which begins to shout out for violence. And though we are surrounded by a mob of rowdy, bloodthirstily beasts, I feel as if we are more alone in each others company than ever before.

part 15...