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DeadWar: Glimmers of Dark

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  • DeadWar: Glimmers of Dark

    Disclaimer: All Buffy/Angel characters are property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I don't look like Joss Whedon, do I?

    Rating: PG

    Characters: Ensemble

    Beta: The inestimable KingofCretins

    What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?
    --Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus

    Xander just wants a midnight snack. He hasn't planned anything beyond heading down to the community refrigerators and making off with a candy bar or two.

    He certainly isn't expecting to run into Illyria carrying an open bag of popcorn and three DVDs.

    "I told you not to--" he starts before seeing the titles. They're not his. Oh God. Bruce Almighty. Dogma. "I...um, sorry." It's not right to apologize to her. She...it doesn't deserve his apologies.

    "I have completed my scheduled patrol. I encountered one vampire and shattered its skull. The experience was empty," she tells him. "There was no challenge, and I saved no one from death or injury. A human schedule does not adequately fill my time, though I have experimented with trying to sleep. Therefore, these rentals." A cursory shrug, creaking the leathery carapace around her shoulders. "Perhaps they will aid me in understanding my role in your culture."

    "Good luck with that," he says absently. "Enjoy."

    "I intend to." She doesn't move aside to let him pass. He's not inclined to offer her--it, he means--it the courtesy, either. "Does your continued presence imply that you wish to watch them also? You may, if you so desire. Your reactions may...assist my comprehension. In some small respect, that is."

    "No, I..." His stomach betrays him with a rumble. He can't remember eating supper last night, though he must have, sometime or other.

    She holds out the bag of popcorn in one slender hand. "For me, eating is one of your cultural rituals. Your inferior biological system, on the other hand, requires nourishment." Cultural rituals... Illyria frowns at him. "You should accept my offer."

    Xander sighs and takes the bag. "If you insist." It infected Fred Burkle like a disease. Maybe he should throw the popcorn out. Not so different from what happened to Cordy, in a way. Infected by demon.

    She frowns again. "What is it that you...have no right to?"

    The question freezes him in his tracks. He's practically naked in front of her. Not because of the shorts and t-shirt he's wearing, but in his mind. She can see how much he hates.... Xander tries to turn around and go back to his room with the popcorn, but she grips his shoulder, pinning him there.

    "What have you done that you feel guilt--?" The doors crash open. Illyria spins, then sets her jaw, affronted to have been startled like this. He looks over the balcony to see Dawn scurry in, Willow trying to blend into the wall in her wake, and after that... Saved by the bell.

    But no Buffy. Why is he not surprised?

    Illyria releases him and descends the stairs; he follows in her wake. Willow takes one look, then splits a brief glare between the two of them. She just doesn't get it.

    Faith and Rona are missing, and Sadha has Harmony pinned by her left wrist. And Angel...Angel's eyes open wide, he sticks his hand in the bag of popcorn, and stuffs a handful into his mouth. "'S good," he mumbles. What the hell?

    "He's alive," Willow says with the hint of a smile, instead of the big grin Xander would expect from that sort of announcement. Then again, it is a little late for it. "Angel's human."

    "Dn gt," Angel says, then swallows and starts again. "Don't get used to it," he sighs. Sadha directs a pitying look at the back of his head. "It's just Mohra blood. I'll...I'll have to have it undone again. But I may as well enjoy it while I can." He takes another handful of popcorn.

    "That belongs to Xander," Illyria says imperiously, but Xander shakes his head; Angel can have it, if he wants.

    "Mohra blood?" he asks. "I must've missed something."

    "You were...ah, well, you were out on your own when Angel explained to us," says Giles. "You haven't seemed interested in hearing the details about the regenerative properties of the Mohra. Angel was human once before, but he had that day removed from the timeline rather than put Buffy at risk." The Watcher levels his gaze at Angel. "What I'm curious about is how Buffy knew. I can easily believe she remembers how to kill a Mohra--she rarely forgets such things--but you said the entire episode transpired without anyone except you seeing the blood so much as heal a bruise."

    Willow clears her throat. "We know there are several groups of demons trying to kill Buffy already. It'd make sense if the Mohra are too, Giles. You called them warriors of evil. Even though she's evil...sort of...she's still killing their side. Maybe she's had to fight some."

