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DeadWar 1.3 (Out of Sight)

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  • DeadWar 1.3 (Out of Sight)

    Disclaimer: This fiction includes primarily characters created by Joss Whedon rather than by myself. Do not read if you are looking for original Mabus fiction!

    The oracle concerning Dumah:
    One keeps calling to me from Seir,
    "Watchman, what of the night?
    Watchman, what of the night?"
    The watchman says,
    "Morning comes but also night.
    If you would inquire, inquire;
    Come back again."
    --Isaiah 21:11-12

    Michelle sleeps.

    Or so it would appear, with her still form and closed eyes. Gabriel knows that what the woman he loves is experiencing is more than sleep. Even in her coma, she sometimes stirred, shifted an arm or twitched an eyelid. She has not done so one time since he disconnected her from the machines. She never moved as he leapt from the window, fleeing the frantic sound of alarms. She never moved as he sprinted away from the hospital, or loaded her into the car, carefully parked several blocks away where it would not be associated with her disappearance.

    This sleep is the sleep of death. But not true death, either.

    Still, Gabriel wonders. Does he really know she will wake? The time taken for the change varies. Perhaps hers is already complete. Perhaps this, for a vampire, is coma. It might be that she will simply lie here, never aging, never decaying, an eternal Sleeping Beauty that not even a kiss can waken. She should heal, he believes...but how can he be certain?

    Just as likely that she heals even now. Perhaps her deep injuries delay her waking while the new essence within her repairs them, and no longer. Would an MRI reveal the truth? But then, he would have to get her back into a hospital, a seeming corpse in his arms. It would be, at best, a difficult business, and perhaps for nothing.

    No, for the moment, all Gabriel can do is wait. And watch.
    ********
    Bloodshot eyes follow her movements. Aside from that, he never shifts a muscle. The dead don't need to.

    His hair has grown again. She remembers grainy images of him, remnants from another life, an Angelus with a thick, glorious mane. That vampire never displayed the scruff of months without a shave, though, even in that era when the only means at hand was a straight razor and clumsiness meant cutting. This Angel has simply ceased to care.

    Nothing can purge him of the territorial instinct, though. He knows what she is. Long experience lies to him that he alone is harmless, out of all his kind. So he watches.

    "I doubt your parents named you 'eternal'." His tone is even, suggesting no more than idle chatter to pass the time.

    "They might have," she tells him. "Sikh names always suggest qualities of virtue or spiritual excellence. But yes, that would be a rather large coincidence. My other self changed one vowel. 'Sadhu' means 'saint'. If I ever was that, though, I never will be again. Do you consider yourself an angel, then?"

    He shakes his head. "'Angelus' was a sick joke on Darla's and my part. Afterwards, I didn't know what to call myself...just that I still wasn't really Liam any more."

    Sadha nods. "No one ever really reclaims her innocence. One can only decide the future...never change the past."

    "Are you...did you go back to your family's faith?" Angel studies his hands, lost in thought. "The world I lived in seemed to become too complicated for what I'd...at least mostly believed in as a human. But I don't know much about Sikhs."

    "I believe some of it," she tells him, not ready to explain what parts. "As for the rest...being a Watcher was religion enough for me. A Chosen One. Spirit powers. Saving the world from demons. Yes...I want to return to that."

    Angel frowns, thinking. "I guess it doesn't take a great deal of faith to believe in what's in front of your eyes."

    "No. But it takes a great deal of faith to believe that you can change it." She hesitates. "Then again, once one has experienced such a change...."

    "I thought...I really believed she'd done the impossible," he muses. "After all, she always has. Saved the world. Come back from the dead." Angel's eyes meet hers, for the first time so far. "I was starting to believe maybe she could do it. That she really could be good without a soul, even if that meant I was a failure after all. I wanted to believe she really intended everything that's happened. And now this."

    "And so now you know the truth." She takes a seat at last, facing him at angles across the room. "Is it so bad to have been right the first time?"

    Angel hesitates. Perhaps he's thinking. Finally..."Yes. It's that bad." He seems so earnest. He's centuries older than her, but at this moment, he appears quite young. "I wanted Buffy to live at least part of her life in the light. That's why I didn't stay with her, you know. She deserved better than me. And she deserved better than to become the thing she fought."

    "Yes," Sadha replies after a moment. "Unlike some of us."

    He stares curiously at her. "It's not really something you can deserve, Sadha. It only makes you worse."

    "Perhaps. Still, I sometimes think there's a justice in becoming what you behave like." Quite likely he doesn't understand at all. "Maybe that's why the Powers offered you humanity."

    Angel snorts. "I had to turn it down to do what they wanted. I'm not sure any more that it was ever meant for me, and if it was it isn't mine now. It could be you. Or Anne, or any number of others. Hell, it might be Harmony. I'm the only vampire with a soul it can't be."

