Playing Dead part 9
"Is everyone alright?" I yell even before the stream of energies evaporates from around us. I don't get an answer and I'm already careening towards panic. "Buffy? Xander?"
"Here," she calls from behind me and to the left.
"Here," Xander says from behind and right, "…Though I don't have a clue where here is."
"Not far." I'm still trying to catch my breath. "Teleported us to the nearest building. Best I could manage. We should probably go deeper… inside to make sure we're not found."
"Why did you do that? I had him?" Buffy grumbles, marching irritably toward the closest window to peer out. I can't believe my ears.
"You had him?" Xander laughs. "In what way would that be exactly, Buff? In the kamikaze, hari-kari sense of having him? We were surrounded and about to be trampled by his cavalry of blood thirsty vampires. I didn't see any advantage on our side of the equation. Or were you using that special Slayer math of yours again?"
"It was a stall tactic." How can she be this way?
"No, it was a promise. He said so," I remind her of his words and hate myself for remembering them.
"That was just an empty threat to throw us off our game. He wants to be the one to do it… needs to be the one to do it." She goes quiet then speaks more to herself than to either of us, "…lay my arms down and let me rest at last."
She suddenly snaps out of her daze to conclude, "It's his to do, not his flunkeys."
Xander's pissed. "Coulda fooled me 'cause they were doing a mighty fine job of following Colonel Fang's last orders to kill us!"
Buffy shakes her head, annoyed. "Like you guys have any idea. I know how he thinks."
"Funny, ‘cause I saw you getting your ass handed back to you out there."
"This isn't helping!" I yell then cover my mouth and hurry to the window to make sure I wasn't heard. The vampires are slowly scattering, searching for us. "I did what I thought was best, run away and live to fight another day."
"I, for one, happen to agree with your choice, Will. And so would he if he was here. But he's not. I know it, Willow knows it and you sure as Hell know it too, Buffy. So stop thinking you're getting some special back stage pass to his mind because that murderer out there… that dead thing walking, is not him, never will be him and will be dust by the end of the week if I have anything to do with it." He marches off into thicker shadows, mumbling, "Now I'll see make sure we get to safer cover if commandant Summers doesn't mind postponing the slaughter till later."
"Xander… I…" she moves to go after him and I stop her with a gentle grip of her wrist.
"Give him a moment, just a little space. You're both too riled up to discuss this rationally."
Buffy gives me a wounded look.
"Is this your way of comforting me?"
"This is me avoiding more fighting and saying things we'll all regret when enough cruel things were said out there by that demon."
I glance back out to the thinning crowd of vampires.
"We all need to take a breath here and figure out what's happening. The sun set early today at the hands of a vampire who shouldn't have the powers he used in doing it, Buffy. This mission just got a whole lot harder for everyone. I really wanted to believe this was a salvage mission going in but I know now that he's gone."
"Welcome to my world. I never had the luxury of doubt and hope. I accepted the fact he was gone when the beast wearing his face killed Marissa. When he killed…" Buffy went quiet.
"Look, we're all sick to death of death. We've faced more loss than anyone has a right to. All we have left are each other. I don't want to lose that. I won't let him take that away."
Then I see it, the same look she wore when Angel said he was leaving Sunnydale. The same look as when her world is crumbling down on her.
"I know, Willow . God, I know that."
In an instant, she's wrapped her arms around me and finally, mercifully the tears begin to flow. Not since his… not since has she dared to shed a tear in any of our company. And now, with her holding onto me for dear life, I feel my own tears come and flow. We stand there in the dark, hugging, letting out everything we kept bottled up for way too long. As soon as I regret Xander missing out, I feel burly arms come around to hold both of us.
"I don't know what's going on and I don't care," he says, squeezing us.
It's enough for us. A new beginning.
"Still intend to collect on our debt?" I grin smugly as I stroll out from the aisles of linens and towards his bed.
Ethan smiles helplessly and sighs. "Pillock, I can barely move."
Slowly, I sink to the edge of the bed and reach out to brush a rogue curl of grey from his forehead. He closes his eyes, leaning into my hand. Unconsciously, it transforms into a consoling caress along his cheek. At the very least, he's earned such gentle attention from me, and so much more.
