A/N: I know what you're all thinking people, FINALLY! And yes I feel the same way too. I'm really glad that chapter 18 is over and done with. I hope you all like it. It's on the serious side but with all that's going on how could it be anything else? Thanks to everybody who reviewed! I loved getting feedback on the last chapter. Special thanks to Alex Bundgaard for helping see certain things from another perspective ;-D Starting with this chapter (and its reviews), I'm going to hopefully start directly replying to all of you who review instead of just exclaiming inside my head. grins This chapter's dedicated to thedeadaddict, cos they asked so nicely, Shimmering Flame, cos I just LOVE your penname, and finally, jojotheorange, cos your review made me do a happy dance... As always, tell me what you think after you're done reading by clicking that purple little button at the left hand corner of the bottom of the page!
The Bonds We Form, The Bonds We Break
Buffy slowly opened her eyes. With the sunlight streaming in through the window, the stark white walls, and the smell of disinfectant, she was hit with an unpleasant feeling of having been here before. As her brain cells started to churn to life, she realized that she must be in some sort of hospital. From the looks of things it wasn't Hogwart's Hospital Wing and since the portrait on the wall in front of her was moving, proving that wherever she was, it was at least magical, she listlessly concluded that she must be in St. Mungo's.
"Finally," Came a relieved sigh from somewhere on her left.
Buffy turned her head towards the direction of the voice. "Giles?" She croaked.
"Who were you expecting? Black?" Giles answered with a scowl, although it wasn't very effective seeing as how he looked ready to drop dead. Sitting on a chair (the only piece of furniture in the room besides the bed and small nightstand) and still wearing the same clothes he'd been wearing at the party, eyes heavy with fatigue, he looked like he'd been to hell and back.
"You look like hell," Buffy said, her voice raspy because of her parched throat.
Noticing this, Giles picked up a pitcher of water on the nightstand, poured her a cup and silently gave it to her. He waited until she'd downed it all before saying, "Thanks. You look worse."
"Yeah?" Instinctively, Buffy tried to grin but her lips were still chapped, despite the water she'd just drank, and it hurt too much. Speaking of things that hurt, her whole body throbbed with pain. Especially her head but it wasn't her head per say as much as it was her brain. Just thinking, trying to tie together coherent thoughts, and put them into sentences literally hurt. "Why does my brain hurt?" she moaned, aware somewhere on some level that she sounded absolutely pitiful.
A look of sympathy overcame Giles features as he wondered how much to tell her. The medi-witches, cynical about her recovery, hadn't said anything about what to tell her when she came around and judging from her question she didn't exactly remember all that had happened. "It's probably an aftereffect of the Cruciatus Curse." he heard himself say honestly.
"The wha- The Cruciatus Curse?" Buffy repeated. "I was hit with it? When?"
"The Potter's Ball." Giles informed her. "Death Eaters stormed it, remember?"
Buffy forced herself to think, to remember even though everything inside her was screaming at her to fall back into the blissful state of unawareness that she'd been in moments ago but she refused to give in. Buffy's face screwed up in concentration and sweat dewed her brow as she forcibly drugged up memories that, for the moment, fought to stay dormant. Screaming, The Dark Mark, Death Eaters, dead bodies, so much death, so much destruction, fighting, pain, mind numbing pain that she could feel in her bones and that stole her breath away.
"I remember the pain," Buffy said tonelessly. "I can still feel the pain." As a Slayer, she was no stranger to pain or at least that was what she'd thought. The Cruciatus Curse had opened for her a whole realm of pain she hadn't known existed.
Giles awkwardly patted her arm. "Yeah, it might be that way for a while. Kind of expected when you're hit with a Crucio from Voldemort. Don't let that get you down. The fact that you're awake and coherent, less then two days after he hit you with it and taking into consideration the amount of magic that you lost, is a miracle in itself." he knew he was rambling but he didn't know how to stop himself. Seeing Buffy like this, all pale and wan and so empty, it threw him for a loop.
Buffy struggled to understand what he was saying. When she got what he was saying, she replied dully, "Doesn't feel like a miracle."
"Believe me it is." Giles said seriously. "Everybody is going nuts. You're all over the papers- though that has more to do with the fact that you apparently single handedly kept Voldemort at bay and saved the Minister of Magic of Ireland's life -a debt he can't wait to repay by the way. People are lined up at St. Mungo's just to get a glimpse of you and those that aren't trying to meet you in person are sending you letters, get well cards, flowers, and a whole bunch of other stuff." He thought it would be wise to mention the more negative stuff later when she was actually able to do something about it.
Buffy gave up. "Giles, I have no idea what you're saying." she said, exhausted. "Use shorter sentences."
"You're the wizarding world's newest hero, Summers." Giles said simply.
"Hero, huh?" Buffy said with a yawn. "That's nice." And with that she drifted off.
The fact that she dozed off so soon after coming to didn't surprise Giles. In fact he'd been anticipating it. He'd seen enough wizarding duels and had participated in enough to know that her magical energy would be zapped for quite a few days. Longer in her case considering that she'd been dueling with Voldemort, using wandless magic, and hit with a Cruciatus. Taking out the small vial in his robe that he'd been fiddling with, Giles was hit with a moment of uncertainty. Having used it before once, he knew beyond a shadow of doubt that the potion would be able to restore her to at least half power. Maybe even more than that, considering the fact that her Slayer healing had undoubtedly began to kick in. However, there was the tiny fact that the potion was extremely on the illegal side, thanks to the fact that there was no way to make it without killing a unicorn since it's base was unicorn blood. Technically it wasn't even supposed to exist and as a student he wasn't supposed to know about it. That didn't really bother him or any of the Slytherins who brewed the potion and used it. But he had a feeling that it might bother Summers. Not only that, it would look very suspicious to the medi-witches at the hospital if their patient who was recovering from an attack by Voldemort all of the sudden started doing cartwheels. Knowing Summers, it could happen. On the other hand, there was a major storm in the makings just outside the door to her room which included her fuming and seriously baffled so-called friends (with the exception of Evans and the Slayer chit), journalists from just about every wizarding publication, all wanting to get a piece of the wizarding world's newest star, ministry officials who wanted to express their right to question her, and the biggest problem of all; a rumor that was quickly getting around the wizarding world that their newfound champion was none other than the Vampire Slayer. So far, Dumbledore had been in charge of doing damage control; he'd even managed to get her moved an anonymous private room (Black and his crew were informed of the location but even they had been refused entrance), but he'd left this morning for some 'top secret' business and Giles had a feeling that trouble was about to come knocking. Making up his mind, he stood up determinedly and went over to her bedside.
