Not a "the hills are alive with the sound of music" happy fic, but a less-final one than Joss offered, that makes me feel better... especially since it can (so far) pretty well co-exist with canon...
[I'm a comment slut, *please* say something... anything? :)))]
That's not the way it happened, you know.
I mean, I understand the way it looked... they put together what pieces they had, but it wasn't quite right. They weren't there. How could they know?
I don't know if the truth is worse or better. If I knew I might have said something to him by now....
It was an apple. One of those solid, clear-glass paperweights they sell at Hallmark or whatever. Jamie had given it to me at the end of second period. "An apple for the teacher." Sorry, kiddo. Spend a bit more time on your programming and then we'll talk better grades.
They saw the empty box from the orb and found shattered pieces all over and made the obvious conclusion. They saw only the obvious in many ways. Which is not to say I blame them, shock being what it is... and Angelus being what he is.
But they were wrong.
I'd been lost in the computer program, busily tweaking the text my cousin, Kisaiya, had finally worked up enough email-savvy to send me. "Text sampling" indeed! On a desktop? All I'd get would be rearranged gibberish. Impressed the shopkeeper that afternoon, though-- hushed him too, I thought smugly. It always amazed me how people could be so disdainful of computers, yet ready to believe they could work any kind of miracle....
"Come on, come on...." I watched as the little gray bar of the translation program slid across the screen for the hundredth time that night. Now if that last equivalency setting had been right, the parts should finally come together and make....
Any sense of accomplishment was nearly outweighed by sheer surprise as I watched the text slide neatly into place. "That's it." A giddy little thrill replaced the shock and I couldn't help grinning. "It's gonna work! This," I quickly saved it to disk and hit 'print', "Will work!"
Popping the disk out and hearing the old dot-matrix printer clatter into life, I knew it would all work out now. I slid my chair over to watch the printout. All Buffy and Rupert and the others had to do was corner him, capture him somewhere, and I could bring Angel back. I could mend the wrong I'd done and everything would finally be all right aga....
His pose was so relaxed, his smile so casual, that it took a second for my mind to recognize the disaster sitting calmly across the room. Then with a gasp I was on my feet, asking the most pointless question, as though I'd had even given it a thought before....
"Angel. How did you get in here?"
He didn't get up, just gave a little shrug. "I was invited."
He must have seen my confusion... or maybe he just wanted to rub it in. "The sign in front of the school? 'Formatia trans sicere educatorum.'"
"Enter all ye who seek knowledge," I translated automatically. Mrs. DePetra would have been proud....
The demon who wore the face of a friend like some sort of grotesque mask gave a laugh and rose to his feet. "What can I say? I'm a knowledge seeker."
*Oh Goddess*! I was alone, after dark, in a place as public and open as the abandoned high school? What could I have _possibly_ been thinking? It was one thing to get caught up in your work, it was another to....
Incongruously, I suddenly remembered telling Rupert only that I was working on a "special project." Then I remembered Fritz, of all people, once giving me the same line-- "Will I like it?"-- "You'll *die*."
No! I couldn't die now. Not when I was so close. Not when there was a chance Rupert might forgive me, might even lo... share my feelings, even just a little. When I was _so_ close to making everything right again....
I had to stall for time. "Angel," I offered in as bright a voice as I could manage, reaching for the Orb and holding it up like an offering, "I've got good news." I realized how inane it sounded the minute the words were out of my mouth, but then I was watching him come closer, stalking leisurely towards his prey....
"I've heard. You went shopping at the local boogedy-boogedy store." He nodded towards the stone, which had begun to glow ever-so-softly in my hand. "The Orb of Thessela." His face became a caricature of scholarly thoughtfulness. "If memory serves, it's supposed to summon a person's soul from the ether and store it until it can be transferred."
With a sudden move that made me jump, he grabbed Jamie's glass apple from the desk. "Now don't drop it," he chided me with that damned smile, mimicking my pose with the Orb. Desperately my mind was still hunting for his meaning when, without warning, he pulled back his arm and threw the apple. It hit the wall barely a foot from my head and shattered, and I almost did drop the Orb out of sheer shock. Damn! I couldn't let him get to me. But how could he not?
"They're damned fragile, you know," he continued conversationally, gesturing at his little demonstration. "It must be that shoddy gypsy craftsmanship."
If he were trying to provoke a response from that jibe, he'd have to try a lot harder. What he did manage to do, however, was to remind me exactly where we stood-- vampire and gypsy, demon and Rrom, Angelus and the Kalderash. We had a lot of history behind the both of us, and none of it good.