    "Had you ever considered," she offers, "that if they can choose to give it to you, they don't need a prophecy to do it?" Surprisingly, he flinches. "It's not yourself you want it for, is it? Not anymore."

    His eyes lowered, he mumbles, "If I could give it to Buffy, I would. But she can't have it either. Not the way she is."
    ********
    "She's not Buffy."

    "I can't believe you'd say that, Xander. After all that she's done for us..."

    "And I can't believe you don't believe it, Will. It's a vampire. A demon. It's not the same as her. It's...Buffius."

    He won't see it. He won't let himself. "There's something left of her, Xander. There has to be. She saved my life."

    "She did it to torture that vampire. You just happened to be there at the time."

    "Then why not torture me instead? Don't say it's because I'm not a challenge. I could kill her if I tried hard enough, you know."

    "You should. Every time you don't, you're betraying her. You keep telling me I'm being disloyal to Buffy, but I'm not. Loyalty to Buffy, the real Buffy, means killing the thing wearing her face."

    "Xander, please. She doesn't have to die. We can fix her."

    His face contorts. She can't read him the way she used to. Maybe it's the eye. "You always want to fix everything, Will, but there are things that can't be fixed. She's already dead, and you can't fix that! Not this time! What do you think Tara would say?"

    Whenever they argue about Buffy, he throws that at her. "I don't know, Xander. All I know is what she did. She believed it was wrong, and she helped us anyway, because it was important." Willow always ignores the other aspect, the implication that Tara would recoil in disgust at the "unnatural thing". She might have...though Willow can't recall that she ever did...but it doesn't matter. "It's important again now."

    "I'll be at the meeting when Anne can talk," Xander grumbles. "I won't promise anything else. Right now, I have a lunch date."

    She never needles him any more. She knows he's already hurting. But... "Xander? First date again, right?" He nods. "Don't you think you should start asking yourself why?"

    "She's human, Willow. I don't need any monster in my woman. I'll find the right one when I find her, but I'm tired of dating girls who try to have me for lunch."

    Willow just shakes her head. "Then at least don't push this one away."

    "I never do. Goodbye, Willow. Don't call unless the world's ending."

    The door closes behind him. "I won't," she murmurs. "I won't."
    ********
    Giles watches as she drinks.

    Anne lies prone on the cot, a bloody dressing draped over her back. The blood is not her own. Her arms are stretched out to either side. Already she can make them twitch. Even if a human could heal from wounds like hers, it would be a hideously slow process. Willow believes Anne will be moving around in a week, walking in perhaps a month, with proper care. Sooner, if she could have been worked on properly, the way Spike's hands were re-attached.

    Naturally--so to speak--her esophagus has healed first. Her trachea is another matter. For now, she can manage a bubbly hiss of a word every few minutes, and no more. Giles has managed to nap for a few hours, waiting for her recovery, but only out of exhaustion. He suspects he will not be able to sleep again until he hears what has happened.

    Faith is seated at her side, urging her to sip from a mug. Strange, that...a Slayer feeding a vampire blood. Once he would have been outraged. Now it seems almost normal. Anne's head extends a little past the cot's end, with a makeshift frame to support it. She could harmlessly bury her face in a pillow, of course, but she needs nourishment.

    "Faith," he suggests, "perhaps she's had enough. She can't process it instantly, any more than you could digest a steak all at once."

    She ignores his feeble pun, but removes the mug from Anne's mouth. Anne lets it go without any attempt at protest. "And you can't keep going without some shuteye, G. I warned you what's gonna happen if you go passing out on us in a meeting."

    "I've gotten the rest I needed, Faith. Please don't pester an old man." He's not so old, not yet, but Faith will never see it that way. Giles is tired, but not so tired that he can neglect his duty.

    "Have it your way. Call me if ya need help." She hands him the mug. "Or if ya need more sleep."

    Giles nods and watches her go...then turns his gaze back to Anne. "Is there anything...? I'm sorry...I suppose you couldn't tell me if you needed anything. Believe me, we never expected this from her." He frowns at the mug. "Perhaps we should have. I don't know."

    Anne frowns slightly at him and manages to shake her head slightly, though as if she expects it to fall off.

    "If only you could tell us...clearly she spoke to you, explained something. I suppose we'll have to wait until you can talk again."

    Her brow crinkles into the demon's form. Giles winces. There's no one that this looks right on, but it's worse for some people than others. The kind, and the delicate-featured...Anne is both. Dawn...Tara...Jenny. Fortunate that he's never had to see that look on any of their faces. And he's becoming distracted. "I apologize...are you thirsty again?" He offers her the mug.