"Summers?" he said shaking her gently.
Buffy mumbled something and turned over.
"Summers?" he repeated this time shaking her more firmly.
"Whaddaya want?" she grumbled, signaling that she was somewhat awake and not to happy about that particular fact.
"You need to take this," he told her, showing her the vial.
"Why?" she asked, befuddled.
"It'll make you feel better. A lot more like your old self. And it'll make some of the pain go away." He added knowing that that would be the clincher for her.
"Okay," Buffy said groggily, reaching her hand blindly for the small bottle. Anything to make the pain subside.
Giles uncorked the vial and gave it to her. "Don't stop drinking until you're done." He ordered.
Compliant, Buffy took the vial from him and struggled to sit up so she could take the potion more easily. She took a second to mull over its blood red color and strange odor apprehensively before shrugging and tossing the potion back. The minute it hit the back of her throat she began to gag but Buffy didn't let that deter her. Shuddering all the while she forced down the disgusting contents of the small bottle until not even a drop was left.
Unlike most potions, the effects of this one were instantaneous. Buffy barely had the time to mutter "What the heck-" at the wiggy sensations she was starting to feel before her whole body began to jerkily twist and turn without her conscious permission. She could actually feel the pain leaving her body, seeping out of her pores, rushing to escape the essence of the potion. She barely had a minute of reprieve before the second part of the potion began to take effect. Once again, Buffy had a moment to gasp in surprise before she was practically lifted off the bed by the force of the fresh magic coursing through her veins. And just as quickly as it had begun it was all over and Buffy lay on the bed panting.
When she was able to speak, she gasped out, "What the bloody fuck was that?"
Although it hadn't been easy watching Buffy jolt around the bed wildly, he'd been expecting it, so his voice was a lot calmer than hers when he answered. "Trust me when I say you don't want to know."
Buffy shifted on the bed, ignoring the protest of her aching muscles, so she was facing Giles instead of lying on her back. "Trust me when I say that I do," she replied narrowing her eyes at him.
Giles had to grin at the spark of fire in her eyes and he let out a heavy sigh of relief, for once not caring how she'd take it. "I have no doubt that you'll probably use this against me in the future- but let me just say, it's damn good to have you back, Summers." He said still grinning.
"You're right, I will use it against you." Buffy said with a light smile responding to his obviously good mood. "But what do you mean it's good to have me back? I thought you said I've only been out for less then two days." She added, sifting through the hazy fog of their conversation the first time she came around.
"Yeah, but there's no doubt that these have probably been the longest two days ever when you take into account all that's happened. Not to mention that it was seriously up for grabs whether you were ever going to come to or not," Giles said, sobering a bit. "And if you did your path to recovery would've taken a damn long time. Months the medi-witches said, of course they don't know about your Slayer healing factor but even with that you wouldn't have been able to bounce right back."
"Okay, now more then ever, I demand the right to know what was inside the potion you gave me. Especially since, despite the soreness, tiredness, hunger and pain in my right arm, I'm feeling pretty bouncable."
"I could tell you but you probably wouldn't recognize ninety percent of the ingredients unless you were a Potions Master," He said in a way that vaguely answered her question without giving away any details. When she gave him her famous 'I'm waiting' look, he explained, "Basically it rid your body of the worst of the pain and restored some of your magical energy. Well not your magical energy-" Giles trailed off thoughtfully. It wasn't until he saw the probing look on her face that he realized that he'd just unknowingly opened a floodgate of questions.
"Not my magical energy?" Buffy repeated, crossing her arms. "Well then whose is it?"
"Not necessarily who," Giles said, stalling for time. "More like what."
"Giles, we both know I'm going to get it out of you anyway so let's just cut to the chase. What. Was. In. The. Potion?" Buffy asked. "And for the record why are you being all avoid-y? It's not like it's illegal." She added jokingly.
"Of course not." Giles said forcing a chuckle as if the whole idea was sheer absurdity.
If possible Buffy's eyes narrowed even more. She knew that chuckle! It was Giles's fake laugh, the one he used to pretend that things were right when they really weren't. "Holy crack a hippogriff," Buffy said as realization dawned. "It's illegal, isn't it?"
When Giles merely looked away, she groaned. "I'm not even going to ask how you got a hold of it," she said. "But I still demand an answer to my first question. Then you'll tell me why you decided to give me an illegal potion, in a hospital of all places."
"Why?" he echoed angrily, choosing to answer her second question first. "Because Summers, you looked like death warmed over, that's why. I doubt that you remember much about our first conversation earlier but you could barely think, much less speak and your whole mind was clouded by the pain of the Cruciatus. I've seen people like that before. They don't usually recover. And even though you are the Slayer and you have a better chance at recovery, the thought of you spending God knows how long in that state was unfathomable."