I think it was then that I truly realized in my gut that I wasn't getting out of there alive.
That didn't stop me from trying, of course. As he focused on the desktop monitor, I slid along the wall and tried the doorknob. Locked-- no big surprise there. Keeping a minimum of doors unlocked after hours was supposed to be a protective measure. Unfortunately, even in Sunnydale they apparently hadn't figured for vampire attack.
"I never cease to be amazed how much the world has changed in just two and a half centuries." He was rambling on, apparently transfixed by the computer screen before him. "It's a miracle to me. You put the secret to restoring my soul into here," I jumped again as he wrenched the computer off the desk and onto the floor, where it burst into a bizarre shower of sparks, "And it comes out here." He tore off the printout and studied it in amusement by the growing light of the small fire the sparks had caused.
Me, I was still trying to understand what had happened, once again fixing on the least important question. I'd seen computers dropped before, broken, a spark even maybe... but a full-fledged fire? What was it feeding on? Was this somehow a result of the magic I had entered into it? A weird Hellmouth thing?
Meanwhile he was scanning the printout. "'The ritual of restoration.' Wow. This... this brings back memories."
Then he recognized it? I had gotten it right? My emotions swung back to a split second of triumph before I saw him move to tear the pages.
"Wait!" I couldn't help it. "That's your...."
"Oh, my cure?" Of course, I realized again. That was precisely why he was doing this. "No, thanks. Been there, done that, and deja vu just isn't what it used to be."
He had the CPU, he had the printout, but.... The first rule of programming: *Always* back up your data. I tried not to think of the disk, as if he might pick up on my thoughts. I started cursing to myself as he turned to the fire. Backups, nothing! I should have emailed a copy to everyone I knew... and six to Willow... to Rupert even. Angelus couldn't kill them *all* in a single night....
I had to get out of there. I pulled the Orb, almost forgotten in my hand, close, hugging it protectively to my chest.
"Well, isn't this my lucky day?" He exclaimed in a tone I was really beginning to loathe. "Computer," he gestured to the burning CPU, "And pages," he added the paper to the flames.
I had one eye on the door at the far end of the room, the one I chose to leave unlocked at night so that no one could sneak up behind me while I was at my desk. As he turned to make a show of warming his icy killer's hands over the fire, I moved carefully forward.
He kept talking, of course. After hundreds of years alone he'd apparently grown to love the sound of his own wit. "Looks like I get to kill two birds with one stone."
I was almost level with him. His head was down, if I could just get past....
But as I came parallel, he looked up right into my eyes, his face contorted by his true nature. "And teacher makes three." I bolted and he was on me. I yelled, struggled, and found myself crashing into the side door hard enough to break the lock.
Stumbling to my feet, I looked back at him, grabbed the Orb tighter still and ran.
He let me go, that much was obvious at the time. Probably wanted a little hunt, a chance to toy with his prey before the end. It showed a confidence that infuriated me, but mostly because he was right. There was no way I could out-run him once he wanted to catch me.
I made it through the first set of doors and to a glimpse of freedom... that mocked me as I crashed into the locked doors. Doubling back, I could see him gaining, smiling, and all I could do was run.
How I'd hung onto the Thesselan Orb this long I'll probably never figure out, but I tried to remember the incantation as I ran. It was fairly simple, as such things usually were, but I was running blindly for my life, and trying to remember a Latin chant I'd only just seen was anything but easy.
I think I had some notion of heading for the library at one point. I suspect it would have done me no good, but I was navigating on reflex at that point, and reflex said the library equaled Rupert, which equaled safety. I scare myself senseless when I think I might have actually managed to make it there, to Rupert, trailing a grinning Death incarnate behind me.
Luckily he had already left and my sense of direction had likewise fled.
Down the long walkway and into the next building, my already racing pulse jumping up another notch as the door stuck and I had to force it open... right before slamming it in the demon's face. From that one-second glimpse I knew it was over. He wasn't enjoying himself anymore, it was time to move in for the kill.
I managed to trip him with a janitor's cart, praying even then that the janitor was somewhere safely far away, and ducked up the stairs. It made no sense, but it was at least something other than a flat-out race down the halls.
When I reached the first landing, he was already there. It was then I truly knew it was over.
My reflexes hadn't accepted as much yet, though, because without a thought I spun around to head back down the stairs. Back, forth, round and round and round if I had to, just anywhere that was *not-here*.