    Instead of taking it, she changes back. He studies the look, setting the mug aside. Anne changes again, back to her demon face. And again.

    Demon. Human.

    Dark. Light.

    Evil. Good.

    It means something, the changing. She's trying to communicate with him. If only he weren't so tired...he sees the duality, but her purpose eludes him. He's drifting...right and wrong...

    Buffy in the graveyard. Ford is dead. Nothing's ever simple anymore. I'm constantly trying to work it out. Who to love or hate....Does it ever get easy?

    She irons her jeans. She's evil. She has to be destroyed.
    Buffy, her soul half drained away, right about Kathy's nature, but only by chance. Making judgments on the slimmest of evidence. Harsh, even vicious...hating a girl who, despite the harm she'd done, had only wanted a better life.

    Soulless.

    Dear God.
    ********
    Normally Faith wouldn't pay the least attention to Willow babbling about prophecies, but....

    "...See, it turned out there was a prophecy about how Kakistos was supposed to die, and it happened more or less the way the prophecy said, but it wasn't scheduled till 2050 or so, and there was only supposed to be one Slayer involved. Since Buffy died the first time, the prophecies started getting scrambled, and the Scythe spell made it worse. Things that are supposed to last decades all happen at once, and other prophecies are getting skipped. Anyway, we think the Slayer prophecies must have all been written with one Slayer in mind, and somehow that not being true any more is sort of garbling them."

    "That could...complicate matters, if we can't gain accurate information from the prophecy compilations." Faith doesn't trust this new vampire. Not yet. A soul doesn't mean that much. Besides, the Indian broad is old-school Watcher material. Not that she quite expects a retrieval team to kick the door down, not following a vampire, but still.

    "You know, truthfully, I think I like it better this way." Willow scowls thoughtfully. "I mean, not knowing isn't exactly a picnic, but the last prophecy we could rely on for sure got Buffy killed. Destiny? Kinda overrated, if you ask me." Faith smirks. She doesn't agree with Red often, but this she can go for. In spades.

    The office door swings open, drawing stares from all 'round the room. Anne can't be up and moving yet, no way. Giles staggers out instead, looking like death left under a heat lamp a few minutes. Damn. Bad news coming.

    It's Dawn who manages to speak up first, never mind the nervous stammers. "G-Giles? She's not--? She didn't die...did she?"

    Giles seems to pull himself together all of a sudden, even if his face is still greyish. His voice is calm...dismissive. "Does it matter? She is a monster."

    Half the room speaks at once...but they're all saying the same thing, Faith included. "What?!?"

    Kennedy follows up, adding, "Giles, Anne's on our side. She helps out. A lot. What's the deal?"

    Faith knows by now that Giles cleans his glasses when there's something he doesn't want to face. Everything else about him, though.... "She looks like...just another animal to me." Serious casual.

    "Giles!!" Willow's voice, squeaky with shock and anger.

    Before the room can burst into shouts, Giles suddenly deflates again. "Wait. Please...hear me out." Eying the suspicious stares, he goes on. "When Buffy was...was first turned, she told Angel her intentions: to defy her new nature and remain good. And ever since then, we have been waiting for her to fail. Because, of course, she lacks a soul. She must fail. Wouldn't you say?" He glances at Angel, waits for the inevitable nod. "Yet it has been nearly two years, and Buffy has fed only on the willing, or on vampires. She has killed only demons, so far as we know. There have been indications that she, she enjoys it rather too much...but that has been all."

    Giles turns, facing them all one by one. "Because we have been waiting for the wrong thing. We've been waiting for Buffy to begin acting like Faith." His gaze focuses in on her. "Faith, I fear we have done you an injustice. We have allowed you to become our image, our archetype, of the bad Slayer. The rogue."

    "Hang on, G. I've done some pretty awful things." What's he getting at? "You were right. Everything you blamed me for, I deserved it."

    "I cannot deny that, Faith. And yet," he sighs, "it was not you who tortured Angel nearly to death on your first encounter with him. Or who leapt to the conclusion that Buffy was evil merely because she was with him.

    "It was Kendra."

    The room goes nuts. "What?!" Faith shouts over the racket. "How come nobody ever told me about this?"

    "Tortured him?" Dawn squeals, barely audible. She must never've heard about it either.

    Giles waits, obviously struggling not to sink into a chair. Finally, a lull. "Faith...none of us wished to speak ill of the dead. Kendra had...improved, over the brief time we knew her. And yes, Dawn. It was casual, to be sure, almost careless. Not in every respect like Buffy's behavior, I admit." He glances at Sadha, Harmony, the others who haven't heard. "She locked him in a small room with an east window, as the sun was rising. It would have filled with indirect sunlight, not immediately harmful, but growing steadily brighter over the course of hours." Faith stares in Angel's direction, startled. He doesn't look like he wants to remember any of this. "Until finally the sun would have fallen on him directly, had he not been taken away. The effect over that long a period.... Imagine a human held at...perhaps a hundred degrees, Fahrenheit. Without water, or shade of any kind. The result would be similar."

