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DeadWar: Out of Mind

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  • DeadWar: Out of Mind

    Rating: PG

    Setting: Roughly 2 years post-"Chosen"; part of the DeadWar series

    Characters: Ensemble

    Disclaimer: This fiction is based on Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. Original characters are mine; all others belong to Joss.

    Beta Status: Currently searching; my regular beta is swamped due to finals.

    This was the end of Meg. There was to be no more anything. Ever. Exit Meg. Ex-Meg. X-Meg.
    Then she realized that if she could think this, if she could think at all, then it was not happening.
    --A Wind in the Door, Madeleine L'Engle

    Black.

    She rises through the black. The black is nothing, yet somehow also something. Before this, there had been no black either.

    Images flicker through and around her. Flight. Pain. Fear. She recognizes them as past, though she does not remember living them until they have gone by. Dreams? Memories? Memories of dreams?

    Knowing that they are past, though, she feels a kind of peace. Quiet. Stillness. As though the clamor of her body's gurgles and creaks has passed away. She's dead, then. This must be heaven. Funny, that. She hadn't been expecting an afterlife. Michelle opens her eyes.

    Seeing Gabriel staring down at her is no surprise. Of course if she's in heaven, he must be there too. They had...they had been attacked. She recalls that much. By something terrible enough that it refuses recall.

    "Michelle." She smiles. The muscles of her face should feel stiff--she hasn't used them in a while, and how does she know that?--but they don't. "Michelle, do you remember me?" Of course she remembers him! She rises lightly from whatever cushion it is she's on and wraps her arms around him.

    "Why wouldn't I remember you?" She brushes her lips gently against his. There's an odd dryness to the sensation--her own lips are dry, she realizes after a moment, and licks them, unconcerned with the appearance of the gesture. "I love you." Appearances don't matter, not in heaven. There's not much illumination here. Still, it seems bright to her after the blackness. There are tears in his eyes. Why? She brushes them away, and only then notices her arm.

    Her skin is translucent-pale, spiderwebbed with tiny veins. There is flesh there, of a sort, but all of it seems flabby and limp. She tests with her hands and is shocked to feel only thin, corded rags of muscle present. Her legs, the same. What is this? Shock leads her to breathe deep, and only then does she realize that she hasn't been breathing till now. "I..." she gasps. "What...?" Perhaps the dead don't need to breathe, but she should be kitten-weak with muscles like these. She doesn't feel weak at all. What's happened to her? Where is she? This is no heaven. Her hands run over her body, up her neck, and Gabriel plucks them away before they can reach her face.

    "Shh," he tells her. "Try to be calm. Let me explain. Here, take this." He offers her a mug of something warm. Hot chocolate...it must be hot chocolate. He knows that's always soothed her nerves when she was anxious. "Do you remember what happened to us?"

    She takes a sip. The flavor is wrong...yet strangely right as well. Michelle throws back her head and gulps it down. "We were...we were mugged. No...that's not right. We were attacked, but it wasn't muggers." What had they done instead? "Took us somewhere, and they...bit us. They...vampires?" Crazy thought, but then, she'd thought she was in heaven, too.

    Gabriel surprises her with a nod. "But you lived through it. The place they were staying had neighbors, and they thought someone there was dealing drugs. The police found you there, barely alive." You? Not we? "This is going to be hard. You've been in a coma for...for five years."

    "And now I'm what?" Coma. That must have been what she had thought was death. Of course. There was no afterlife, no gods or devils. She'd been willing to accept the evidence of her senses, of course, but obviously she was alive. It'd just been surprise talking when she thought otherwise. "Why am I not in the hospital?" This looked like an apartment in an abandoned building, now that she was paying attention to her surroundings, like the ratty couch beneath her. She couldn't have survived five years in a coma here. "Wait. Why am I not breathing?" Something still wasn't adding up.

    Gabriel winces. "You're not breathing because you're dead." She frowns, and he takes her hand, guiding it gingerly toward her forehead. "Feel this." Some kind of brow ridges. They hadn't been there before, she was sure of that. "We were attacked by vampires, Michelle. And now we're vampires too."