For a long suspended moment, they both stared at each other and Buffy wasn't sure who was more shocked by the depth of emotion Giles had revealed, herself or the man in question.
"And like I said, you're the Slayer," Giles said clearing his throat to cover up what he saw as a moment of weakness. "You're needed. Now more than ever."
"Now?" Buffy questioned, deciding against commenting on what he'd said earlier because she knew that it would only make him feel all the more uncomfortable. "Because of Voldemort's at- oh shit, oh crap." She cursed herself for letting it slip her mind. She bolted up in bed and actually tried to get out of it. "Dammit, Giles why didn't you remind me? What happened? Is everybody okay? Did Dumbledore manage to catch Voldemort? Did-"
"Whoa, slow down," Giles said, getting out of his chair and rushing to her side as she stumbled. "And get back in bed."
Buffy opened her mouth to protest but Giles overrode her.
"No," he said firmly. "You want me to talk, to tell you what's been going on; you get your arse back in bed. Now."
"Fine," Buffy grumbled seeing that he wasn't planning to back down. When she was settled, she fixed her best glare on Giles and said tersely, "Well?"
"Where do you want me to start?" he asked.
"Give me the official report first, then give me the unofficial version." Buffy said.
"Officially, the attack wasn't as bad as it could've been. Thanks to you and Dumbledore and his troops, Voldemort didn't manage to do all that much damage. And although he personally got away unscathed, a lot of Death Eaters were killed and others were captured. We lost some wizards and witches but they put up a brave front and they will always be remembered. And in the end, it doesn't matter that much because well, we were the winners. Halleluiah and all that. Let this be a warning to Voldemort and others like him that it takes a lot more than a small skirmish to get the wizarding world cowering at his feet." Giles said matter-of-factly. "You heard enough or should I continue with the bullshit?"
"That bad?" Buffy asked hollowly though she was pretty sure she already knew the answer.
"Worse." Giles said gravely. "The Ministry's trying to brush it off and turn it around as great triumph for the good side instead of the huge blow that it is but nobody's buying it. Forty-three dead, Summers, and close to a hundred injured."
Buffy made a low sound in her throat.
"We might've been the last ones standing but in the true sense of the word, Voldemort was the winner. He accomplished exactly what he set out to do. He showed the world that he is somebody to watch out for, that he is somebody to fear. He executed his plan flawlessly and despite how chaotic and unorganized things looked, just about everything was done for a reason. The Potter Manor is in shambles-"
"How does-" Buffy began.
"How does that help Voldemort?" Giles finished. "Turns out that the Potters were using their home to hold secret meetings to plan a form of action against prejudiced wizards, namely Voldemort. Now they don't have a home. The wizards and witches that were killed, in one way or another they were all against him or at least against everything that he stood for. Voldemort took some of the wizarding world's best chances against him and used them as an example as to what would happen to those who stood in his way. And it worked. More and more people are openly declaring their support of Voldemort. Even more people are going into hiding. I'm sure that there are still plenty of wizarding families out there who think what Voldemort's doing is wrong but I can count the number of people who are willing to openly express that thought on my hand. Nobody wants to become the Dark Lord's next target."
"And the ministry's just turning a deaf ear to all of this?" Buffy asked incredulously.
"Pretty much." Giles said with a shrug.
"Oh, I can't believe their nerve," Buffy fumed.
"Believe it, Buffy," Giles said, so caught up in his tale and own anger that he didn't realize that he had used her first name. What's more, he didn't seem to note-or maybe he was trying to play it down on purpose- that sometime in the past two days he'd taken sides and it sure wasn't Voldemort's. "Which translates into bad news for you."
"Me?" Buffy asked, momentarily startled and then she understood. "Oh no. Noooo. Please don't tell me this has something to do with my new hero status. That they're using me as a scapegoat to take everybody's mind off what a serious threat Voldie is."
Giles solemnly nodded. He picked up a stack of newspapers and magazines from under his chair and handed them to her. Wordlessly she spread them out on her bed. Quite a few them had her picture on the front page, some of them had her name in the headline and every single one of them mentioned her in the article.
"Shit," Buffy cursed.
"My feelings exactly," Giles replied. "Those were yesterdays. I don't have any of today's papers on me but let me say that they're decidedly worse."
"Worse?" Buffy moaned. "Worse how?"
"Well for one, they've moved on from praising you to speculating on just about every aspect of your life. Your background, your family, your friends and the most important question of all, how did someone so young and so untrained manage to get the best of one of the most powerful wizards in wizarding history?"
"Okay, that's worse. Questioning leads to more questioning which leads to investigating and somewhere down the line somebody will find the answer." Buffy babbled nervously.
Seeing the panic clearly written on her face, Giles wished that there was someway he could spare her what he was about to tell her. "Actually somewhere down the line would be right now. I don't know how but one of the smaller publications seems to have gotten wind of the fact that you're the Slayer. They immediately went to the press as of about three hours ago." He finished.
"What?" Buffy whispered, the horror she was feeling stamped all over her face.
"I'm sorry, Summers." Giles said not knowing what else to say.
"Give me a minute to take it all in," Buffy said albeit shakily. Burying her face in her hands, she took a deep breath. This was her worst nightmare come true. But to be completely honest she'd always known in the back of her mind that someday the truth would come out.
"I guess this means Sirius knows. And the rest of the crew." She said, her voice muffled. "Unless you told them before?"
"I told them before." Giles answered, unsure if it was a good thing or bad thing. "It was the only way I could keep your huge lug of a boyfriend from going back to the Manor for you."
"I never thought I'd say this but good." Buffy finally looked up at Giles. "It's better that they hear it to their faces instead of finding out from a newspaper along with the rest of the world. Granted, it's not better by a lot but it is slightly better."
For the lack of things to say (again), Giles just nodded.