    "Damn." Miss Perfect Slayer...the Watcher's pet... "She cooked him." By now Faith ought to know better than to be shocked by anything. It doesn't help. And everyone's looking at her now. "But she didn't know he had a soul, right?"

    Giles shrugs slightly. "No. But nor did it concern her. He was a demon, a vampire. To her, that was all that mattered."

    Willow jumps in. "Buffy told me later that she...Buffy, I mean...was freaking out because Drusilla was going to kill Angel. And Kendra was all, 'He's a vampire. Who cares?' If the plan hadn't been to cure Drusilla, I don't think Kendra would have done a thing...just waited for him to die so there'd be one less to fight."

    "And that," the Watcher states, "that is what we are facing. Is it any wonder that we have repeatedly failed to predict Buffy's behavior? In a manner of speaking, she has done exactly what she intended. Buffy remembers her previous moral code, and for her own reasons is determined to follow it. But she does not feel it, and she has no one to guide her. And therefore there is no nuance...no forgiveness...and no mercy."

    Harmony blurts out, "I don't get it. Is she good, or is she evil?"

    "Yes." It's the first word Sadha's said since Giles came back. She sounds way too amused to suit Faith.

    "What do we do?" Dawn's voice is trembling. "You said Kendra got better. Can Buffy? Can we help her at all?"

    Angel, resigned. "Kendra was human. It was just her training. Once we got between her and her Watcher, once she started making friends... It's not the same with Buffy. Not the same thing at all."

    Giles finally lets himself slide into a chair. "We'll know more when Anne can communicate more easily. Until then...there is little we can do. Almost certainly we must still ensoul Buffy. It's her best hope, in any case." He looks like he's drifting off again. No wonder, with the little he sleeps.

    Willow sounds embarrassed. "How'd we miss it? I mean, Kendra...she..."

    "She did what the Council told her," Giles interrupts sleepily. "And by the time we re-evaluated the Council, she was long dead. We had no reason to alter our opinion of her by then. Certainly I hate to besmirch her memory, Willow. Her intentions were good. She did the best she knew. Like all of us."

    The redheaded witch puts a hand on his arm. "We helped her all we could in the time we had. And now we're going to help Buffy too. You'll see. I'll find a way."

    Faith watches Giles fade. "Y'know, G...I keep warning you. Anne coulda told that to any of us. Guess I'm gonna hafta follow through on that threat." Before he can begin to protest, she scoops him off the couch. "Off to bed, G. Won't be doin' this again, will I? Cause, Slayer strength or no Slayer strength, you're still kinda heavy."

    It's a lie, of course--he's awkward to carry this way, but not heavy at all. She takes her time, looks around the room. "Chew on this, guys. You brought me back. And we've got four vampires with souls here in this hotel where there used to be one, and who the hell knows how many out there in the world. Anyone here so much as thinks of givin' up on Buffy without havin' her fangs in your neck, an' I'll do a lot worse than embarrass you in front of the gang. You see how I keep my promises."

    And she lugs the head of the Watchers' Council off to bed.
    ********
    Will she be able to love him back?

    Of course, it's too late to worry about that now. It won't leave his mind, though. He stopped loving her. Maybe she'll stop loving him.

    But he's been over this. It doesn't matter. There was no way he could leave her there to rot any longer, not now that he does love her again. He's going to have to let her go free and hope she stays with him, or comes back. He'll do the best he can to keep her from hurting anyone--she wouldn't have wanted that.

    Though she may want it now.

    He's still waiting. He remembers waking. He remembers gasping for a breath he didn't need. Don't they usually do that? But Michelle's chest remains still, lungs empty.

    What does it mean? Should he worry yet? Is she not coming back? He'd been afraid to drink from her, afraid she would die too quickly. Her blood had already been drained; she was on the brink of death, or of life, where the machines had kept her, all those five years. Of course, she hadn't still been drained--they'd have begun rehydrating her the moment they got her in the ambulance. What if that matters after all?

    What if all he's done is killed her?

    He remembers the certainty he'd had, waking. Now nothing is certain any more. Nothing is clear. Maybe it was better the other way, with the world knife-blade sharp and himself ready to cut. Not that there's any going back, now. And he'd been without her. That was badness enough, though he hadn't realized it at the time.

    So he watches. Not a sound from her. Not a twitch.

    And then golden eyes...watching him back.
    DeadWar: Burden of Proof
    Out Now.
    Avatar by Barb
    Feedback is always welcome here.
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