    "That's a possibility," Giles admits, "but how does she know what their blood would do to a vampire?"

    "With a soul," Sadha reminds them with an oddly significant glance at Harmony. "I doubt it can summon souls from the ether all by itself."

    "Doesn't matter," Angel says. "None of this matters, because it's all got to be undone anyway. I'll..."

    "Go where?" Giles asks skeptically. "You told me the Oracles are deceased and, apparently, have never been replaced. Surely you don't intend to return to the Conduit? Even if your request could be carried out from there, it doesn't sound as if you were treated well. Would the Powers even consider it?"

    "I have to try. I can't fight Buffy this way. We'll undo the whole fight, and this time I'll know what's going to happen. I'll still be a vampire, we'll catch Buffy, and Harmony won't lose her soul." Xander chokes slightly and recoils from her. Never mind that Sadha's hanging on to her; she might let go at any minute.

    "Of course she will," says Sadha, frowning at her captive. "Just not tonight. And I expect that you'll let me know about her problem, if you mean to be the only one who recalls what happened."

    "Just in case," Willow puts in, "I'm gonna go get an Orb from the supplies. You still don't know how you're going to do this, Angel, and if it doesn't work I'll need to re-ensoul her as soon as I recover enough." She drags Kennedy off down a hallway. Funny how she always seems to take the lead that way lately, Xander thinks; Kennedy's strong enough to resist if she wanted.

    "Connor, take Harmony, if you would," says Sadha, all but shoving the vampire into his hands. Xander tries to pull Dawn away--she's much too close, now--but she shrugs off his hands and moves even closer to Connor. "Rupert, we need to speak in private about her."

    Giles nods reluctantly. "That we do. And about other things besides, Ms. Kaur. My office, then." Frowning, he moves off without looking at her again.

    "You appear to have suffered casualties." Illyria suggests to Dawn as the group disperses. "I told you I should be the one to confront Buffy."

    "Maybe you were right," Dawn tells her, unhappily. "Rona broke a leg. Buffy...she took a big honking bite out of Faith. They're both in the hospital. Faith'll be back in action by tomorrow, I think, but bones take more time to heal, even for Slayers."

    Connor's not holding Harmony very carefully--one hand around her wrist. Xander suspects he doesn't take her seriously, which is bad, but then, he's had to deal with Angelus. After that, Harmony probably seems, well...harmless. "Angel thinks Buffy's getting stronger," Connor mutters irritably. "I couldn't even get a punch in. She looks...did her face seem different to either of you? All I've seen till now is a picture."

    "She's aging," Harmony mumbles softly. "Oh, don't look at me like that. It's her bumpies. They get wrinklier the older you get, and finally your face sticks that way. It's way faster for her than it's supposed to be. In a few years, she'll be all yuck if this keeps up."

    "Must be a Slayer thing," Xander says, shrugging. "Too much power, or something." He edges away from Harmony, then reverses course on realizing he's getting closer to Illyria instead. "So why isn't Harm dust?"

    "Sometimes I can't believe I had a crush on you," Dawn grumps. "C'mon, Connor. We'll have to lock her up, but we shouldn't leave her all by herself. She needs someone to talk to."

    And then he's alone again. With Illyria. Who smiles at him. "You speak plainly, Xander Harris. We find this...refreshing. Few humans show your degree of candor." He sighs, turns, and walks away. The fridge, that's where he was going. He can feel her eyes boring into his back...but she lets him go.
    ********
    "I find it disturbing that the Oracles have not been replaced," says Sadha as the office door closes.

    "Likewise, and the Ra-Tet as well, and several other cosmic positions," Giles acknowledges, "but there is nothing that we can do about that. I want to discuss your behavior tonight."

    She shakes her head. "If you mean my suggestion to destroy Harmony, it was tactically sound."

    "Many things are tactically sound without being appropriate, Ms. Kaur. Moreover, while actually destroying Harmony would have been sound, discussing it was not. If you expected to give orders and have them carried out without question, then I must remind you that that day is past. In truth, I think we Watchers lost the right to do so long ago."

    "The girl is a liability, Rupert, and a threat to everyone in this building." She paces around the desk and, after studying him for a moment, takes the seat behind it.