I don't think he even blinked, just reached out and caught me by my free hand-- his hand closing so tight I could feel the bones in my wrist grind together. Gasping a little at the pain, I stopped, facing away. I had enough control over my reflexes not to try to run, not to kick and scream and pull against that implacable grip like a small child having a temper tantrum at the zoo.
But that's not to say I didn't want to. The best compromise I could come up with was to keep my back turned to him, my arm pulled awkwardly behind me. At least I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of seeing the fear on my face.
At least I wouldn't have to see the pleasure on his.
For want of anything else to focus on in the darkness of the landing, my eyes were drawn to the orb in my hand. It still glowed faintly, a small pulse of power. So close, so very close....
Since I wouldn't be spending my last few breaths running, I might as well spend them on one last try at putting right what had gone so wrong. Using whatever time I had left to make the bastard regret his indulgent, toying arrogance.
I had him right there in front of me. I had the Orb ready. If I could only manage to remember the words. After all, if he knew to come for me, if he was this determined, I must have been really onto something, right?
Or else he was just getting his kicks. I tried to ignore that little whisper in the back of my mind.
It was at that point he decided to break our little silence. "What? No screams? No pleas for mercy?" He drew me slowly back towards him by the one wrist, but I refused to turn. "No valiant mystical attempt to reach your Watcher boyfriend across the wavelengths of love?"
How dare he.... Oh Rupert. Dammit, Rupert, this was so unfair!
"You know," he mused, "I was just going to break your neck." I couldn't completely hide my flinch. "Quick. Clean. Problem solved," he assured me, pulling my wrist towards his lips and laying a light kiss on it that made me shudder and risk a glance at him over my shoulder.
"But then I thought: 'Quick and clean's just no fun." He was smiling, dammit. And it was still the smile of an angel. "Besides, it's been a while since I had a taste of Gypsy-girl."
I turned back, desperately trying to remember the precise wording of the spell-- and hoping like hell it would work in Latin. I'd never remember the Thessalonian and my brain was in no shape to attempt an English translation at this point. I just prayed Kisaiya hadn't cut any corners....
"Spiritus nocti, susurrum flamenque," I started mumbling quietly to the stone, my face turned away from him.
He heard anyway; I should have expected that. What I never would have expected was the indulgent chuckle he gave. "Still trying to 'save' me, are you? How noble. How quaint."
He shifted his grip on my wrist slightly, but never loosened it. "They'd all be so very proud of you, you know."
I just kept going. "Collige prope et inhio citatio meo." Wondering desperately if I might actually make it to the end. Wondering if he knew it well enough himself to be planning to silence me forever only a precious few words short.
"Adropinque orbem Thess..." I gasped as I felt a sharp pain in my wrist and fought down every urge which told me to flail wildly, to try to run even though there was nowhere to go. I picked up again, refusing to lose my concentration. "...Thessalae." I had spent years practicing the mental self-control required for any advanced spellcasting or magick-working. It might be the worst kind of hopeless folly, but I had nothing to lose now.
Then I nearly lost it when he spun me into his chest like we were having this casual little chat on a ballroom floor. I closed my eyes as the world twirled about me, clutched the orb tightly to my own chest, and kept chanting. "Velut lepidoptera ad flammam." Why did it have to be so damned long?
The arms wrapped around me felt like steel bands as he laughed softly, "Fear, panic, hope, defiance, and a touch of magic. You smell *wonderful*, Gypsy-girl." I felt his icy breath on my aching wrist again. "But let's see how long you can keep up your little chant when your heart gives out."
The pain was excruciating-- far more painful than a cut from a knife would have been, and yet somehow the pleasure was as excruciating as the pain. I fought against the distraction, "Terra," the increasing lightness of my head, "Aqua," the horror at what was happening-- the words coming from my mouth were the only thing still connecting me to the world, the heat of the orb in my palm the only warmth I still felt. "Ignus, Aer--"
The final few words faded from my mind as my consciousness slipped away. I barely remember the sensation of my head falling limply backwards into the hollow of his shoulder, the sense of need, the soft pressure, then the spicy rush against my tongue.
I do remember the startled gasp he turned into an indulgent laugh. "Excellent!" He purred, settling me closer against him like a lover. "Oh this will be rich. So strong, so bold. Such havoc will we wreak my dear."
Flush with the rush of strength and emotion and dizzying change, I stumbled a few steps away from him when he finally let go, managing to keep my feet through purest chance. I could feel such joyous hatred rising in me, such pure delight in the thought of causing pain, of sweet, cruel revenge.
"Praestringae animam ad corporum denuo!" I managed to fling back at him, finishing the spell, the curse, a feeling of demonic thrill rushing through me like a climax.