"How'd they take it?" Buffy asked, resigning herself to the fact that everything was now out in the open between her and Sirius. No more secrets, no more half truths, no more avoiding certain subjects. All she had to do was pray fervently that he wasn't all that pissed and figure out a way to deal if he was. "How'd Sirius take it?"
Before Giles could say anything, Buffy answered her own question. "Stupid, I know." She said dispassionately. "If he'd taken it well or at least in stride he would've been here. Same goes for the rest of them."
"No, that's not true." Giles protested. He paused to wonder what the world had come to if he of all people was defending Sirius Black. "Believe me they tried but since you're a high risk patient nobody's allowed to be in here with you. In fact your current location is completely undisclosed and except for the medi-witches nobody knows where it is."
Buffy gave him a pointed look.
Giles shrugged. "What can I say?" he smirked. "I'm not a Slytherin for nothing."
It just went to show how grave the situation was if she couldn't even afford a small grin at that.
Giles sighed, switching back to the topic at hand. "I'm not going to lie to you, Summers. Black didn't take it too well. In the beginning he thought I was lying and tried to rearrange my face. Then I guess when it finally sunk in, he went in to some state of shock. Absolutely refused to talk to anybody, just sat there like a rock until they brought you in. I don't know if it was because a part of him was still in denial or because, with you lying on a stretcher covered with cuts, bruises and a very large burn, it suddenly didn't matter anymore but he was the first person to go to your side."
"Really?" Buffy said, her eyes filling up.
"Yeah. They had to practically pry him off you when they were taking you in for tests." Giles said, smiling slightly at the memory of Black being held back by no less then five nurses.
"Really?" Buffy sniffled. That seemed to be the only word she was capable of at the moment.
"Really," Giles confirmed.
"Where is he now?" she asked.
"Not exactly sure. He's still in the hospital though. When they changed your room this morning and refused to give out the location, he punched a hole thru the wall and broke his wrist in the process. Last I saw him, he was getting it reset. I have to warn you though, he's not exactly the most balanced person right now. Come to think of it- he's never really the most balanced person when it comes to you."
"Okaaay. Because I know you want me to, I'm going keep myself from asking what that's supposed to mean." Buffy said.
"There's another thing," Giles added after a bit of silence. "The reason why it finally sunk in for Black and for the rest of your friends, it's because Evans backed me up. Seems like she already knew."
Buffy nodded, a little calmed down by the fact that Sirius had been so worried about her. If he still cared for her after he was told she was the Slayer than maybe everything would work out. Maybe.
"I'm not surprised." She told Giles. "She's known that something was up with me for a while. She's a smart girl, I was sure she'd figure it out sooner or later. And from all the hints she's been dropping and the looks I've been getting, I'm thinking it was on the sooner side."
At that moment, there was a quick knock at the door before it was opened and a young medi-witch cheerfully strolled in. She abruptly came to a stop as she saw that her patient was awake. And not only was she awake but she was sitting up in bed and apparently having a coherent conversation.
"Oh my," the medi-witch gasped, a hand automatically going to her mouth. "You're up!"
"Sure looks that way to me," Buffy agreed.
"But it's so soon. Too soon. This has to be some kind of miracle! How are you feeling?" the medi-witch asked, slowly creeping to Buffy's side.
"Like I'm getting sick of this place fast. When can I get out?" Buffy answered. Magical hospitals, muggle hospitals, to her they were all the same and they gave her the major wiggs.
The medi-witch had finally made it to Buffy's bed. Cautiously she began taking her temp, and checking the many dressings covering Buffy's body. She began to mutter to herself as she uncovered cuts and bruises that had somehow over the past two days inexplicably disappeared or faded away to almost nothing. When she got to Buffy's burned arm and saw that it too was healing at a remarkable speed, she hastily covered it and took a couple of steps backs.
"So it's true then?" she demanded. "You are the Slayer?"
Here we go. "Yeah. What tipped you off?" Buffy asked lightly.
Buffy's carefree attitude instead of reassuring the medi-witch just made her back up even more until she was plastered against the wall.
This reaction irked Buffy to no end. Is that what she had in store for her when she left St. Mungo's? When she went back to Hogwarts? "Oh c'mon, I don't bite." She said crossly.
"I can testify to that." Giles said with a nod.
Buffy was about to thank him when he continued.
"She kicks though. And punches. Her left hook is quite painful." Giles said rubbing his jaw from where she once hit him.
"Giles," Buffy stressed in a 'you're not helping' voice.
"You're not- you're not dangerous?" The medi-witch asked as if it was a perfectly legit question.
Buffy resisted the urge to do so too. She's not being rude on purpose, Buffy reminded herself. She just doesn't know better. Now more than ever, that fateful History of Magic class and what Binns had told them about the Slayer came back to haunt her. "Not unless you're a vampire or a demon." She answered. "Are you?"
"Of course not!" the young woman huffed.
"Then I'll do my best to keep myself from decapitating you," Buffy couldn't help but saying.
Giles tried to cover his laughter with a series of coughs.
The medi-witch turned even paler.
"Relax," Buffy said, annoyed with the medi-witch. "Just a little Slayer humor."
The medi-witch nodded but it was clear that she rather be anywhere in the world then in this small room with the Slayer.
"Hey, you think I can get some food around here?" Buffy asked.
The relief that the young witch felt was palpable. Finally, an excuse to get out the room. "Of course. You just missed the lunch cart but I'm sure I can find something." The medi-witch paused. "You do eat normal food right?"
"Oh, for the love of-!" Buffy exclaimed loudly causing the medi-witch to jump a foot in the air. Buffy paid no attention to her. Instead she turned to Giles.
"Is everybody going to be this damn stupid about the whole Slayer deal?" she demanded.