    "We have plenty of time to re-ensoul her," Giles says impatiently. "She's surrounded by well over a dozen Slayers. And you are in my chair."

    Sadha shrugs and stands again. "Would you say that if it were Angelus?"

    "She's hardly Angelus."

    "What if I were the one, Rupert? I had to lie low for quite a while to keep the Council from knowing about me, but even so, my demonic self was responsible for all manner of murder and suffering." She shifts faces, leaning towards him, speaking softly into his ear. "What if it were you?"

    He's becoming used to her tactics; he doesn't flinch. "It is not me, or you. It is a girl who was extremely fortunate to graduate from high school. And yes, clearly over time she has learned, become somewhat more formidable than she was...although that is not saying a great deal...but if she lived a thousand years, Harmony still would not be a threat on the order of Angelus." He pauses, considering. "Or of either of us."

    Sadha puts a few steps between them again, her face human once more. "So you haven't gone entirely soft on me. Though perhaps you rate me too highly. I didn't succeed in striking Buffy even once."

    Giles shakes his head. "You survived. As far as I'm concerned, you performed more than acceptably in battle. A pity that's not the function of a Watcher." He finally takes his seat. "The unfortunate truth is that I can't afford not to take you on at present. Your skills are more than adequate, your history suggests a strong working relationship with your Slayer, and, sadly, your ethical perspective is no worse than many of the others I've had to accept. Though, after the arguments you made to me..."

    "I referred to those of us with souls, Rupert," she interrupts. "You can't compare us to the creatures without."

    "True enough," Giles sighs. "I've found a pair of Slayers in Houston who would, I think, benefit from your tutelage. However, you won't be going alone. Officially, I'm only assigning one of the girls to you."

    "And the other Watcher will also be watching me."

    "That's right." He hands her a pair of manila folders. "I truly hope you won't make me regret this, Sadha. I'd like to believe that you represent real hope for the future...whatever happens because of Buffy."

    "You needn't worry, Rupert." She grins gamely at him. "I do."

    The office door swings open. "Giles, um...Ms. Kaur," Willow blurts out. "Sorry to interrupt, but we've got a problem."
    ********
    Fifteen minutes later, the three of them have joined Anne and a bleary-eyed Andrew behind the front desk.

    "I was so sure it was Tamara," says Anne. "She knew all about the San Diego coven. Told me they needed extra Orbs as soon as possible for a group of panicky-sounding vampires."

    "The camera doesn't lie," Andrew intones a little weakly. "Tamara was never here. It was a glamor."

    "So she took them all?" Sadha sounds baffled. "What would she use them for?"

    "Unless someone knows a lot more about the liturgy than I do," Willow says, "which is possible but not likely...except maybe if it were a Gypsy, and it isn't...or they've been doing their own research...there's still only one thing an Orb of Thesulah's good for."

    "Restoring souls," Andrew states. "Which means we can't really even say she's doing something bad."

    "Technically the curse is dark magic," Willow murmurs, "and she is stealing them. But I guess you're right. If Amy's going to do curses for hire, better this one than something else."

    "Can we find her?" Anne's tone fairly crackles with frustration, even through the robotic voice of the speaker. "You need at least one for Harmony."

    Giles leans in to peer at the monitor and shakes his head. "Sadly, Amy Madison is very good at not being found." Sadha gazes at him expectantly, but he shows her a decisive frown. "Harmony will have to wait until we can fabricate more Orbs."

    "I don't suppose there's any way to remove this 'perfect happiness' clause?" Sadha suggests doubtfully. "If you insist on ensouling her yet again, you may as well make it stick this time."

    "Tara and I cracked that one the year Buffy died," Willow says, her voice regretful. "There's a basic law of reality, whether you're dealing with science or magic. Andersen's Rule--'There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.' You can change the spell to fix the perfect-happiness clause, but only if you put in a different price that's as bad or worse. I found a method that just kills the caster, and a few others, but nothing better."

    "Then how does the demon do it?" Andrew asks. "I mean, Spike never had any problems."

