Playing Dead part 3
The phone is ringing.
I don't have the energy to reach it. I haven't the motivation either. It'll be Buffy, I know it, but don't care. Things never change, even though I do. They need me. They always need me. I'm just a tired resource to be dusted off when all looks bleak and hard. I knew someone else who felt that way once. God I miss him… still.
The phone is ringing.
I hold my breath, fight back my bitterness and answer with a half-hearted. "Hello?"
"You've heard, right? You know?" Her voice is steady but I can hear the faint traces of anxiety there.
"Yeah... I mean, I know. I felt it." She'll ask me to explain, or maybe not. She's gotten used to my skills. Or should I say accustomed to them.
"Any info on the magicks front?" All business, as usual.
"I'm fine, thanks." God, what happened to us?
"Sorry Will, I don't mean to be one-track-mind girl. But this is bad. You know that, right?" She's trying to apologize in her usual unapologetic way. "You okay?"
I'm still lying in bed, holding on for dear life to my unsuspecting pillow. "Yeah, all things considered."
"I know what you mean." I hear sorrow in her tone and it somehow makes me feel better.
"So how are you? How's the Council?"
"It is what it is… and so am I." Back to no apologies. Sometimes I could hate her.
"It happened Sunday. There were no survivors, including the prisoners," I tell her with such coldness a shiver runs through me.
"It was him, wasn't it?"
"How would I know, Buffy. You're the one with all the resources and backing."
"Willow, please." That had to hurt.
"Yeah… it was him." We avoid his name as if it were blasphemy. Perhaps it is now.
"Are you okay?"
I want to say no but know it won't help the situation. Things need to get done and done quickly. There isn't time to waste. "Have you talked to Xander yet?"
"He won't talk to me." She pauses and I hear a heavy sigh, one I recognize all too well. "I need you, Willow . This is bad."
"Yeah… yeah, it is," I agree sadly. There's more she needs to know. I don't want to be the one to tell her, though I'm the only one who could know. "Buffy, he's turned Ethan. I felt his energies… um, change."
There's another long pause and I wonder if that had actually shocked her.
"American Airlines flight 1012 out of JFK, Thursday at 6:05am . Please come. Xander will already be here."
"And here is…?"
" Los Angeles . We're going in."
I began to adapt to my new lot in death after a few days. Rupert had given me free reign of the east wing of the old department store. I chose to take up shop in home furnishings, passing the time by browsing the designer décor. Most of the time was spent resting, my only means of escape from the sickness. No matter how much I drink from the ruby bottles, I remain intolerably weak. I'm sure it hadn't helped matters that I overextending my magicks the night of the escape. But I'm quite certain the fact I've not fed… truly fed, has something to do with my continual illness.
Feeding is a complete mystery to me, encouraging my imagination to run rampant with the possibilities. What would it feel like to take that step, to drink from a live donor? It can't be all that difficult. My mouth waters with the idea even though I've never tasted vibrant blood. Rupert told me it would be soon and even though I look forward to that day with morbid excitement, it makes me incredibly nervous. I feel as though I were an undergraduate giving a solo presentation in front of classmates. In truth, I've not seen a vampire feed, even those I've worked for. Of course, I'd visited a suck house in my day but nothing of use comes to mind, most likely an indication of being completely lit at the time. Regardless, there are no examples for me to go by but what I've seen in campy films. No cheat sheets available to prepare me for my upcoming performance. To make matters worse, Rupert advised his would-be army to stay clear of me unless I required something. Even a lonely cheetah teaches its cubs to hunt. Was I to be left to my own devices and orphaned to a pitiless planet so soon?
Rupert's acting odd, to say the least. One minute proclaiming how much he needs me only to turn me then run off like some bloody contented one night stand. Leaving me to sit, abandoned and waiting for him like a hapless dope. I'm not sure what to make of his behavior. Perhaps its simply possessive jealousy or perhaps he wants to keep me sheltered from the harsh reality of what I've become. Regardless, I'm being kept well. Waited on hand and foot by my benefactors aids. Bottle feedings three times a night and a sweetly treat if I was a good little boy. It never satisfies, though, and I soon find myself fighting off the hunger that wouldn't die.