"Pretty much." Giles said uncomfortably. "You have to remember Summers, you're the first Slayer the wizarding world's had in centuries. Their reaction is bound to be a little… unsavory."
"A little?" Buffy repeated.
"More like a lot." Giles admitted.
The medi-witch timidly cleared her throat. "May I go now?"
"Please do," Buffy said gesturing towards the door. This insipid woman was quickly driving her up the wall. While she more than appreciated having vampires and demons fear her, having ordinary people fear her just made her sick to her stomach.
The medi-witch all but sprinted towards the door. She was almost out when Giles called her back.
"Did you need something?" she said trying to keep the apprehensiveness of her face.
"No," Buffy said just as Giles replied in the affirmative.
"Listen, Summers." He said. "The minute she leaves, your little safe haven here is history. You're going to have to start dealing with all the problems and people that are waiting outside this door, starting with your boyfriend. Are you ready for that?"
"Heck no but do I have a choice?" Buffy returned.
"Not really," Giles answered, signaling for the medi-witch to leave. "But I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were getting into."
"Noted," Buffy said, settling back into her pillows. "Let's get this show started."
"For the thousandth time, Mr. Black." The guard said, exasperation written clearly on his face. "I am not allowed to tell you Ms. Summers location. When she comes to and the medi-witch gives the clear for visitors, rest assured you will be the first one informed."
Although Sirius wanted nothing more then to rage at the man and tell him that the chances for his girlfriend ever coming to didn't look too good, he nodded stiffly and slowly walked back to his seat in the bustling waiting room. Because of the holidays, St. Mungo's was a lot busier than usual and almost every seat in the room was taken. Of course it didn't help that there plenty of people who were in St. Mungo's for no other reason than to catch a glimpse of the wizards and witches that had taken part in the fight against Voldemort. Sirius did his best not to think about how the main witch they all seemed to be waiting for was none other than his Buffy.
He'd barely sat down when a teenage boy who'd somehow managed to completely separate his left arm from his body started towards him (the arm was floating a couple of inches away from the boy). As it turns out, the seat on Sirius's right happened to be one of the few empty seats left in the room, most likely due to Sirius's less then friendly demeanor, and the boy easily slid into it.
"What?" Sirius practically growled.
"Sorry mate, couldn't help but overhear that the Slayer chit everybody's talking about happens to be your chit," he said casually.
Sirius made a noncommittal sound.
Bypassing this, the boy, leaned in closer and continued, "So man to man, what's it like?"
"What's what like?" Sirius snarled, hoping the idiot fool would get the unspoken message that he was not in the mood to talk.
"Dating the Slayer." The boy said in hushed tones.
"I don't see how that's any of your business." Sirius said tersely.
"C'mon," the boy coaxed. "I'm just curious. It's only natural. Not everybody gets to say they went out with a supernatural creature-"
In less then two seconds flat, Sirius was out of his chair and had the boy up and pinned against the wall. He smiled callously as the boy audibly gulped. "You want to repeat that?"
The kid shook his head.
Switching tactics, Sirius said causally, "So how'd you separate your arm from the rest of your body?"
Confused at this abrupt change of topic, the boy replied with an unintelligible sound.
"What? I'm just curious. It's only natural. " Sirius parroted, pushing him against the wall even more.
"Uh, spell gone wrong." The boy stammered.
"Magic, huh?" Sirius asked rhetorically. "Guess that means it didn't hurt too much."
"Well let me tell you something," Sirius said, tightening his hold on the punk. "If hear you refer to my girlfriend as a creature ever again, I'm going to separate your other arm from your body, this time without magic and I can guarantee it's going to hurt. A lot. Got it?"
He nodded frantically. At that, Sirius released him and the boy scrambled to get as far away as possible.
Sinking down into the abandoned seat, Sirius noticed that the old lady who'd been sitting on the other side of him had moved to another spot and just about everybody in the room was staring at him like he was crazy. Not that he blamed them. The past two days had him wondering about his mental state too. If he wasn't in a semi-state of shock, he was raging at somebody. If he wasn't raging at somebody then he was threatening people with bodily harm. If he wasn't threatening people with bodily harm then he was taking his anger and worry out on inanimate objects. His wrist still throbbed from where he'd broken it when he punched through the wall. The nurses had of course offered him some potions to take away the pain, but he'd stoutly refused. The pain gave him something to focus on other than Buffy.
Buffy, Sirius thought with a sigh. His girlfriend. Quite possibly the love of his life. And the cause of just about all of the heartsickness, anguish, worry, fury he'd been feeling ever since the attack began and the reason why he was in his current state of psychosis. Every time he so much thought of her name, he was bombarded with images of how she'd looked when they first brought her in. For somebody who was always so vibrant and full of life, she had been pale and deathly still. Most of her body was covered in bruises and oozing cuts. He vaguely remembered hearing one of Dumbledore's men explain that this was from the power of Voldemort's Cruciatus Curse. Of course, he'd heard the words Voldemort and Cruciatus Curse and had gone absolutely cationic. Nothing mattered anymore. And it wouldn't until he heard the medi-witch pronounce Buffy fit to go. He felt more than a little guilty for not paying more attention to Remus and Andy, both who were still in the hospital because of their injuries. But the way he saw it, they were awake and Buffy wasn't. They were in the process of recovery and Buffy's chances at full recovery were uncertain. Sirius had lost track of the number of times he'd dozed off and had woken up in a complete state of panic, thinking that he'd lost her for good. Every time one of the medi-witches who'd been assigned to Buffy so much as looked his way, he entertained the thought that this was it; they were finally going to tell him that she'd passed away.