    "Maybe he never found his loophole," she suggests, "but I figure the demon had some ookier price instead. Or...well, I guess it's possible there's an easier way to do it that I haven't found, but...I just don't know enough." Giles shows her a small, affectionate smile. "I guess I never know enough, do I?"

    "Keep trying," Giles tells her. "Keep learning. Just...do be careful. Right now, I suggest you sleep on it. We all should. I suspect the days ahead of us may be long indeed."
    ********
    "Aiighh!" Dawn's head snaps up at the thud and painful scream. Splashing the last of the water over her face, she dashes back out of Harmony's bathroom. The vampire is lying on the floor with a wooden stake protruding just below her ribs.

    "Harm? What the hell are you doing?" Dawn yanks the stake loose, though it's obviously not going to do any more injury. "I'll have to clean this now and...." Tears are rolling down Harmony's face. Dawn looks around the empty room; Connor has gone off to get the vampire some blood. "Harmony, did you do this?"

    "I fell wrong," Harmony murmurs, pointing to the bed. "I wedged it in and tried, but I missed. Owww!"

    Dawn always used to bandage up Spike when he was hurt. Maybe he didn't need it, but it made her feel like she was helping. She goes back to the bathroom for a bottle of alcohol, taking the stake with her. "Harm, you do know there are easier ways, right?" It didn't take anything fancy; a vampire always had plenty of strength to just drive the stake in. When Spike had tried to fall on a stake, somewhere deep down he'd really wanted to live, but Harmony might be silly enough to think it was necessary. "Why?"

    "I can't be bad," Harmony sniffles. "I can't be good. I'm stupid and useless and I can't get away from you and even if I did I'd probably just run right into Buffy." She tries to push Dawn's hands away. "That stuff stings, and it smells bad. At least if I'm dust nobody can torture me."

    Dawn resists; Harmony can stop her if she tries, of course, but in the end lets her rub the wound with a soaked cloth, wincing with every motion. "Did you know Spike tried this? After he was chipped, I mean. Before he found out he could still fight demons."

    "I'm not Spike. I can't be Spike. I've been trying so hard, trying to be worth something to somebody. I can't. I can't." She starts to rock back and forth, whimpering. "Lorne told me a long time ago I was on my path, and I thought he meant I could be good, but I can't. I can't be anything."

    Dawn reaches out to hold her still. "If Lorne told you you were on your path, Harm, then maybe you're still on it. I mean, a path isn't something that just lasts a month or a year. It's your life, your whole life, and, um...you can't just stop walking on it because things look bad right now, see?" The wound already seems to be closing. It only bled for a second or two, of course, and that just a few drops. "You don't have to be some kind of champion. You don't have to be Spike, or Angel, or Buffy, or anyone but Harmony Kendall. It's okay to be you." It strikes her suddenly that, in a way, she's older than Harmony now. She's gotten older. Harmony never will.

    "It sucks to be me."

    "Harmony...I want you to listen to me, okay? Just listen, because you obviously haven't thought about this." She swallows hard, trying to let go of something she didn't realize she was holding onto. "I thought Buffy had changed the world, you know? But she hasn't. All she's done since becoming a vampire was scare people. None of this is...she didn't do it. She didn't make anyone go out and get souls, Harm. You did. Buffy didn't care. It was all you. You made the difference, Harmony. You changed the world."

    "No, I..." Harmony stares at her. "I can't...I couldn't have...Even if I did, it's all going wrong. So maybe it was me, screwing everything up worse than it was."

    Dawn wipes a tear from Harmony's face. "You're screwing up your makeup, at least. But you know what? It doesn't matter if the big soul movement doesn't last. It happened. You saved lives. This year, this moment, you're making a difference. I'm not going to let you throw that away, you hear me?"

    This time Harmony is serious about pushing her hand away; Dawn's wrist pops as she uses a little too much force. "I'll betray you. I can't not. I did Angel, you know."

    "That's right. You turned him in to Marcus Hamilton." Dawn smiles. "Guess what? That's why he's alive. Think about it. If you hadn't, Hamilton would have been with the big army. Angel wouldn't have had the big scary Wolf, Ram, and Hart power in his blood, and he'd be a pile of dust in that alley, just like Spike. He lived because of you, Harm. He won because of you. With enemies like you, who needs friends?" Dawn reaches out, offering the hug she wishes she could give to her sister. That she wishes could make it all okay. "You don't have to be perfect, Harmony. I give you my permission to be selfish. That's evil, right? Take care of yourself. Do what it takes to stay alive in the middle of twenty Slayers. And swipe my mascara if you want, cause yours is getting awful runny."