But things are looking up. I feel stronger today and decide to explore some of the other stores beyond my suite. The home furnishings department seems smaller today, cramped even. I crave open spaces more with every passing minute. Boredom has become my worst enemy. I suppose that is the price paid for such an afterlife. The only company I have is that of Rupert's when he finds the time to visit, my restless room service. Unfortunately for my growing tedium, I'd only spent that first day with him. Since then, he seems to busy himself with the running of his makeshift militia.
When I do manage to steal away a moment from the man of the hour, he says little of a personal sort, choosing instead to educate me on the altered state of this adopted world. He speaks a sad sort of politics, a candidate for the undead, I wager. Who am I to judge? At least he holds a spark, a purpose. Now all I need to do is find my own and see whether it fits into his. I occasionally interrupt his sermons, trying uselessly to pry out the gory details of his passing. He ignores the inquiry and moves on, acting as if I'd never asked. It only makes me more determined to find out the tale of his demise.
The mall is deathly quiet as I wander toward the gate separating me from the others. When I reach the barrier, I grip it and give it a tug only to find it locked and immobile. Perhaps I traded one cage for another.
"Hello?" I call out to the empty hall beyond. After a few seconds, a figure appears.
"What do you require, Sir?" The loyal lieutenant asks as he emerges from the shadows on the other side. He is a pretty youth, blonde, tousled curls crowning a chiseled face, high cheek bones, narrow chin, and the bluest eyes. Eyes reflecting the blue skies I'll never visit again. It is the first taste of melancholy since my passing.
"Um… Jacobs, if memory serves." I offer an engaging smile.
"Yes Sir." His face set firm.
"Come now… unlike Rupert, I don't go for all that rank rubbish. Name's Ethan."
"I know who you are, Sir." Tough sell, this one.
"As you wish. Where has Rupert wandered off too?"
"On rounds, Sir."
"Any idea when he'll return?"
"Varies with the route he chooses, Sir."
"I see. Thought I'd have a bit of a stroll and take in the sights. Do a little shopping for the ol' homestead. Mind lowering the drawbridge, as it were?"
"Standing orders are to keep you secured, Sir."
"Secured?" I don't like the sound of that. "Place seems fairly secure to me. Or is it me that needs security? You could escort me if you like. Promise I won't get into any trouble, though if there's a candy shop, you might have to wrestle me for the chocolates." I bait him with another smile and he still doesn't bite.
"I have my orders, Sir."
"I don't suppose I outrank you in your little play army here?" He shakes his head slightly, not at all amused. "Fine, I surrender. If it's not too much of a bother, would you mind keeping me company until he returns. Getting a bit lonesome in here. Could do with a spot of conversation."
"Standing orders are to keep our distance and ensure your safety, Sir."
"Do me a favor and drop the ‘Sir'." My sanity is questionable, enough. No need to further retard my remaining processes. "Why so worried about little ol' moi? Can hardly get more deceased, can I?"
"It's your talents, Sir. They're believed to be unstable."
"Says who?" I can't help but take offense.
"I'm sure he'll explain in detail when he returns, Sir." Jacobs marches back into the shadows and I'm left alone once again. I try the gate only to find it still fixed to the floor.
"Bloody wonderful," I growl and head back to my homely prison. "At least it's roomier than my last place. "Unstable? Seemed stable enough back in my cell, you pillock."
"The quarantined martial territory formerly known as Los Angeles, was bombarded late this afternoon with specialized dispersion missiles aimed at countering an extreme outbreak of an as of yet unidentified deadly contagion. The Center for Disease Control continues to withhold comment on the mysterious infection spreading rapidly within the city limits but discounted early reports as 'untrustworthy and speculative'. The CDC denies allegations that containment operations are grossly understaffed and crudely executed, arguing that such claims are further proof of the feeding frenzy of misinformation sensationalized by an 'irresponsible media'.
"Accusations of media misinformation and negligence have become commonplace since the release of the now infamous 'Fang Gang' video over three months ago. This disturbing and controversial amateur video in which a gang of grossly deformed youths can be seen brutally raping and consuming the flesh of a female victim, claims to have been filmed within the boundaries of the 'secured sector' by local resident Gale Fox. Investigators quickly seized control of all footage and since then, declared it nothing more that a 'sophomoric prank by irresponsible film students'. Officials deny the films relevance to the inexplicable happenings rumored to be occurring within Old Los Angeles . They insist the situation is well under control and there is no need for concern.