Lily and Shay had tried to alleviate his fears by telling him that there wasn't a chance in hell that Buffy wouldn't wake up or make a full recovery. She was too stubborn to let go of life that easily and besides she was the Slayer.
The Slayer. It was amazing how a word that just a few days ago wasn't even a part of his vocabulary had so quickly risen to the top of his most hated words list.
The Slayer. Oh how he loathed those two words and what's more, he feared them like no other. To him they represented the end of everything between him and Buffy. So he pushed them out of his mind. Convinced himself that Ripper had to be wrong (an easy feat). The same went for Lily (a not so easy feat). It didn't help that everyway he looked somebody was whispering about the Slayer or that Buffy was currently gracing the covers of The Wizard Times, Wizarding Today, Witch Weekly and Merlin knows how many other publications, each carrying a screaming headline that mentioned the Slayer factor. But for reasons unknown to even him, he still insisted on remaining in denial by refusing to acknowledge any of his friends whenever they hesitantly brought it up and refusing to heed their plea to just think about.
"Si?" Lily said cautiously, putting a hand on his shoulder.
Sirius looked up at her through bloodshot eyes. "Lils?" he said hoarsely. Realizing how hoarse his voice was, he cleared his throat. "I didn't see you there."
"Understandable. You looked like you were doing some pretty heavy thinking. Never thought I'd see the day." Lily said with a teasing grin.
"Ha ha," Sirius said dryly but he managed to give her a small smile.
"When's the last time you had something to eat?" She asked. Along with Shay, she'd assigned herself the task of making sure that none of their friends, especially Sirius and James, who'd been half out of his mind with worry ever since he found out that his mother had been injured quite seriously, perished from lack of sustenance or sheer exhaustion. Jaq had also been helping with that (which just goes to show you how difficult the boys were being) until her parents arrived yesterday from Romania and whisked her away to Merlin knows where.
"Eat?" Sirius said blankly.
Lily sighed. "Drink then?"
"I'm not sure," Sirius said honestly. "This morning I think."
Lily sighed again and handed him a cup of steaming hot coco. "Don't make me pry your mouth open and shove it down your throat." She threatened.
"Like you could," Sirius retorted, inhaling the fragrant scent of the chocolate. Instead of waking up his senses it just made him realize how tired he really was. Absently he began to rub the back of his neck.
Lily made an impatient sound in the back of her throat. "Move," she ordered, swatting his hand away and starting to knead his tense neck muscles.
"Thanks Lils," Sirius said softly, shifting in his seat so she could have better access.
"Just remember when this is all over you owe me," was her only reply.
It was meant in jest but Sirius knew that there was truth behind her words. "We all do," Sirius said. Despite her habit of bringing up the S word whenever she came within two feet of him, Sirius had to admit he'd be a lot worser off if it wasn't for Lily. And Shay. They forced him to get a little shut eye every now and then, supplied him with food and drinks, even though he repeatedly told them he didn't have an appetite, and most importantly kept him in check. Sirius was sure that they did this and more for the rest of their crew. "How's everybody?"
"Well, good news on Andy's behalf, pretty much the same for James and Remus, and not so good news on Jaq's side." Lily said.
"Start with Jaq." Sirius sighed.
"I got an owl from her earlier today. It was pretty rushed because she and her family were in the process of moving."
"No surprise there."
"Yeah," Lily agreed. They'd both seen the frantic look in Jaq's parents eyes when they first arrived at St. Mungo's and how they'd refused to let her out of their sight, even if it was just to go to the bathroom. "She couldn't tell me where because her parent's wouldn't tell her where. And what's worse they're not letting her come back to Hogwarts when the break finishes."
"What?!" Sirius twisted in his seat so he could look up at Lily.
Lily's face was grim. "My feelings exactly. She's trying to get them to change their mind but no such luck so far. On the semi-bright side, she's absolutely determined to be back with us and worse case scenario, she's willing to use the fact that she's of age and has the right to do whatever she wants to force their hand."
"But knowing her parents, that's going to undoubtedly cause a rift between them." Sirius commented.
"That's the downside to her plan." Lily admitted. "But we're hoping that if she merely threatens to use the of age factor, they'll cave before she actually has to use it."
Sirius gave her doubtful look.
"I know," Lily sighed heavily. "It's not a foolproof plan but it's all we got."
"What's Andy's good news?" Sirius asked.
Lily brightened considerably. "They're finally releasing her. They've decided that, on the scale of injured patients, she must be over her injuries if she can con her nurses into redecorating her room, preparing private food trays for her and bringing up toys from the children's ward for Dora to play with. Though I do think the last one was mostly Dora's doing."
Though he didn't say it out loud, Sirius very much agreed with that last thought. "So when is she leaving?" he asked.
"As soon as Ted gets of from work and is able to pick her up." Lily said. "Which should be around late afternoon. I have to warn you though; she's going to insist on staying with you until Buffy wakes up."
"No," Sirius said vehemently, shaking his head. "That's the last thing I need."
"I tried to tell her that but I don't think it really got thru."
"Well then try harder," Sirius replied a bit harshly. As much as he loved Andy, he really didn't want his cousin around. "The only thing Andy's going to do if she stays her is make me go even more insane. I know, I know-" he said when Lily began to protest. "She means well. She only wants to help. Problem is that just about ten times out of ten, my cousin goes about things all wrong and ends up making things worse. And I'm sure that this isn't going to be an exception to that. So for the sake of everybody's wellbeing, get her to back OFF."
"I tried. She's not budging, not even a millimeter." the redheaded witch informed him. "You know how overprotective she is of you."
"What's she going to protect me from? Everybody who's gotten wind of the fact that I'm involved with Buffy and wants a piece of me? Them?" Sirius said, waving a hand at the in the waiting room. "As you've seen firsthand I'm more than capable of keeping them at bay."