    "Don't," says Harmony in a small, tight voice, pushing her away. "Don't hug me. You smell like food, and I'll bite you, and they'll kill me."

    "Do you want to die?"

    "...No."

    "Then be selfish." Harmony is cold. But then, Buffy is too. It doesn't matter. Dawn won't let it matter. She'll find a way. There has to be a way.
    ********
    Buffy pats the creature on the head, ignoring the way the small horns cut her fingers. They'll heal. It whines, shivers all over, and pulls away. She can see by the marks in the floor that it's been fighting, clawing to get loose ever since she left. She could hear it as she opened the door. But the moment it saw her returning, it crawled into the corner to cower. Sweet.

    "You don't brood, do you?" Buffy says, grinning. Seeing her move away, the creature that, earlier tonight, had been a vampire hunting in her territory, whines and licks up the blood that trickled down its face from Buffy's hand. "If you only had a brain..." It's time to pack, she supposes, gather up what little she has and move. Too many people, too many things know where she's staying now. "Looks like you breed, though. Maybe I should give you to Angel for a present. He should appreciate that now. As much as he'll be able to appreciate anything." Buffy picks up a ruined blouse. Too bad it was her size. If she'd known exactly what would happen...

    But it's too dangerous. The demon is still cold to the touch, but its heart beats. Its lungs rasp. It's alive. It might actually, literally breed, and she'd be turning these creatures loose on the world. Hmm... No. Too stupid to be a challenge. "You don't even remember your name, do you, Renae?" The demon whimpers softly. There are claw marks on the lock, maybe tooth marks, too, but no sign that it's tried to reach the key that Buffy left just a little too far away. Angel will be out of his misery, then. Good thing she wore gloves working with this stuff.

    No use taking it with her. "C'mere, you." She grabs the chain, dragging the beast roughly over to her, feels for the heart, drives the stake in. It melts into a puddle that evaporates instead of dusting, but either way the disappearance is complete. Good riddance.

    Time to be gone.
    ********
    "Sir."

    The Watcher looks up at his subordinate. "Here to report, I presume."

    "Yes, sir. As you predicted, Rupert Giles has accepted her. Worse, it appears that he plans to harbor a vampire without a soul, possibly for an extended period of time." That was significant; there had been rare instances in the history of the Council when it was prudent to work with vampires or other demons, but only briefly, and only for immediate gain. Rupert Giles' actions violated both the spirit and letter of Council law. "Do you intend to convene a trial?"

    "What purpose would it serve?" he asks her. "No, I fear that our Rupert has acquired too much power to be deposed by conventional means. A pity he had both Slayers in his pocket when the main body of the Council was destroyed. It appears that we will have to use other methods."

    "Other, sir?"

    "You have an imagination, Janice. Make use of it." No, Rupert Giles could not be permitted to destroy the Council's purpose. He would have to be taken care of.

    "I understand, sir. I will pass your message to the others."

    Roger Wyndham-Price would make certain of it.
    ********
    "...are reporting multiple incidences of increased gang violence, possibly drug-related, in several locations here in Atlanta," says the reporter for the 5 a.m. news. Sadha has taken to television more than many vampires of her age. She prefers to remain connected to the world. "Sources within the police department have suggested a relationship to the firebombing of an illegal bar in an abandoned warehouse two nights ago. Though the bar appears to have been in operation at the time of the attack, the absence of bodies has investigators baffled..."

    She knows this image. She knows this place. Sadha "rewinds", using the DVR, and begins recording, then heads for Anne's room. The other vampire may be the only other person awake so early in the morning, and she appears trustworthy. "Anne," she says through the door, certain she can be heard. "There's something that you should see. That we should all see once the others are awake. I was wrong."

    "It's already begun."
    Last edited by Mabus; 26-11-07, 02:50 AM.
    DeadWar: Burden of Proof
    Out Now.
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