"You're still weak, then?"
"Like a newborn babe." He shakes his head, wincing with pain in doing it.
"Anything I can do?"
"Put me out of my misery and kill me." His black eyes shimmer playfully up at me. "Wait, worked that one already, as I recall."
I notice the tidy row of bottles untouched beside the bed.
"You haven't fed?" I'm displaying more concern than I would care to.
"Rather trapped in my cot, poppa, remember?"
"You're that weak?"
"Guess tampering with nature takes a lot out of a man. Who'd have thought it?" He chuckles through a grimace. "I'll get to it eventually."
"You need to feed, Ethan. It'll help you regain your strength."
His cringes as I slip my arm under his neck and slowly lift him up towards my chest. Another heave draws out a wince as I feel his bare muscles tremor through the fabric of my shirt. His head falls clumsily to my neck and I lift my hand to brace him there.
"I… I can't…" he whispers against my dimpling skin, the fine hairs rising in anticipation.
"You can. I'll help you, Ethan, hold you. Just drink." His body sinks back a little and I begin to feel panic with the severity of his sickness. It's far worse than I expected.
"Quite the vampire, eh Ripper?" He chuckles feebly, going slack in my arms as I try to keep him steady. "Can't even manage the slightest of nibbles."
"You can do this," I coach him.
With another tug, I bring him closer, guiding his head to my neck again until I feel his lips brush along that sensitive skin of my makers mark.
"There … the skin is thin..."
It's all the encouragement he needs. The hunger drives him toward his task as fangs pierce to a shallow depth. I feel him retract slightly, already exhausted. Determined to get a meal in him, I pull him firmly to me, forcing his bite deeper into the meat. The blood begins to flow and I hear his choking gulps as I bleed into his mouth.
"Drink, Ethan," I whisper, rocking subtly as I would a fussing child. Seems fitting, he is mine after all. "It'll help. You'll see."
I stay there, locked by his bite until his fangs retract. He goes limp and when I lower him, I realize he's succumbed to sleep again.
"Will he be alright, Sir?" Jacobs makes his presence know. I'd been so distracted, I hadn't noticed his entrance.
"I believe so," I whisper and try to stand. My legs give and I fall forward. Jacobs is there in an instant, supporting me with his arm.
"You let him drink too much, Sir. You're weak."
"I'll be fine in a moment."
"Forgive me for asking, Sir, but in all your concern for Mr. Rayne, did * you* remember to feed?"
I chuckle helplessly. "Good question. I believe the answer is no. Bloody brilliant."
"Well, you have a lot on your mind, Sir." Jacobs smiles as he guides me to another bed and helps me sit. After a moment, he kneels and bares his neck as if it was nothing. What had they done to him to break him so?
"You should feed, Sir."
I reach out and grip his shoulder tenderly. "Thank you, Jacobs but no." My hand lifts to cup his chin. "You're far too giving."
"Not for everyone, Sir." Such shyness, even with offering himself to me.
"If you feel the need to cater to someone, help Ethan. Give him two hours then let him take you up on your proposal. If that's asking too much…"
"Not at all, Sir. It would be an honor."
I chuckle at that and the imaginary response from Ethan. "It's Rupert, Jacobs… call me Rupert."
A handsome smile spreads on his lips.
"Thank you, Rupert." He stands and motions toward the main gate. "I'll proceed with my rounds so I can be back when he wakes." He hurries off and I slump to the mattress, feeling my head heavy with fatigue. Maybe just a quick lie down will do the trick.
We waited a day… a full day before checking the location where the Initiative drop team landed. There were just too many hostiles to worry about. But when we finally make it to the position, we find the same old story. Bodies of soldiers lie along the bent wreckage of a sky rise. Many are strip of weapons, some their dog tags, some their scalps. It was another massacre. The vampires had their fun, fresh meat being delivered on an almost daily basis. What more could they ask for? I move toward the sound of a faintly beeping radio and bend down to pick it up. The last message sent is still blinking on the screen…
Team down. They didn't have a chance. I notice a thin dusting of ash along a few of the soldiers uniforms. At least they went down fighting.