Followed, like a backwash, by a feeling of heart-wrenching nausea as it failed. As though time had slowed to match the creep of fear along my spine I saw everything at once: the orb turned smoky brown and clouded, like a burnt-out light bulb as it rolled from my finger tips; the horror on that perfect, perfect face-- replaced by a triumphant anger as the failure became clear. In less than the space of a heartbeat he was on me, his hands at my throat.
"Too bad, Gypsy-girl. It could have been fun...."
I heard the horrible cracking sound in my neck start just before the world went black.
The first thing I knew next was hunger.
Not poetic, not original, I'm afraid, but true. True to a degree that is, quite frankly, beyond any words I know-- a pain as intense and primal as the blinding, searing light of the Southern California sun beating down on airless, midsummer concrete.
I used to love the sun.
Literally blinded by the red haze, utterly mindless from the pain of pure need, I clawed my way free of my prison and found solace in the darkness and drank deep, feeling my body and soul ease and return to my control.
I buried the German Shepherd in the grave I'd left, giving thanks to any deity who would still have me that no human had been near. Trying to reassure myself that the death of a dog for food was common in parts of the world even today, trying to convince myself that it was really no different than the deaths of the thousands of McCows I'd consumed over the years, I steadfastly refused to read the milkbone-shaped tag dangling from its collar. I didn't need to know that my food had had a name, had a home.
Wearily, I collapsed back against the side of the tombstone... *my* tombstone. Suddenly I was not too tired to turn my body far enough to look. "Jennifer Calendar"-- no dates, no nothing. I hated the name "Jennifer." Of all the names I'd used, that had never been one of them. I wondered who had picked it out. Obviously none of the clan had come back....
I sagged back against the stone. Of course, who else? He thinks I'm dead....
Well they all think you're dead, an inner voice chided, that would be why they buried you, after all.
I sighed, trying to push emotion-- loss and grief and pain and relief and panic and fear-- aside and think. They just as obviously thought that I was really, truly, never-gonna-get-up-again-and- walk-the-night *dead*, or Buffy would have met me when I rose. Given more mercy and forethought, she'd have staked me while I was still a corpse and I never would have woken at all.
Could they have been so blinded by emotion...?
No, it was the wrong set-up. Right. What they had found-- I pushed away all images of Rupert's possible reactions to that event-- had not been a drained corpse. No way to tell that the blood within was no longer entirely human. I shuddered, but persisted. And no puncture marks to the throat-- who would have checked the wrist? Lifting the limb in question, I examined the faint mark still across it. Or thought it anything more than a random defensive wound if they had? Cause of death was obvious, after all: a very broken neck....
I found both my hands around my own throat as if to verify it was whole. Turning my head gingerly, I frowned when all I felt was a slight stiffness. But a broken neck would kill even a vampire, right? That had been Angelus' point. So, why wasn't I dust?
A small stretch-- reflexive after years of working at a computer-- cleared even that small tightness. Apparently they were wrong, I mused. Because here I am.
And here I want to stay.
Quickly I moved to fill in the grave more carefully. If Angelus thought me dead, I did not want to disabuse him of the notion. The timing, it had to be the timing, I thought as I scooped up handfuls of stray dirt scattered on the lawn and replaced it as precisely as I could over the dog's corpse.
After all, Spike was still a cripple after Buffy and Kendra's joint attack months ago. Angel-- when he was still Angel-- had heard the tale from some little snitch of his, and Buffy had confirmed it by grilling a few stray vamps before she blew them into dust. Rupert had mused that spinal injuries severe enough to kill a human outright might take a while to heal even in a vampire.
But I was up and moving already. I patted the last bit of sod back in place and eyed my work critically. The demon was still taking over my body, changing it, as my neck was being broken....
I cringed at the thought. Well, then, I thought wryly, getting to my feet and brushing the dirt from my knees, let's hear it for the recuperative powers of the young....
When the sun rose only a few hours later, it did not find me where I had hidden myself, exhausted and hungry. Realizing I could not go to them, any of them-- at least not yet, I eventually found myself back at my apartment, a jar of pig's blood and a raw steak stolen from the local ethnic specialty food store in my fridge.
I tried not to think of them. Is this what Angel had lived off of? If so he'd at least had a while to get used to the taste; I would have to be a whole lot hungrier before I could overcome the sheer nausea factor. If I ever made it out of this mess, I was going to become a vegetarian after all.
"This mess." The words were so insufficient, and yet I could think of nothing better.