    "After five years?" Gabriel was teasing her. He believed in something higher, or claimed to--he wasn't sure what--and he'd liked to tease her from time to time, talking about unicorns or leprechauns. "It takes five years in a coma to become a vampire?"

    His eyes fill with pain. "No. It's a long story, hon. But you need to believe me, okay? It's not a joke this time." He clasps her hands tightly, surprisingly strong. "Look at me." His face..shifts, sprouting ridges and fangs. "Look. Don't be afraid."

    She should be. She isn't. That's what convinces her at last...the absence of fear.
    ********
    The demons sink to their knees before Illyria, and she smiles.

    "We offer you but the faintest shadow of the honor you deserve, Great One." True enough--they should be prostrate--but this will do for now. "Old One, take our unworthy hearts if you so choose, but our service is yours as well."

    "Why?" These are the first to approach her. Her memory has been dust longer than her armies, save among a few uselessly weak hangers-on. "Why do you come to me now?"

    The leader seems puzzled. "The Slayer-who-was-Turned. She must be destroyed. She brings fear and devastation, turning the weak away from purity and sparing the impure from death. But you, Old One, are pure and unafraid. We know that you oppose her." He raises his arms to her, and she scowls and backs a step away. Facing the floor, he does not see. "You are the essence of everything the Scourge has fought for, oh great Illyria. Our lives are yours."

    She seizes him by the throat, lifting him until she can see his eyes. "Do not insult me with flattery, wretch. Pure? I reek of humanity. This world, this vessel, have tainted me beyond repair." He tries to stammer something and she tightens her grip. "As for you...you were the slime beneath my feet. Your 'purity' is less than nothing. You wear their forms. You mime their history. And you dare call yourselves pure, when even I am not?" With a flick of her wrist, she hurls him against the wall. "At my slightest glance the seas trembled and the mountains bowed. I have no need of such as you. Serve me for what I am now, or not at all."

    The rest of them sink lower, falling to hands and knees. It should be better. But now she sees the action for the mockery it is. They understand nothing. They offer her nothing. They are nothing. "We meant no offense, Great One," responds the next-in-command. "We grovel before you, Master of Time." Fool.

    "My time is done," she informs him. "As is yours. We have been conquered. All that remains for us is to choose whether it shames us less to die, or to walk in a world the humans have made their own."

    He raises his eyes to stare at her, bewildered. "You? The god-king Illyria abandons her own kind? For humanity?"

    "Can it be?" she mocks him. Her own kind indeed. "Can it be you have not heard that Illyria is dead?"

    With a snarl he lunges at her, calling on his troops to attack. She spins, kicking him in the face, and he hurtles backward into his followers. The curs in their mock-human uniforms begin to howl for her blood. Illyria smiles. Violence is what she needs.
    ********
    She needs the violence. In battle, Buffy can feel alive. Can pretend. That she makes a difference. That she matters. That she is.

    "Grr. Hulk smash." The green-skinned demon brings its fists down where her head was a split-second ago, battering uselessly against the crypt's wall. Buffy is already behind him. "Hulk too slow. Hulk too stupid." Her hands slam into his back and drive forward, crushing him into the wall. The creature buckles, stunned for the moment, and she spins to face the others.

    The other two rush her, swinging the swords they have not lost. "The darkness will swallow you, devastator. How dare you betray it? Your kind is bound to it with ties that cannot be broken." She leaps up and falls backward all at once, spinning; one blade passes above her, the other beneath.

    Buffy smirks. "It already has. Must've choked on me." Their weapons are only half-withdrawn when she chops her hands into their wrists. The demons grimace in pain, but keep their grips on the swords. Tough bastards. She brings her foot up and back into the groin of the one she can feel behind her. "C'mon, I'm dead here, and you still can't put me down. Think maybe it's time to quit?" Buffy leaps, coming down behind them, and smashes their foreheads together, hearing bone and crystal shatter. That should finish those two.

    "We do not surrender," the third tells her. "We are endless. Kill the three of us and you will face thirty. Kill thirty, and face three hundred." Blood trickles down its broken face.