"Just like last time, no survivors," Willow says somberly, shaking her head in disgust.
"Actually, I think there were," I respond, investigating the carnage more carefully. "I know this is gonna sound… well… cold, but I don't think there's enough bodies here."
"Good, I wasn't the only one thinking it," Xander sighed. "Now to really raise the morbid scale, you think maybe they took home some doggy bags."
"He's right, Will. That would be smart for them, especially now that LA is permanently lights out. Not many stray humans vacationing where the sun stays set. They'll need reserves."
"Okay, I get that but still with the ew." Willow retrieved another radio and checked the final message. "Darn. Looks like more troops are on the way."
"Don't these guys ever learn?" Xander grumbles.
"I'm going to try and stop the drop. This is playing right into their hands." I punch in the number and wait, dreading the voice sure to be on the other end of the line.
"HB this is CO, come in." I wait and listen. Nothing. "HB this is CO, requesting priority COM, over."
"Looks like a wrong number." Willow shrugs helplessly.
"It's procedure to rotate channels after each drop. Keep the baddies in the dark." Xander smirks. "Sorry, bad choice of words."
"I'll keep trying but I think we better stick close to walls and shelter," I suggest and Xander nods. "No telling how many vamps there are out there. Low profile fun."
"With all the leftovers here, I think we should make camp the next building over. We can keep a lookout over here to see if there is a clean up crew. With any luck, we can pick them off sniper style." Xander pats his pistol and I nod in agreement.
"Take whatever ammo you can find, weapons too. We might need them." He quickly begins to search. "Will, you think you can scrounge up something to keep us camouflaged… avoid anymore surprises?"
"I think I can manage a little something." She smiles confidently.
"Let's get to it."
I manage only small steps, painfully slow and laborious as I make my way along the mall gangway. A change of wardrobe is the present task, something befitting the accomplished sorcerer vampire who blotted out the sun from the City of Angels . Perhaps something to go with my cane. What a mighty sight I must be. Tremble before me, mere mortals. Were it not for the agonizing boredom, I would have stayed in bed.
I notice a shop I'd not investigated before and I make my way slowly towards it. The storefront is shattered, probably looted. I consider moving on but decide I need a rest. A shimmer catches my interest and I glance inside. My dead heart sinks.
"Sir, you should be resting."
I don't fancy company but the circumstance calls for answers and maybe he can supply me with some. "What's your name, Jacobs?"
"Your proper name? What did your mother call you, or were you born a soldier, boy?"
"Have you ever made a mistake, Bryce?" I ask, my eyes never leaving the window.
"I'm sure I have, Sir."
"The name's Ethan, Bryce, or don't you remember?"
"Quite alright. You think your commander and chief, the almighty Rupert, is capable of mistakes?"
"On occasion, perhaps. You think he's erred in some fashion, Ethan?"
He may as well be calling me Sir with how he says it.
"Tell me what you see when you look through the glass?"
He looks quickly then responds with only a quizzically raised brow.
"It's not a bloody lottery, Bryce. What do you see there, all shiny and expensive?" I gesture. He must have seen it because his eyes go wide for a moment and then return to calm instantly.
"I see jewelry, Sir."
"Jewelry of what sort, Bryce?"
"Rings, Sir, wedding bands and engagement rings."
"Yes, Bryce… ring's strangely familiar. And look, there's one missing."
"Perhaps it was sold before D-day, Sir."
"They would have taken the display out of the window or replaced it straight away."
"Who took only one ring? Highly unlikely, don't you think?"
I finally turn to face him, placing my ringed hand to rest on his shoulder.
"So tell me, Bryce, has Rupert erred?"
His eyes shift to the ring and back to me.
"No, Sir." His stare is closing in on threatening.
" ‘course not. Thank you, Jacobs." I turn away, giving him as much a brush off as I can manage. "Run along to your master. I'm sure he has some delightfully foolhardy errand for you as well."
Jacobs hesitates for a moment then decides to leave. Good boy. I watch him retreat for a short while then glance back to the window. I see something shaped in the glass and realize it's a reflection.
I have a reflection.