Lily shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. She peered at Sirius as if she wasn't sure how much she should say.
"Just say it," Sirius said, wearily rubbing his eyes.
"Say what?" Lily asked, faking misunderstanding.
"I've known you for the past seven years, Lily." He told her. "Although Prongs has only gotten you to agree to date him and eventually marry him and raise little Prongs shaped babies recently, you've been the object of his obsession for pretty much all those years."
"Is there a point to this tirade, Sirius?" Lily said testily, blushing at the mention of little Prongs shaped babies.
In any other given occasion Sirius would've smirked triumphantly at getting Lily agitated without even really bothering to, but now he just doggedly continued, "So as his best friend for all those years, I was forced to take part in his obsession with you. And ignoring how strange that sounds that means that after James -and Andy- I can read your expressions like no other. Especially when you're hiding something. That said, spill it Lils."
"Okay, okay." The witch in question caved and mumbled something unintelligible.
"Lily," Sirius said unwaveringly.
"She's not trying to protect you from them," Lily also gestured to the crowd. "Or anybody else that's out to get a piece of you. She knows you can protect yourself where they're concerned. But when it comes to Buffy, she's not so sure."
Sirius connected the dots and understood what was not being said. "She wants to protect me from Buffy?!" He exclaimed incredulously.
"Sirius!" Lily hissed as half a dozen heads turned curiously (and eagerly) towards them.
"She wants to protect me from Buffy?!" Sirius repeated, not bothering to lower his voice.
Lily huffed and pulled him up and out of his chair so they could continue this conversation somewhere more private. Somewhere more private turned out to be hard to find and after searching for a good couple of minutes, Lily settled on a broom closet.
Despite the seriousness of their conversation or maybe because of it, Sirius couldn't help but grin.
"Don't even go there," Lily said seeing his grin and knowing that there was no way he would resist.
And she was right. "A broom closet, Lily?" he said amusedly.
"Shut it, Sirius."
"I don't know. It's kind of suggestive." He mused taking in the small room. "Are you coming on to me, Lils?"
"Sirius!" she all but barked. For an extra measure, she reached out a hand to smack him.
Sirius ducked her incoming palm and continued, "I don't think James would take it too-umph." Lily had clamped a hand over his mouth effectively ending that sentence.
"Now back to our original topic," Lily said not without regret. She knew that these past forty-eight hours had been pure hell on Sirius and he deserved a moment of nothing more stressing than some light teasing and ribbing but with all that was going on, that just wasn't possible. "Andy-"
"Wants to protect me from Buffy," Sirius said, sobering up immediately. "I got that. I don't get why though. The last person I'll ever need protection from is Buffy. She'd-"
"Never hurt you?' Lily said sharply. Sirius visibly flinched at her tone and what her words implied. Again, Lily felt a twinge of regret but felt compelled to continue. "If you're talking physically, then I agree. The hell with all the crap people are sprouting." She added alluding to what she'd dubbed 'the Slayer factor'.
And Sirius knew this too. "Lily-" he began edgily, no doubt to tell her that he didn't want to hear it.
Lily ignored him. "But when it comes to your emotions and your heart, then she's one of the very few people who can hurt you and before this is all over she's the one person who will. I can guarantee that." She said brutally. Lily knew that her words were upsetting Sirius, heck they were upsetting her, but they needed to be said.
"But at the same time, I can guarantee that it wouldn't be because she wants to hurt you," she continued, adopting a gentler tone. "Truth be told, I think that in her own way she did everything she could to avoid hurting you. But some things can't be helped. Like the fact that she's the Slayer."
"Oh Merlin, here we go again." Sirius groaned. "What the hell do I have to do to convince you that, more than anything, I don't want to have this conversation?" Sirius said, almost desperately.
"And what the hell do I have to do to convince you that, more than anything, you need to have this conversation?" Lily shot back. "Buffy is the Slayer. You need to accept it."
"Why? Because you say so?"
"Me, Giles and the rest of the world!"
"Oh now he's Giles," Sirius said sarcastically. "Whatever happened to Ripper?"
"Buffy trusts him," Lily said quietly. "I trust Buffy. Therefore I trust him."
"And what? Everything he's done in the past just disappears? The fact that he's a Slytherin doesn't matter anymore? It's suddenly no big deal that he and Rayne spent all their time making Buffy's first couple of weeks here hell?" Sirius shouted.
"Nobody's saying that, Sirius!" Lily said, raising her voice too. "But things change, people change, situations change and life changes. We don't have a choice but to go with those changes. Otherwise, you'll find yourself stuck in the same place while everybody moves on."
"Do me a favor, Lily and cut the philosophy crap." Sirius said frostily.
"What? Too many big words?" Lily mocked. "Fine, I'll break it down for you. Change number one; Giles. He changed, for the better. Change number two; Buffy's relationship with Giles. Instead of being enemies they've become friends. And change number three; your relationship with Buffy. She's the Slayer, that's bound to change things. The only way you'll be able to make sure those changes are productive ones is by dealing with it. Which, let me kindly point out, you can't do if you refuse to believe it!"
Sirius let loose a loud and quite vulgar expletive.
"Why Sirius?" Lily said relentlessly. "Why are you trying so hard to not see what's so clearly in front of your eyes?"
"Fuck," Sirius cursed.
"You can curse all you want Si, but I'm not budging until I get an answer." Lily replied, making herself comfortable against the wall.
Seeing that she wasn't bluffing, Sirius finally gave up and gave in, letting out emotions and thoughts that he'd been besieged with for the past two days. "You want an answer? Fine," he snarled. "If I accept what everybody's saying if I take even the slightest second to look and see what you say is so clearly in front of my eyes, then it's over."