    "Funny," she deadpans. "Where have I heard that before? Try sending enough troops the first time, you cheap samurai knockoff, and can the tough-guy talk." The demon lifts its head, scowling, and spits green blood at her, just missing the cut on her left arm as she twitches it aside. "Poison blood?" Buffy smirks. "Hello, vampire here? I could walk through a vat of toxic waste and come out fine. Try another one."

    She uses her right arm to lift it, though. Can't be too careful, and it looks like the bones in its face are setting themselves already. "You know nothing, undead," it spouts. Lame-ass demon bravado. "Kill all of us you desire. We cannot be stopped."

    "If I know nothing," Buffy tells him sweetly, "then killing you would be a such a waste, wouldn't it?" She takes a loose plastic bag and stuffs it in the demon's mouth. "No nasty habits while you're my guest. I'm gonna learn aaall about you once I get back from this little appointment I've got. And if you're nice, and cooperative, and scream on key while I'm breaking your bones..." She snaps one of its fingers casually. "...I just might smash that gaudy piece of junk on your forehead when I'm done and let you die."

    It doesn't answer. Stoic is good. In the end, the stoic ones always break.
    ********
    "We're not breaking up, Xander. We were never actually together." Deanna replaces a strand of hair that's gotten loose. "I'm just saying, we've been talking barely two hours and your mind is just not on this conversation." Her spoon clatters into the bowl. "So either your favorite aunt is in the hospital, in which case, why are you here, or you're just not that into me. Which is it?"

    "Look, Deanna," he struggles, "I just...there are a lot of things going on in my life right now. And I don't know that I can talk about them with you yet, okay? So I'm having to think a little harder about what to say, that's all."

    "What are you, Spider-Man?" If she only knew... "I don't expect you to tell me all the intimate details yet. It's a first date. I asked you how you lost your eye, and you clammed up. I asked you about your home town, and you clammed up. I even asked you what you do for a living, and you..."

    "Clammed up, I know." He thought he had his story all planned out, but the details keep slipping away when he needs them. Besides, if things were ever to work out, and then the girl finds out he's been lying, what then? "I guess...my life has kinda sucked, see? I don't like talking about my past, what with the abusive parents and the problem girlfriends and the natural disaster. I'm from Sunnydale. You know, the big sinkhole event?"

    For a moment it looks as if she might show a little sympathy. Then her face hardens. "Truthfully, I'm thinking the sinkhole event is this date. I'm sorry, Xander. You're a nice guy, you're handsome, and actually the eyepatch sort of suits you. But either we really don't have anything in common, or you don't want to tell me about it, and I don't see how I'll ever get to know you that way." She slips a couple of bills under her plate. "Just take me home, okay?"

    They drive to her home in silence. Then he drives through the city alone, in silence. All he wants is a normal relationship with a normal girl, in as normal a life as possible. In the last two years, he's been through ten normal girls. This isn't even the first one to dump him on their first date. His life just isn't normal, anyway, so what's he supposed to talk to them about? High school before Buffy showed up? Yeah...that's a real winning subject.

    Xander pulls over, thinking, beneath the shade of tall oak trees. He's come to a cemetery. They have them everywhere...not just in Sunnydale. But Sunnydale is different. His life had been different before he ever met Buffy; he just didn't pay attention to it. A Hellmouth was like an all-you-can-eat buffet table, and he'd been on the menu. They all had been. He was just lucky the tongs hadn't closed around him and dumped him onto someone's plate. Maybe he just isn't meant for...

    When did it get so dark?

    Xander checks his watch. He's been sitting here spinning his mental gears for an absurdly long time. Must have totally zoned out, he supposes. He promised to be back at the Hyperion. Vampire or not, Anne has information, and it doesn't pay to ignore that. Just has to be taken with a grain of salt. It's a shame she's not herself any more. If she were human, they might actually have something in common. But a normal girl is what he needs.