"Meanwhile, the CDC's EIS officers have evacuated the infected locations, determining the environment to be hostile, and therefore unnecessarily risky for further onsite study. As efforts intensify to prevent the spread of the contamination, the local government has enlisted help from the CDC's partner federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as well as other unnamed military agencies. While initial survival rates statistics appear grim, officials assure the public that the problem has been contained within the city borders and that the safest way to avoid infection is to stay clear of the affected area entirely. As a precautionary measure, the National Guard has been brought in to reinforce the already heavily barricaded city.
"Rumors abound that numerous survivors have been seen within the quarantined territory and that those infected have become rabid, turning on others with outbursts of violent behavior. Though there have been no official responses to such claims, speculation has it that soldiers were ordered earlier today to shoot on sight anyone trying to exit the city.
"Of all the mixed messages, one thing is certain, the mystery of Old Los Angeles is far from solved."
"Are you sure about this?" She asks, eyes filled with worry as she carefully folds my favorite Hawaiian shirt and attempts to pack it in my overstuffed duffle bag.
"No, but when am I ever sure?" I shrug, trying to look more at ease than I actually am. Judging by her reaction, I don't think its working.
"How long will you be gone?"
There's never an easy answer to that.
"I don't know. It depends on a lot of things."
"…That you can't tell me," she grumbles. "Or won't tell me."
"That's my girl." I kiss her forehead and she stops me from pulling away, her blue eyes pinning me with a serious stare under an adorably crinkled brow.
"You better come." She insists.
"I will," I say in my most reassuring tone. "Of course you know you've jinxed me, now."
She pulls away, angry. "That's not funny, Xander. I hate this. I hate that they do this."
"I know, but it's my job. You knew that going in," I remind her gently as I spin the dial to the safe, going for the last item I need to finish packing.
"I didn't choose this, you know? I coulda picked someone else."
That deserves a glare. "You're way too smart for your own good."
"You don't have superpowers. You aren't like the others." Her voice softens. "I worry about you, Dad."
"That's why I have this." I remove my specially crafted pistol from the safe and check the chamber and safety. With a showy spin and twirl I'd perfected in my cowboy inspired youth, I slip the gun in my shoulder holster and smirk confidently. She's not a happy camper. God, she's growing up too fast. "You're ten, start acting like it. That's an order."
"I can't help it if I'm mature for my age." She pouts, reminding me of the day the papers where finalized, that bizarre day I became a legal guardian... a father. "Stop changing the subject."
"You love staying at uncle Andrews."
"Yeah, ‘cause he's a bigger kid than I am. That's not the point. You being gone looks bad."
"They won't take you away. They can't. Think of it as adoption insurance courtesy of The Council."
"And they never let you forget it."
She's right. The Council hasn't forgotten their old tricks. They hold the adoption over our heads just like they held revoking the green card from…
Fuck, I did it again.
I kneel before her and pull her tightly into my arms. It's as much for me as it is for her and she knows it.
"I love you, Sam." I really do and pull back so she can see it in my eye as well as hear it in my voice because I never heard it enough as a kid. "You know that. You are my world now. But something bad has happened and I have to stop it. I have to keep the world safe… keep you safe."
"It's the sad man, isn't it Dad?" she asks and I'm not sure what she's taking about. Always quick to pick up on my clueless face, she pulls away and runs over to the framed photo I keep at my desk, pointing to it. "Him… the sad man."
I can't answer, it hurts too much.
"Be good, sweety. I'll bring you back something."
I hoist the duffle bag over my shoulder and move quickly toward the front door. I peek out the peep hole as Sam's footsteps hurry after me. They're here already, the Council's unmarked black car. It's a welcome escape from questions but I hate that I'm going away again.
"I love you, Dad."
"Love you too, baby."
She isn't crying. She knows it only makes it harder on me. God, I love her. This never gets any easier.
"Be careful," she begs quietly.
"Always." What else can I say?