One word dropped. One lousy word. Running that last line in my head over and over again I knew I'd missed one small word, a simple possessive....
The one that specified the return of his soul.
For want of a pronoun, a spell was miscast. And yet ultimately I could not be sorry.
The horror I could have caused as a walking, soulless demon would have been worse... right? Buffy might think she'd enjoy staking me, but she wouldn't. If nothing else, the pain in Rupert's eyes would cause her to grieve for what she had to do. And who knows how many the demon within me might have managed to kill first, with Angelus to lend a guiding hand.
I shuddered when I realized that the obvious target would have been Rupert. If I'd simply come to his apartment as he was so innocently expecting...
Oh, Rupert. We were so very close....
Perhaps somewhere in the newly dying, demon-crushed depths of my mind I had done it deliberately. I liked to think I could have been so devious, but I'll never know.
The demon was still there of course, but seemed weak, very weak, for all its righteous anger. It had had barely thirty-odd seconds of pure power before it was overcome by the returning soul which had lived in this body for decades. It would never experience the strength and control Angelus' demon had come to know in a century and a half of joyous slaughter. It was so weak it could hardly be felt, and would get no stronger.
I prayed I really did know what the hell I was talking about.
I watched stray beam of sunlight slip through a small crack in the shutters and begin to work its way up the far wall. I was stuck for the day. All I could hope was that they wouldn't come to clear out my stuff before dark.
The spell had vanished from my mind. The words I had managed to keep though terror and flight and pain and demon-possession and even death, had apparently not lasted past that twisting of Angelus' hands on my neck.
All I could remember was the damned last line. The line I'd flubbed. The line that would always haunt me with an excruciating cascade of "what if"s....
And the disk was gone.
I'd gone back to the school, back to the computer lab, my heart racing in my ears as I did it. But I had to go back for the disk, for my one chance to still triumph. I was my own proof; the spell worked. Another Orb could be found and the spell recast, read aloud in Rupert's powerful voice....
But it was gone. Not on the desk, not in the drawer, not in the box of my things that had been tidied away on a spare chair in the corner.
The bastard had figured it out and come back to finish the job.
The work would all have to be redone-- and redone in secret, with no equipment, without betraying my presence to either side. I had no idea what powers I had now, or how to use them, or even if I wanted to. And there was no one I could ask....
But I did know that Angelus was still much stronger than I. If he discovered I was still around, he would torture or kill me, or use me to torture Rupert or Buffy-- knowing him, he'd effortlessly create an artistic collage of "all of the above."
Buffy would want to kill me. Even if she believed I still had my soul, she knew all too well the dangers of trusting that set-up too far. And I could hardly blame her.
And Rupert... oh, Rupert....
I couldn't do it. It would be horribly unfair of me to presume, to present him with this kind of hellish choice, one he might have to keep from Buffy. No, I couldn't.
I was also too afraid.
The peace we'd begun to reestablish had been so fragile, so new. I'd told him that I loved him, and I wanted desperately to see at least the beginnings of a reciprocal emotion in his eyes.
But there hadn't been time. And now there might well never be.
I didn't even want to know if he had grieved for me as more than a colleague and friend... for fear that he hadn't. For fear of facing him again and seeing horror in those deep gray-green eyes... or repulsion... or anger....
I chickened out before I even considered it; the thought was simply too painful. Better to let him be. He'd done his grieving by now anyway, why dump a mess like this in his lap? Especially when there was still so far to go....
I'd have to leave, of course. To be spotted in Sunnydale would be a disaster. My clan was unlikely to take me back in my current state. I would have to move on again, as generations of my ancestors had done... but alone. Alone trying to find, trying to remember, trying somehow to recapture the triumph that had been shattered in the space of a few stray minutes.
*Then*, maybe, I could talk to him. Maybe then I could try to come home.
And yes, I love coming up with spells and such, so hers is "real"-- or real in the sense of I made it up in English and then goofed around on the web Thursday afternoon at work doing my best to translate it into Latin. Then again, Mrs. DePetra loved but rather despaired of me, so I don't vouch the for the accuracy of the translation. :).
Breath of night
and whispering spirit
Gather close and hear my call.
(Collige prope et inhio citatio meo.)
Draw near to the Thesselan Orb, like moth to flame.
(Adpropinque orbem Thessalae, velut lepidoptera ad flamam.)
Earth, water, fire, air--
(Terra, aqua, ignis, aer--)
Bind < his > soul to flesh once more.
(Praestringe animam < suam > ad corporum denuo.)
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