    Sometimes he dreams of Buffy, the real Buffy, when she was an actual girl--well, more human than not, he reminds himself; she was a Slayer, after all. They talk about what's going on in his life. He tells her his problems and his plans, supernatural and otherwise. She encourages him, too; she knows about the vampire, knows it isn't really her. One day, she tells him, he'll find a way to kill it. They're just dreams, of course. But he can believe in them while they're happening.

    Checking his mirrors, he pulls out of the parking space. It must be windier than it feels; the tree branches reflected there are shaking slightly. Maybe he should just put Sunnydale behind him, forget all this stupid vampire-hunting crap. Xander drives away from the cemetery and never looks back.
    ********
    "You sure you can carry this off, girlie?" She doesn't look like much. Humans always look that way, though...even the big ones seem small.

    "I guarantee it. If you've brought what I asked for, they'll be crying for their mommies and your gang will be on top of the world." Cocky. Hampton supposes he likes that in a witch. The more powerful they are, the more they usually brag about it. They're just humans, after all--no horns or fangs or even lumpies to make them look ugly and tough--and if they waste too much power just showing off, they've lost their shot at beating you up.

    "'Course I brought it. You just better not be askin' for anything you don't need, 'cause I paid through the nose fer some of it."

    "You want quality curses, you pay the price." Her voice oozes confidence, but her hands are shaking and fidgety. Until she touches the packet of herbs and crystals...that seems to relax her. Typical. "You want cut rates, go to some cheap-ass wannabe. Amy Madison's not your girl."

    Hampton just smiles, showing fang. "I trust you not to cheat me. Otherwise, I'd have you for a snack and find someone else."

    The witch has guts. She smiles back at him. "Ritual space is all set up in back, except for the stuff you brought. C'mon in." She opens the curtain and starts back herself, then turns. "Oh, and don't get all planny. I know how to lock the door behind you when you leave."

    "You got me, girl." The back of the shop is her personal space, it seems--her home. It's a fine line to draw, but it seems to have worked for her so far. "S'long as you follow through, I got no need for your blood. I'll be havin' plenty."

    She places the last of the candles where they belong and hands him a bundle of the herbs and a sheet of paper. "Believe it or not, your kind's good at this sort of magic. Boundary between life and death stuff. Just read what it says when I stop, 'kay?"

    He shrugs at the witch and follows her lead. "Quod perditum est in...invenietur." Amy frowns at him, but he's doing his best. Foreign languages never look like they're spelled right.

    She raises her hands over the Orb. "Nisi mort. Nisi al finitei." Diego'll never know what hit him.
    ********
    Illyria's waiting for him when he walks in the door. "You're late," she says. "And your shoes are muddy."

    Xander glances down at them. He doesn't remember walking through any mud, but he must have. "How can I be late?" he asks her. "I said I'd be back when Anne could talk."

    "You have no faith in the abilities of your own kind. In any case, they are not waiting for you. I heard your approach and came out to meet you."

    Xander shakes his head, annoyed. "Why?"

    Clearly she hears the irritation in his tones. She hears and understands more emotion than she lets on. "I had hoped.... You have a movie. Apocalypse Now. But it is not about the apocalypse. I would like you to explain it to me. I must understand your culture if I am to be part of it."

    "You're not part of it. You'll never be part of it." Just another demon, that's all she is. A monster out of some hell, come to eat the world. He ought to tell her that. She'd break his head open for saying it, but it would be the truth. "And I don't want you watching my movies without permission, which you won't get."

    He tries to brush past her into the meeting room, but she seizes his arm. Nine years of hard training almost makes him resist, but again, she could rip that arm right off, and what good would that do? "You hate me for not being part of your world. Why will you not let me try to be part of it?"

    "Because all you can do is imitate, Illyria. You're not human. You don't have feelings, or morals, or any of the things that matter. It's way past time you were dead, or at least out of our way. So get out of mine."

    She sighs. It almost sounds real. "Perhaps you are right." After a moment, she adds, "What is longing? What is a star?" Xander frowns at her, but they aren't real questions; they sound as though she's trying them on for effect. None of her expressions ever look quite human, but he wonders how a simple blink can seem so alien, even on a face like hers. "Never mind. I have been thinking too much. They are waiting."