"What's over, Sirius?" Lily said, thinking that they were finally getting somewhere.
Sirius struggled to put things what he was feeling into words. "Everything. Our relationship. What we had, what we could've had. Every thought I've thought about Buffy, every moment that we had together, every kiss, every touch, it'll all be nothing but a huge lie. Nothing but a big sham. All those feelings I felt for her; that I prided myself for feeling because, in my mind's eye, it meant that my family didn't manage to completely destroy me, they'll be nothing more than a distant mockery." Sirius paused to take a breath. "And that's not even the worst part."
"What's the worst part? What's the worst thing that can happen if you acknowledge that Buffy is the Slayer?" Lily pushed.
"Then I'll have to live with the fact that the girl I've been dating for the past couple of months and that I already can't imagine my life without, is nothing more than a fake." He heard his own words echo hollowly and they were like a physical blow. "I trusted Buffy with everything, Lils and if she kept something this huge away from me, then she's not the girl I thought she was. When she wakes up, I'll look at her and I won't know who she is. And it sounds so stupid, but when you sum things up, my Buffy won't exist anymore and I'm terrified at the thought of losing her."
They had a moment of silence while they both took in all that Sirius had revealed. Then Sirius spoke up again.
"That enough soul bearing for you Lily? You get it now?" he said without looking at her. Not waiting to hear her answer he wrenched open the door and practically ran out, almost as if he was running away from his own thoughts, afraid that now he'd put them into words they were going to come true.
As fate would have it, he walked by the guard station just as a young medi-witch was leaving it. It took a second but Sirius remembered her as the main witch on the team assigned to care for Buffy. Before he could even think of the question that was almost always on his lips around one of Buffy's doctors, the guard spoke to him.
"For once I think I have the answer you want to hear." The guard grinned broadly, pleased with the thought that, after this encounter, he never had to see this young man again. "She's awake. Your girlfriend. Ms. Summers."
At those words, Sirius's heart leaped into his throat and stayed that way. "A-awake?"
"That's what I said." The guard said, still grinning imagining how much safer the hospital would be once the manic in front of him was gone.
"Can I see her?" Sirius all but whispered.
The guard nodded. "Medi-witch says she's up for visitors. Her room is down the hall, last door on your left." He said. "Except it won't appear until you walk by three times thinking her name."
With a barely visible nod, Sirius took off in the direction the guard had pointed to. He was so agitated it took him two tries before he made the door appear. Thoughts jumbled, heart racing, every nerve on edge, Sirius forced himself to grab hold of the doorknob and twist it.
He started to open the door ever so slowly but he realized how ridiculous that would make him look so he just jerked it open. The sight that he was met with shocked him senseless. He'd prepared himself for the worst. In his mind he still had the image of how she'd looked when they'd first brought her in and he had to admit that's what he'd been expecting. A pale, listless, barely awake Buffy that he could soothe, take care of and be strong for. But this, this in ways was so much worse.
She was awake, sitting up in bed without much apparent effort. While her coloring might've been a bit off, it was nowhere near the ashen shade of two days ago. She was eating something, her cheeks bulging with food as she tried hard not to laugh at something Giles was saying.
It was then that something inside him froze, at least towards to the slight blonde that just mere seconds ago been his everything.
"Buffy," he said tonelessly in a voice he barely recognized, it was so flat.
He watched her turn to him with a look of surprise. Quickly swallowing, she gave him that special smile she reserved just for him. The one that never failed to warm his heart but now just made his heart crumble all the more.
"Hiya Sirius," she said cheerfully. "Long time no see. At least in our standards. How ya been?"
The fact that she could be so blithe, so untroubled, so goddamn happy after all the emotional upheaval he'd been through broke him. For Sirius it was the last draw.
Nothing but a big lie.
All those feelings I felt for her … Nothing more then a distant mockery.
I won't know who she is anymore.
Feeling numb, he steeled himself, only thanks to years of dealing with his family. "You want to know how I've been." He said carefully as if testing them out and deciding they didn't quite measure up. "Well let's just say not as good as you. I'm curious though, are you asking for the sake of conversation or do you really give a damn?"
"Sirius," she said, a look of hurt crossing her face.
"For once, let's stick with truth Buffy. It might hard for you but make an effort." He felt almost detached from himself, a bystander instead of a participant.
"Sirius, why are you doing this to me?" There was a catch in her voice.
It took all he had, but he ignored it. "I only want to know one thing." Sirius told her, looking her dead in the eyes. "I'm pretty sure but I want to hear it from your mouth. I want to see you look me in the eye and tell me. Tell me that you've been lying to me. Tell me that I really didn't mean that much to you. Tell me you're the Slayer."
Buffy opened her mouth to protest but Sirius harshly cut her off.
"Either you are or you aren't." he said. "Which one is it Buffy?"
With tears openly streaming down her face, Buffy looked him in the eye. "I'm the Slayer." She said, her voice strong despite the fact that her whole body shook with her contained sobs.
Without another word or gesture, Sirius left the room. He heard her call his name, several times, but he refused to look back.
A/N: Can you say melodramatic? God, I sound like Elizabeth Lowell (author of angsty romance novels). I hate writing angst. Makes me all depressed. I'm more apt to write happy, humorous scenes. I think this is my first ever major angst scene too, so to all those angst writers and readers out there, be sure to tell me how I did! Everybody else, did you hate it? Love it? Like it? Was it good? Bad? So and so? I'm on pins and needles here! Okay, well now that I've exhausted my 'get ppl to review' tactics, I can say that Ch. 19 (OMG 19 almost twenty, big number) WILL be out soon. Like in ten days if it kills me. I just have to write Ch. 7 for my Draco/Ginny fic, and then I'll start working on ch. 19. Wish me luck!
Hugs and kisses,