    The meeting room--it must have been a ballroom, or a dining room, once upon a time--is crammed full of Slayers and vampires and Watcher-trainees and, of course, what's left of the Scoobies, all seated around a huge table. Before he can reach the chair next to Willow, Illyria is already in it, leaving him squeezed between her and Harmony. Harm flinches; Willow glares at him. Frustrated, he huddles in as best he can. He wants nothing to do with either of them, but it really is his own fault he's late, and he's just going to have to deal with the consequences.

    Giles clears his throat. "If we can return to the business at hand? Anne was speaking."

    In spite of himself, Xander feels just a little guilty. She's in a wheelchair, with some kind of box strapped over her mouth. The vampire looks sheepishly at Giles and gives Xander an apologetic wave with a trembling hand. "I'm not a psychiatrist," she says, or rather moves her lips and the box says for her in a robotic voice. Xander spots Andrew sitting near her; the blond Watcher nods to him. Of course it would be one of his toys. "But I've seen a lot on the streets and in the shelter. We can argue about the source of Buffy's problems all day, whether it's being a vampire and a Slayer at the same time, or trying to live in a way that's not natural for a vampire, or just the fact that she's totally alone. Whatever it is...I think any of us would be dead, in her place. But she's not well."

    Spike was in a wheelchair too, Xander reminds himself. It didn't make him safer to be around. "Buffy talked," Anne says. "She talked the whole time she was cutting me up. She even let me talk back to her for a little while, until I said too many things she didn't want to hear. I don't think she's had a real conversation with anyone since she was turned. Even a vampire needs more of a social life than that. She doesn't sleep, either. Her body doesn't seem to need it, but I think her mind does. I'm not sure she can, not for long."

    Anne raises her left arm and points to a spot on its underside, near her shoulder. "It gets worse. She burns herself. She had a scar here, where I think she must have kept it up too long. Some people use cigarettes; Buffy uses crosses. I don't think it makes a difference, except that she can. There are different reasons, but I'm almost certain it's about feeling like she's not herself any more. There's a term, depersonalization...the point is, she feels disconnected from the world, from herself, from everything. And she is, in more ways than one.

    "But when I tried to give her some kind of hope for the future, she cut me off. She didn't want to hear it. I know it can't be guilt, but I'm not sure what it is. I want to believe it was because, on some level, she was afraid I was right. She's done so much..." She hangs her head tiredly. "And she didn't even mean to. And it's all about to go down the tubes. If we don't stop her, word will get out that Buffy doesn't care if you have a soul. If we do, she stops being the kind of threat she had to be to make a difference. Either way...the unsouled will turn on us, and on her. They've only put up with us as long as they have because they know they can't afford not to. It might have been them tomorrow. Now it won't be. They don't have any options left except to fight, no matter how hopeless it looks. And everyone else is going to be caught in the middle. So if anyone sees a way out of this mess...speak up."

    No one does. It's quiet enough to hear crickets chirp, if there were any. Beside Xander, Harmony shivers; Illyria looks stoic as always.

    "I think our first step has to be Buffy," Giles finally suggests. "After that...we can find a way to deal with the rest, once we have her on our side again."

    "I can't get close to her," Willow mentions. "I can't get her soul through the mental shield she has up unless I'm within maybe a few yards of her, and she knows better than to let me close in."

    "We need a lure." Dawn tosses the idea in as if trying to be casual, but she's leaning up close to Connor. Bad as it is for Xander, all that's happened, he knows it's a zillion times worse for her. "What does she want?"

    "She's a vampire. What do you think she wants?" Sadha's cool tones leave Xander wanting to high-five her. Except she's the enemy too, and damn it all, she shouldn't be in here. "She wants to kill."

    "No one here's expendable," Willow hurries to point out. "We can't go using people as bait."

    Suddenly there's a noise from Xander's left. He turns to stare at Harmony, who looks downright green. "Yes we can," she says in a tiny voice. "We can use me."
    Last edited by Mabus; 10-06-07, 03:25 AM.
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